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First Time DUI in Connecticut

Police officer and breth testConnecticut has some of the most serve DUI offender laws in the United States. First time DUI offenders in CT can be easily confused because an arrest triggers two separate types of legal proceedings against them. One is the criminal case in Superior Court, which can result in possible jail time and a criminal record. The second is an administrative proceeding at the DMV, which targets your driver’s license. Since the consequences of a DUI conviction can be severe, it is important to understand how these two inter-related proceedings can affect you.

The Difference Between a DUI Criminal Case and a DMV Hearing

An arrest for a DUI triggers two separate legal actions against you:

  1. A criminal case is heard in the Superior Court, a/k/a G.A. Court to determine if the offender is guilty of a crime, and
  2. The Connecticut DMV will institute a separate administrative per se suspension of your license if you failed or refused a chemical test.
DMV Hearings

A Connecticut DMV administrative per se license suspension is triggered by a motorist’s failure of a chemical test or a refusal of a chemical test, either of which triggers a statutory license suspension that is a DMV sanction. Connecticut is an implied consent state, which means that motorists are required to consent to a chemical test when police find probable cause to make an arrest for DUI.

If you failed a chemical test or refused a test, you will receive a suspension letter in the mail in about seven days, notifying you of your right to request an administrative per se hearing to contest the suspension of your driver’s license. If you do not request an appeal, your license will be automatically suspended for 45 days.

You only have 7 days to request an appeal, and if you do not request an appeal in those 7 days, your license will be suspended for 45 days, and you will be required to install an ignition interlock device in your car. The hearing is not automatic and must be requested by the driver or their attorney.

DMV appeals are not conducted in a Court, and the trier of fact is not a judge or a jury. DMV administrative per se appeals are conducted by a DMV hearing officer. The only penalty that a DMV hearing officer can impose is to grant the suspension of your license, so you have nothing to lose to appeal your license suspension.

The decision of the DMV hearing officer can not be used against you in the criminal case. However, often your criminal lawyer can obtain useful evidence and discovery materials in the DMV hearing, which can be used to defend you in the criminal case.

If you lose your appeal, you will have a 45 days license suspension and also an ignition interlock requirement for your vehicle.

  • In most cases, if you failed a chemical test, you would be required to install an interlock device in your vehicle for a period of 6 months. (Drivers under the age of 21 years of age have to install an interlock for one year).
  • If you refuse a chemical test, you would have to install an interlock device in your vehicle for one year.

Most first time DUI offenders qualify for a work or school permit that would allow them to drive back and forth to work and school during the initial 45-day period of their suspension. We suggest that offenders apply for a work or school permit as soon as they are arrested as processing times at the DMV can take up to 14 business days.

Legal Grounds to Contest a DMV License Suspension

When contesting a DMV license suspension in an administrative per se appeal, the issues are limited. The DMV only needs to establish the following to substantiate the suspension of your license:

  • For failing a chemical test:
  1. That you were operating a motor vehicle;
  2. The police officer had probable cause to pull you over; and
  3. You failed a chemical test
  • For a refusal case:
  1. That you were operating a motor vehicle;
  2. The police officer had probable cause to pull you over
  3. You refused a chemical test after given ample opportunity to take a test and you were provided notice of the consequences of a refusal

The burden of proof is lower at DMV hearings than in a criminal case, and the rules of evidence are significantly relaxed. Often it takes a lot of experience to identify any meaningful errors or mistakes in the investigating officer's police work that can be utilized to win a DMV appeal. You should have the facts of your case reviewed by an experienced Connecticut DUI attorney to determine what are the best legal grounds to fight your license suspension.

Criminal Court Proceedings

A first time DUI is a misdemeanor crime in Connecticut. A conviction will give you a criminal record and many adverse consequences. Appearance in criminal court is mandatory if you fail to appear you can be charged with a separate crime of failure to appear in court . Proceedings in criminal court are separate from the DMV suspension of your license. Even if you win the criminal case, your license can still be suspended by the DMV for failing a chemical test or refusing a chemical test. If you are convicted of DUI in criminal court, you will also get a separate license suspension.

To avoid losing your drivers license, someone arrested for a first offense DUI would have to:

  1. Request a DMV administrative per se appeal and win your appeal, AND
  2. Successfully complete the alcohol education program or go to trial and be found not guilty of DUI in criminal court.
Penalties for First Time DUI Conviction

A conviction for a first offender DUI in Connecticut can trigger numerous consequences ranging to up to six months in jail and probation to the loss of your driver’s license and substantial fines. After an initial 45-day license suspension, offenders can resume driving if they use an ignition interlock device, which they will be required to keep in their car for up to one year.

If convicted, the potential penalties for a first-time DUI conviction in Connecticut could include:

  • 6 months in jail - 2 days of which are a mandatory minimum or 100 hours of community service
  • 18 months of probation
  • A fine of $500 plus fees and costs – totals about $975
  • A 45-day license suspension and the requirement to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle
  • Increased insurance rates
  • Permanent Criminal Record
  • Exposure to harsher felony DUI penalty for subsequent DUI
Alcohol Education Program

Most first time DUI offenders in Connecticut utilize the alcohol education program to get their DUI cases dismissed. The alcohol education program is a diversionary program for first-time offenders that requires participants to complete the class. Successful completion of the program results in a dismissal of the criminal charges.

You can’t use the alcohol education program if you previously used the program or if you hold a commercial driver's license or if you were driving a commercial vehicle at the time of your arrest.

If there are aggravating circumstances involved in your case, it can be more challenging to get accepted into the alcohol education program. Some common aggravating circumstances that judges look at are:

  • High BAC readings
  • Accidents
  • Reckless driving
  • Evading responsibility
  • Driving with a suspended license
  • Refusal to submit to a chemical test
  • Interfering with officer / resisting arrest

Usually, participation in the alcohol education program is the preferred solution for first time DUI offenders. Still, you should review the options with a qualified Connecticut DUI lawyer to determine the best alternative for your case.

Contact us Today!

We work hard to explore every alternative to make sure you receive the best possible outcome for your case. Fairfield County, CT DUI lawyer, Allan F. Friedman, has over 25 years of experience defending DUI cases. Call Attorney Friedman at (203) 357-5555 to schedule your free initial consultation. We are available 24/7. Or you can contact us online for a prompt response.

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