Driving Under the Influence (DUI)—also known as Driving While Impaired (DWI)—is one of the most common criminal infractions reported, but it is also one of the most misunderstood. Among the public, and even among many attorneys, the truth about DUI is riddled with myth. The unfortunate result is that many of those who are accused of driving under the influence do not know their rights. And because they do not know their rights, they do not obtain adequate legal representation and they receive unfair and unjust penalties, regardless of whether they are guilty or innocent. Let's set the record straight on some common and damaging misconceptions.
Myth #1: “Most people accused of DUI are guilty.” Many people unconsciously assume that, if a person is arrested, “they must have done something wrong.” This assumption is especially widespread when it comes to DUIs. Though it is understandable why someone might feel this way, this is not the way the law works. It is not the way the law should work. Being accused of a DUI is not a conviction. No matter what your situation is, if you have been accused of driving under the influence, you have every right to the fairness, justice and protection that the American legal system guarantees.
Myth #2: “These cases can't be won.” Because they hold this mistaken belief, and because they do not know their rights, many people end up pleading guilty to a DUI charge when they should have fought the flimsy evidence against them.
Myth #3: “DUI cases are just like any other criminal case.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. DUI law is markedly different from many other areas of law. Some even say that there is a DUI exception to the Constitution. Most of the time, a police officer must have “probable cause” before pulling you over. In layman’s terms, the probable cause requirement means that an officer must have some concrete reason to believe that a person is breaking the law. While this is always true if a single officer pulls you over on the road, consider the fact that, with sobriety checkpoints, a police officer needs nothing more than for you to drive through it.
Myth #4: “A DUI is a minor offense.” DUI laws get tougher every year. Politicians know that they can gain points among their constituents by increasing the penalties and prosecutions of DUIs. Over the years, a DUI charge has become more and more serious in most States. This is yet another reason why it is so crucial that individuals understand the process and the rights they are guaranteed.
Myth #5: “Once you have seen one DUI, you have seen them all.” Every DUI case is different. One of the worst mistakes you can make —and a tragically common one— is to assume that your case is just like any other. It is not. While prosecutors must stick to a set mold to prove their case, a good defense lawyer will know how to break the mold in your favor.
Myth #6: “Any attorney can represent a person accused of DUI.” This is like saying that it is fine to see podiatrist for high blood pressure. Like medicine, law is an area where it is impossible to know and do everything. There is no way for one person to have all the necessary knowledge and experience. You might know a lawyer who you are sure is competent, decent and trustworthy—all of which are important traits to look for in an attorney—but these qualities cannot substitute for experience in the area of DUI law.