Margarita Monday at Agave Grill is a tradition with your coworkers, and you've never had trouble getting home before. But tonight is different. You don't feel drunk driving west on 84, but before you even reach Asylum Street the unmistakable red and blue of a Hartford police cruiser light up your rear view mirror. Now what? Being pulled over for a DUI is a nerve wracking experience that you will probably go through at least once in your lifetime. To help you sort out the facts from the myths and get the local scoop on what to expect, FindLaw has created this guide to your Hartford DUI case.
Connecticut law refers to DUI as "OUI," short for Operating a motor vehicle while Under the Influence of alcohol and/or drugs. You are considered to be OUI if you register 0.08% blood alcohol content or above on a chemical test. If you are under 21 you only have to register 0.02% or over, and commercial drivers only have to register 0.04% or above.
Pretrial Alcohol Education Program
In practice, someone charged with their first DUI within ten years can apply to the court for admission to the Pretrial Alcohol Education Program. The applicant must pay a $100 application fee and a $100 nonrefundable evaluation fee. The applicant also must make certain affirmations under oath before the court, including that he or she has not had the program previously invoked on his or her behalf within the last ten years.
The applicant is then referred to Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services for placement in either an appropriate alcohol intervention program for one year, or a state-licensed substance abuse treatment program. If the defendant satisfactorily completes the assigned program, he or she may apply for dismissal of the charges which the court must accept.
After the first charge within ten years is dismissed (or the application to DMHAS is rejected), drivers suffer steep penalties. Even a single conviction carries a massive six month jail sentence, along with a $500 - $1,000 fine and a year-long license suspension (though courts have been known to convert the jail sentence into probation and plenty of community service).
A second OUI conviction within ten years earns you up to two years in prison, up to a $4,000 fine and a three-year license suspension. A third or more conviction within ten years will lead to a three-year prison sentence, an $8,000 fine and potentially permanent license revocation. Additionally, for a second or third OUI the court may order the installation of an interlock ignition device for several years.
Implied Consent and Breath Test Refusal
When you receive your driver's license, you are subject to Connecticut's "implied consent" law. This means that, by getting your license, you give your consent to be tested for OUI anytime. If you refuse an OUI test, you are breaking that implied consent law and your license will be suspended.
The first time you refuse the test your license will be suspended for six months. The length of the suspension jumps up to one year and three years for your second and third refusal, respectively. Although the penalties for breath test refusal are lighter than those for OUI, it generally does not help your case to refuse the test because the prosecutor will just argue that you refused because you knew you'd fail, and you'll end up with both penalties.
License Suspension and Administrative Hearing
As its name suggests, it is illegal to drive on a suspended license. Your license will be suspended automatically after either a failed chemical test or a refusal to submit to the chemical test. The suspension period begins at 12:01 a.m. 31 days after your arrest date.
You'll receive a notice of suspension after the arrest, which allows you seven days to request a hearing. During this hearing you can contest the constitutionality of the traffic stop, specifically that the officer lacked probable cause to order you to submit to a chemical test. These hearings can be quite technical, so do yourself a favor and consult an experienced criminal defense attorney before you blow your opportunity.
Although Connecticut allows individuals with suspended licenses to apply for a Special Operator's Permit for traveling to and from work and school, you are ineligible for this permit when your license has been suspended due to an OUI.
Reinstating Your License
To reinstate your license, first check your suspension notice and any related documents and make sure you're eligible for license reinstatement. If you are, the notice will state the date when the suspension expires.
You must reinstate by mail. To do this, send in any required reinstatement documents (as indicated in your notice) at least two weeks prior to your eligibility date. Include a check or money order payable to the DMV for the reinstatement fee (typically $175), and mail everything to:
Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles
Driver Services Division
60 State Street
Wethersfield, CT 06161-2525
Note- do NOT drive until you've received your restoration notice from the DMV because the reinstatement typically takes two weeks to process.
What Should I Do During the Stop?
The single most important thing to remember when you've been pulled over for OUI is to avoid volunteering unnecessary information. Casual drivers typically admit to drinking "just a couple beers," or maybe that they are driving home from a bar, but these statements will be used against you should you take your case to trial. Plus, speaking gives the officer a chance to smell your stinky beer breath.
Instead, remain calm and polite. Cooperate with the officer and try your best to complete the field sobriety test. As noted above, it normally does not help your case to refuse the breathalyzer.
Contact a qualified attorney.