Since this post was featured on The Consumerist today, I’ve received a lot of hate mail & comments regarding my DUI. Many of you say that I clearly don’t feel sorry for driving drunk, I only feel sorry for getting caught. The truth of the matter is — I feel stupid for driving drunk. I’m the same girl who got angry in high school drivers ed when 90% of the class was about drunk driving because I didn’t touch alcohol until I was 21, and most of the other kids in my class drank on a regular basis. I never thought that I would end up with a DUI.
I do not think I would have hurt anyone that night given I wasn’t driving erratically any more than other times when I was exhausted or distracted while driving (fact is I wasn’t stopped for driving, I was parked at the time I was approached by the cop) — but I can’t know what the outcome would have been. The reason I’m glad I was arrested that night is because that night or another night, who knows when, I could have been in a worse state and got behind the wheel. I could have hurt someone… I could have killed someone.
I drink maybe once or twice a year, and it’s easy to forget just how intoxicated one gets when you are not used to alcohol or what it does to you. Do I feel upset about being caught? Sure. It sucks to be caught. It sucks to have to spend time in jail, be a criminal, and pay massive fines. But I needed a wake up call, and ultimately I’m thankful to have gotten one.
Don’t ever get a DUI… and don’t ever get a DUI in Santa Clara County, is what I learned this week. Any DUI lawyer will tell you that it’s tough to fight a DUI charge if your BAC was higher than .08%, regardless of whether you were lawfully arrested, but they all get your hopes up a little bit so you hire them to represent you in court.
Just a quick reminder of how I was arrested… someone called 911 on me because i was “wobbling” walking to my car (wearing high heels, mind you). I had about three glasses of wine, and stopped drinking at 9:30pm, and didn’t get into my car until midnight. Apparently I’m one heck of a lightweight. I drove around the corner and pulled over, realizing that I shouldn’t be driving. Just my luck a cop party was happening across the street, waiting to catch people leaving the bars. I was parked, a cop walked up to my car and knocked on my door, asked me to step out, and eventually arrested me for BAC of .12%, which later at the station was .10%, still well over the legal limit. I completely take responsibility for this stupidity and am clearly guilty, yet the reason I was arrested (because some woman decided I seemed drunk because I was wobbling in my high heels) is still bothersome. Granted, I was, so ok, I deserve whatever was coming to me.
When I got my DUI, I wasn’t in the mood to shop around for the best lawyer or one with the best price. I asked my friend who I knew had a DUI before for advice, and she pointed me to the lawyer I ended up with, who was a “friend of her family,” for what that’s worth. He seemed to know what he was talking about, and for $3,000 I could have his full representation in court both for my DUI and also for a traffic ticket that I needed to fight due to the DUI. $3,000 was a lot, but if it meant I might be able to fight the DUI, it was worth it — wasn’t it?
I’m not sure what other DUI lawyers charge, or if $3,000 is reasonable. He supposedly gave me a friends and family discount, and it would have been more like $5k had I not known someone who knew him. He did attend most of the in person hearings and such for me, which meant I didn’t have to take time off of work, so it was definitely worth having a lawyer through the process. However, when it was time to go to the real pre-trial hearing, the DA just looked at the evidence, and got into a bit of a fight with my lawyer. I have no idea if his behavior influenced the DA’s decision (I like to think not), but I was upset in how dramatic the whole situation was. I had to be in the court, behind the main area by the DA, where the lawyers were. The DA, who was probably around my age or a little older, didn’t even look at any of the suspects in the pews, he just read over the evidence and in a few seconds made a decision.
The hope was to get the sentence reduced to a Wet Reckless plea, which would cut the fine in half from $2k to $1k, and remove the volunteer SWAP duty/jail time requirements. There was also an option to file a motion to dismiss based on unlawful arrest if the DA didn’t offer this.
So the DA didn’t offer this. He basically said he gave me 5 days of SWAP (volunteer work) which was more than he had to, if I would plea guilty or no contest. I could have followed up with the motion to dismiss, but after thinking it over, that didn’t make sense at all. If I got lucky, the evidence could have been thrown out and I could be a “free” woman, minus the $3k in attorney fees. But there was also a just as good… well, even better chance that things would get worse for me. They couldn’t get that much worse, but they could have added many more days of SWAP time, or decided to put me in jail.
Worse, though, was how filing a motion to dimiss would require more missed days of work — which just wasn’t worth it given the chances of actually getting a better result. So I gave in, and just pleaded no contest. I owe $2,000 — which they let me pay in $75 / a month increments — for a while now, plus I have 2.5 weekends of SWAP duty in January, I lose my license for a month and have a restricted license for 5 months, I have to go to a 3 month DUI school, my insurance rates are going to skyrocket upon renewal in August for at least 3 years, I’m a convicted criminal, I have 3 years of probation where if I get caught with any alcohol in my blood while driving (even .0000001%) I will get another DUI, and it will cost me another $1k+ to have the DUI expunged from my record in three years. The whole situation, I guesstimate, is costing me $10k. It sucks.
Lesson learned, if I’m going to drink at all, just don’t plan on driving. Or don’t drink. My lawyer says in most other counties in the San Francisco Bay Area the court isn’t quite as hard on DUI’s (with the exception of Napa county). He even recommended that I take jail time instead of SWAP since it would be “1 day” of jail vs 5 days of SWAP, and I might not even serve the full day to overcrowding, but the judge said it doesn’t work that way in Santa Clara County. I didn’t matter at all in the entire situation, I was just a couple of pages of evidence and a blood alcohol percentage number. And I didn’t have a chance. I really didn’t have a chance. That’s what upsets me most — is how my lawyer made me think otherwise, how he gave me hope. There really wasn’t any hope. I might have been better off just getting a public defender and pleading guilty. In the end, the result probably wouldn’t have been any worse. And I would have saved a few thousand dollars.