The Impact of a DUI on Your Life: Wide-Ranging Consequences

And the importance of getting legal help to mitigate the consequences

By Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on November 8, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorneys Mark Thiessen and Stephen P. Pfeiffer

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Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is extremely dangerous to yourself and others. If law enforcement officers arrest you on probable cause of intoxicated driving and you’re subsequently convicted on DUI/DWI charges, it will have significant, potentially long-term consequences for many areas of your life.

“At the end of the day, a DUI conviction has tremendous collateral consequences,” says Mark Thiessen, a criminal defense attorney at Thiessen Law in Houston, Texas, who specializes in DUI defense.

“For example, it’ll impact your gun rights; it’ll affect your divorce proceedings and personal relationships; a spouse can use a prior conviction to keep your kids away from you in child custody proceedings; you’ll be banned from going to Canada, and other countries, for up to five years; it has immigration consequences; the list goes on and on.”

At the end of the day, a DUI conviction has tremendous collateral consequences.

Mark Thiessen

How Does a DUI Affect Your Life?

First, there are the immediate legal consequences of a DUI conviction. Criminal penalties for a DUI vary by state law and whether you’re convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony DUI, but general penalties include:

  • Jail time or probation/community service;
  • Monetary fines plus court fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars;
  • Driver’s license suspension and/or restricted driving privileges;
  • Installing an ignition interlock device (IID) on your motor vehicle;
  • Mandatory substance abuse education or treatment;

Then there are the broader collateral consequences of a DUI conviction on your life, including:

Impacts on Employment and Professional Licensure

“The impacts on employment are very employer-dependent,” says Stephen P. Pfeiffer, a criminal defense attorney and DUI expert at Wolcott Rivers Gates in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “If your employment contract says that you have to disclose a criminal conviction, whether it’s a misdemeanor or felony, that can have an impact on your employment relationship.”

Ben Sessions, a DUI attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, says that individuals who have been charged with a DUI offense should be upfront and proactive with their employer rather than trying to conceal information. He says the quickest way to create a problem with your employer is to hide information about a criminal matter.

In addition to impacts on current employment, a DUI offense will appear on background checks conducted for future employment opportunities.

Furthermore, if you have a professional license or affiliation—such as a counselor, lawyer, or medical professional—a DUI conviction could potentially make you subject to revocation of your license or disciplinary action, says Pfeiffer.

The danger of revocation is also present for those who make their living with a pilot’s license or commercial driver’s license (CDL). “Certain types of security clearance could also be in jeopardy,” he adds.

The impacts on employment are very employer-dependent. If your employment contract says that you have to disclose a criminal conviction, whether it’s a misdemeanor or felony, that can have an impact on your employment relationship.

Stephen P. Pfeiffer

Impact on Insurance Rates

Insurance companies will interpret a DUI conviction on your driving record as evidence that you are a “high-risk driver.” In response, insurance companies will raise your insurance premiums or sometimes deny coverage due to the potential liability.

Travel and Immigration Consequences

“When it comes to travel, Canada, for example, has stringent rules. It’s one of the countries that won’t let you come in freely if you’ve been convicted of a first-offense DUI misdemeanor. There’s a special protocol,” says Pfeiffer.

For individuals seeking to become a United States citizen, having a DUI conviction on your criminal record can result in deportation, denial of citizenship, or denial of reentry to the country if you have traveled abroad.

Seeking Legal Assistance 

If you’ve been charged with a DUI/DWI and are worried about facing the sort of consequences discussed in this article, the single best advice is to speak with an experienced DUI defense lawyer in your area as soon as possible.

You may be thinking: Why even speak to a lawyer? I blew over a 0.08 on the breathalyzer; I’m guilty. DUI defense lawyers emphasize that just because you failed a field sobriety test at a DUI arrest, blew over the legal limit on a breathalyzer, or failed some other blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test doesn’t automatically mean you’re guilty as charged.

The reason? Machine errors, operator errors, or invalid testing procedures could have occurred. Attorneys specializing in DUI defense will understand the law, the rules of evidence, and the science that goes into a DUI and use this knowledge to challenge your DUI charges.

Pfeiffer, for example, is trained to administer the field sobriety tests that police officers are trained in. He’s also trained in using breath tests. With such expert knowledge, a DUI lawyer can assess law enforcement’s procedures and challenge any anomalies or invalid processes.

A DUI attorney may be unable to defeat the criminal charges against you totally. Still, they can use their expertise to give you the best shot at mitigating the negative consequences of a conviction.

Use the Super Lawyers directory to locate an experienced DUI defense attorney in your area. For more information about this area of law, see our DUI/DWI law overview.

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