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Utah DUI Attorney Salt Lake City

What should I do if I am arrested for DUI in Utah?

DUI Lawyer UtahMany people who arrested for DUI in Utah are otherwise law-abiding citizens, with no prior criminal record. For a person like this, being arrested, handcuffed, and booked into jail can be downright frightening. This page is intended to provide general information about things a person can do to avoid being charged with DUI in Utah, as well as information about how to handle a DUI case after being arrested, cited, or charged formally in court.

The best information on defending your DUI case has to be based on the specific facts of your case. There are many variables that can contribute to a successful DUI defense strategy. Consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney is strongly advised.

Criminal lawyer Stephen Howard has extensive experience defending criminal charges in Utah's court system. Based in Salt Lake City, Mr. Howard provides legal services to clients throughout Utah. Contact us today to arrange for an initial consultation.

Avoiding a DUI Charge Completely

The best way to avoid a DUI charge in Utah is (without meaning to sound preachy) is not to drive if you have alcohol or drugs in your system. If you plan to drink, choose a designated driver ahead of time. If you don't have a designated driver, call a friend or call a taxi (it is much cheaper than the cost of an attorney, court fines, insurance, etc.). If you believe that there is a possibility you are impaired by alcohol or drugs (whether legally prescribed or otherwise), do not get in the driver's seat.

If you don't have a designated driver, don't have money for a taxi, and can't find a friend to come pick you up, then consider sleeping it off - but not in your car. Falling asleep in your car can look to police like you have passed out from excessive alcohol or drug consumption. Even if the car's engine is not on, you could still be charged with a DUI for being in "actual physical control" of a vehicle.

Another important point to consider in avoiding a DUI charge in Utah relates to illegal drugs. Utah has a statute that prohibits driving or being in actual physical control of a vehicle if you have ANY measurable amount of a controlled substance or controlled substance metabolite in your system, unless that drug was legally prescribed. This is sometimes referred to as a "metabolite DUI" charge.

A metabolite DUI charge does not require proof of any impairment. A metabolite charge does not even require proof that an active controlled substance was in your system. If even an non-psychoactive metabolite of a controlled substance can be detected in your blood or urine, unless the original controlled substance was lawfully prescribed, you may find yourself facing a metabolite DUI charge.

DUI Investigation in Utah

Beginning a DUI Investigation - Traffic Stops

A police DUI investigation in Utah often begins with an ordinary traffic stop. Police pull your vehicle over for speeding (even just a couple of miles over the speed limit), failing to signal for the full required time period, a minor lane-change violation, or one of a myriad of other traffic code violations that are on the books in Utah.

Once police have pulled you over, a police officer may smell "the odor of alcohol" or may notice drugs or paraphernalia in plain view in the vehicle. The officer may also observe physical behaviors, such as nervousness, shaking, bloodshot eyes, or other supposed indicators of drug or alcohol use. These observations can give the police officer a basis for asking some basic questions about whether you have been drinking or using drugs recently.

It is fairly common for a police officer to ask "Have you been drinking?" or "How much have you had to drink?" You are under no legal obligation to answer a police officer's questions about recent alcohol or drug use. The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination gives you the right to remain silent, and to refuse to answer these questions.

If you do answer the officer's questions, your answers along with the officer's other observations can serve as a basis for the next step of a DUI investigation - field sobriety steps.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests for Alcohol Impairment

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (commonly referred to as "FSTs") have been developed for the purpose of determining whether a driver is impaired by alcohol. These tests include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk-and-Turn (WAT), and One-Leg Stand (OLS). According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), officers who are appropriately trained in administering these FSTs can achieve an accuracy rate of approximately 90% in determining whether a driver has a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or greater.

A person's performance on the FSTs can be affected by physical conditions other than alcohol impairment. Balance - a key component of both the Walk-and-Turn and One-Leg Stand tests - can be affected by leg or back injuries, inner-ear infections or disorders, and a wide variety of other medical conditions. Eye nystagmus can also be affected by legitimately prescribed medications, neurological, or other physical conditions. A person's performance on the FSTs can also be affected by the physical conditions where the tests are administered - if the ground surface is uneven or slippery, if the police vehicle's emergency lights are flashing, etc. Even a person's shoes can affect performance on the FSTs.

