How to Defend Against Drunk Driving
The penalties you face and arguments for innocence in Oklahoma
on January 8, 2019
Updated on February 8, 2021
Drunk driving is probably the most common criminal charge faced by Oklahoma residents. And while you may not associate DUI with a more serious crime like murder or assault, you can in fact spend serious time in jail for getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. This is why it is crucial to speak with an Oklahoma criminal defense lawyer if you have been arrested on suspicion of DUI—and as soon as possible.
“The first thing is: Use your constitutional right to shut up. Then call an attorney,” says Bruce Edge, a DUI lawyer in Tulsa. “Be polite, do what needs to be done, then get legal help.”
Jail Time, Fines, and License Suspensions
Even for a first DUI offense, Oklahoma law authorizes a judge to send a defendant to jail for as little as 10 days or as much as one year. For a second offense, the range of prison time increases to one to five years. And for a third DUI, the maximum jail term is 10 years.
It should be noted that even when a judge imposes a jail term, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections may decide to place a defendant convicted of DUI into a substance abuse treatment program instead. In some cases, the defendant may be able to reduce or eliminate the need to serve jail time if they successfully complete the program. But once again, it is important to consult with an Oklahoma attorney who specializes in DUI cases to learn more about this process works in your particular county.
In addition to possible jail time, there are also substantial criminal fines associated with drunk driving. An Oklahoma judge can fine a defendant up to $1,000 for a first-time DUI. This amount quickly escalates for subsequent convictions: $2,500 for the second offense, and $5,000 for the third offense. These fines may also be doubled in cases where there was a minor in the vehicle with the defendant at the time DUI arrest.
Finally, a DUI conviction can lead to the revocation of your driver's license—up to 180 days for a first offense. But you may request a modified license during the suspension period. This allows you to retain limited driving privileges, provided you install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle.
Common Defenses Against DUI Charges
“There are so many variables,” Edge explains. “Was there an accident? Was there a blood or breath test? Was there a refusal? Different approaches kick in depending on the process. We may want to retest blood samples, for example. If a person refused a test, we will many times perform our own. That may sound unusual, but it’s something we do and is admissible.”
Not every DUI case is as open-and-shut as you might think. Depending on the particular facts of a case, there may be multiple possible defenses to a DUI charge, including:
- Illegal stop or search – Oklahoma police need a reason to pull you over, whether it is suspicion of DUI or an apparent traffic violation. By law the police only need “reasonable suspicion” to detain you. But if an officer pulls you without a valid reason, then any evidence of DUI gathered as a result of that illegal stop is inadmissible in court.
- Reasonable doubt – Everyone knows that a person is guilty of DUI if they have a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. But a person may still be charged with DUI at a lower BAC if there is other evidence the driver was “under the influence,” such as erratic or unsafe driving. But remember, the burden is always on the prosecution—not the defendant—to prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Indeed, even what a Breathalyzer test shows a BAC of 0.08 percent, there can still be reasonable doubt if there is evidence that the testing unit was improperly calibrated or the test was not properly administered.
Another option is to negotiate with the prosecution about the length of the sentence and amount of fines. “Some cases go to trial, some don’t, and many are settled prior to trial,” Edge says. For those who are charged as a commercial driver, it’s more likely to go to trial due to the additional laws and regulations at play.
A DUI charge is far from a conviction, and you have more options than you may realize, provided you contact a reputable attorney.
“There’s a difference between a cheap hamburger and a good steak. Good defense takes time, takes skill and takes training,” Edge says.