Can I go to jail for a first DUI offense in Maryland?

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Yes, you can go to jail for a first DUI offense in Maryland. However, in most routine situations, it is unlikely.

Drunk driving is a serious problem. Prosecutors and the courts take it seriously. People facing DUI charges stand to face serious consequences, and those consequences can hurt. They can disrupt your finances and your schedule. But in most routine cases, for a first offense, prison time is unlikely. Unless there are other aggravating circumstances, the state and courts usually look at consequences other than jail time.

What are the consequences?

The most immediate consequence is the loss or suspension of your license. When you get arrested for a DUI, the officer will take your license and hand you a piece of paper. Many people don’t understand why they got that piece of paper, but it is a temporary license.

The first thing you have to do is make a choice about your license. Depending on the results of your breath test, you’ll have different options:

  • One option is to do nothing and have your license suspended. The temporary license will give you the privilege to drive for 45 days.  It will then expire, and your license will be suspended for either six or nine months, depending on your test result. For most people, this isn’t a good option, but there are some cases in which people don’t need to drive, so they choose it.
  • The second option is to request a hearing with an MVA judge. This allows you to challenge the suspension if you have good legal grounds.
  • If you don’t have good legal grounds to challenge the suspension, a third option is to request a restricted license from the MVA judge. This is a limited license that allows you to drive for the bare necessities: work, medical appointments, education and alcohol education. But that’s it. No grocery shopping, family visits or outside dining. None of that. Also, this is only an option if your breath test was below .15.
  • The fourth option is to get an interlock ignition device. This is a breath device wired to the ignition of your car. Every time you want to start your car, you have to blow into the device. If you have no alcohol in your system, the car will start. If your breath test was below .15, you will likely have a six-month interlock program. If you had a breath test above .15 or did not take a breath test, you’ll have to use the interlock ignition for one year. There are number of different manufacturers, but an interlock device costs roughly $100 per month.

Of course, a DUI can lead to consequences beyond the suspension of your license. If you are convicted, you could be fined up to $1,000. You could also be sentenced to as much as one year in jail. Again, that is unlikely if there are no aggravating circumstances such as high breath test, reckless driving, driving at high speeds, children in the car, erratic driving around pedestrians or an accident.

How can people reduce the consequences?

For many people, DUI charges are their first encounter with the criminal justice system. Anyone can get arrested for DUI. Many are good people who made a mistake and now worry what it’s going to mean for their futures. The good news is that there’s often a lot they can do to help the courts and the judges understand their individual situation and most importantly, it will not be a repeating event. Maryland tends to focus on rehabilitative actions when possible, and there are various things people can do to help their cases.

  • If this is your first DUI arrest, your lawyer may pursue a probation before judgment (PBJ) disposition. This is best described as "Probation without a Conviction."  This is a compromise in the sense that you are placed on a period of probation; it goes on a special segregated record with the criminal justice system; and if you follow the rules for the duration, you can say you’ve never been convicted of a crime.
  • At a minimum, if you don’t get the charges dropped or win at trial, you will need to participate in a state-certified alcohol education program. However, you can take other rehabilitative steps.  For example, some people will attend traffic school or perform community service. These measures depend on the situation and on the jurisdiction. Different judges see situations differently, and if you can meet the judge’s standards voluntarily, that leaves less for the judge to add to a court order. It may also help reduce the length or restrictions of any probation.
  • Trial is always an option. It depends on how the case looks, but anything can happen. There are times when breath tests look bad, but it turns out the officers didn't follow the correct procedures. There are all kinds of possible defenses, but they vary from case to case. It’s hard to know what might work until a lawyer looks at the specifics of your case.
  • Attorneys frequently offer free consultations. At the very least, you can take advantage of a consultation to meet with an attorney and get that attorney’s take on your case. Some attorneys may only give you five or 10 minutes. You can’t get into too many details in that amount of time. But if you have half an hour or so with an experienced attorney, they should be able to review the key documents and you should get a good sense of the stakes.

By the end of a good consultation, you should understand what’s likely your worst-case scenario. If there’s a good chance a conviction might send you to jail or, if you are facing other consequences (loss of security clearance, professional license, or immigration consequences) you should know by the end of your consultation. An experienced and knowledgeable attorney can help you through this stressful time in your life.


The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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