It is important to remember that a police officer cannot force you to perform the FSTs. The purpose of the field sobriety tests is to help the police officer determine whether there is probable cause to require a driver to submit to a chemical test for alcohol. If a driver declines the police officer's request to perform the FSTs, the question of whether probable cause exists will have to be determined without the benefit of the FST results. This will very often work to the driver's advantage.

Chemical Tests for Alcohol Detection

Unlike the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, a police officer may be able to compel you to submit to a chemical test to determine the level of alcohol in your system. Under Utah's "implied consent" law (Utah Code 41-6a-520), a person who has obtained a driver's license is considered to have given consent for a blood, breath, urine, or oral fluids test to determine whether the person was operating or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle in violation of Utah's DUI and Driving with Controlled Substance or Metabolite laws.

In order to request such a test, the police officer must have grounds that the person has violated one of Utah's DUI laws. The field sobriety tests are one of the tools used by officers to develop the necessary grounds to require a chemical test.

Once an officer has grounds to believe a DUI offense has occurred, the officer will typically request that you submit to a chemical test. If alcohol is the substance suspected to be causing impairment, a breath test is the most common test. Most Utah law enforcement agencies use a machine called the "Intoxylizer" to test for alcohol. But blood or urine tests may also be used to test for alcohol, but are more commonly used when drugs are suspected.

A driver does not get to choose which test will be administered. If you are afraid of needles, or find it difficult to produce a urine sample under the pressure of police observation, a police officer still has discretion to require either a blood or urine test.

Refusing to Submit to a Chemical Test

Even though Utah's implied consent law states that a licensed driver is considered to have given consent for a chemical test, a driver can still refuse to submit to such a test. But refusal carries consequences.

Any DUI offense can result in a driver license suspension. But refusing to submit to a chemical test will result in a much longer suspension. Suspension times vary depending on the driver's age and the number of prior DUI convictions. But a first time offender 21 years of age or older can expect a 120-day suspension for a DUI arrest. That suspension increases to 18 months for a refusal. A second-time offender can expect a two-year suspension. A refusal on a second offense increases the suspension to three years.

As a practical matter, once a police officer has developed probable cause to believe that a DUI offense has been committed, it is pointless to refuse the chemical test. Once probable cause has been established, the officer may obtain a search warrant from a judge or magistrate. This warrant allows the police officer to physically force a driver to submit to a chemical test. A blood sample is most often taken in cases where a warrant has been issued. The blood sample can then be tested for alcohol, drugs, or controlled substance metabolites.

Citation or Arrest for DUI

Once a police officer has concluded a DUI investigation, you may be given a citation and released (if there is a safe way for you to get home and a person willing to take responsibility for getting you there). But a police officer has the option of arresting you and booking you into jail.

If you are booked into jail, you will typically have the option of posting a cash bail directly, paying a bail bonds company to post a bond on your behalf, or requesting a bail hearing and waiting to see the judge. (In Salt Lake County, you may be eligible for release through Pre-Trial Services.) Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages. You should consult with your attorney to determine which option is best for your specific circumstances.

Driver License (DLD) Hearings

If you have been charged with DUI in Utah, your driver license will be automatically suspended if you do not request a driver license hearing within ten days of being arrested or receiving a citation. This driver license suspension is not based on a conviction for DUI, but is instead based on the arrest report. Even before your first court hearing, your driver license can be suspended.

If you have been arrested for DUI or received a DUI citation, you must contact the Driver License Division to request an administrative hearing. If you are represented by an attorney, your attorney can make this request on your behalf. In order to adequately prepare for the hearing, you should also request copies of any police reports or chemical test results.

Defending DUI Charges in Utah's Criminal Courts

Many class B misdemeanor DUI cases in Utah are handled in city and county justice courts. If your DUI charge is filed as a class A misdemeanor or felony level charge, the case must be handled in the district court.

Any DUI case carries the potential for substantial jail time, heavy fines, and other serious consequences. Court processes can be complex. An experienced criminal attorney can help you understand what to expect in the court system, and can be vital to a successful defense.

Finding a Utah Criminal Defense Lawyer

Utah Criminal Defense LawyerBased in Salt Lake City, criminal defense attorney Stephen Howard provides legal services to clients throughout Utah. He has a track record of successfully protecting his clients rights in Utah's justice courts and district courts. If you have been charged with DUI or other crimes in Utah, contact us today to arrange for an initial confidential consultation.

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Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
340 East 400 South, Suite 25, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
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In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

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