Out-of-State DUI - What happens when you get a DUI on vacation?
You live in State A and you are on vacation in State B. You are driving to your hotel from the restaurant and you had a couple of drinks with dinner. You don't know the area very well so you are driving slowly, trying to find the hotel. A police officer stops you. He smells the drinks on your breath. He has you doing roadside gymnastics. Before you know it you have been arrested, taken a breath or blood test, and been charged with DUI. You bail out of jail and fly home. What is going to happen? What should you do about it?
In almost every state a DUI arrest triggers two separate series of events. The first series of events is the administrative license suspension process through the State B Department of Motor Vehicles and, possibly, your state. The second is the prosecution for DUI through State B's courts. How you handle these things can have a serious effect on your future.
Department of Motor Vehicles
Every state has a procedure for suspending a person's license before the case goes to court. There are two possible reasons for the suspension - that your BAC was over the limit or you refused a test. Usually this begins when the arresting officer sends a report to State B's motor vehicle office. In some cases it begins at the time of arrest. In either case you have a limited time to appeal the suspension. That time will vary from state to state. Sometimes your is suspended while you are waiting for the hearing; it varies from state to state. So far this suspension only affects your right to drive in State B. If you fail to request a hearing or you lose a hearing after requesting one your license suspension is final. In almost every state a final suspension is reported to the driver's home state (in this case State A.) Depending upon State A's law, your license to drive in any state may be suspended. This varies, too. In Maine it would not affect your right to drive. In Massachusetts you will be suspended until the State B suspendion is over. You will probably have to take an alcohol school in either State A or B and pay a reinstatement fee to every state that suspended you.
The Criminal Case
The officer or court also gave you a summons with a court date to come and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. In some cases you may have bailed from court and entered a plea at that time. Important deadlines usually begin to run from the plea date. If you miss them your ability to win the case may be seriously affected. If you fail to appear a warrant will issue for your arrest and your license will be suspended.
You should have an attorney before the initial court date. If you are convicted there may be fines, jail and license suspensions. In almost every state a conviction is reported to your home state. Your home state will suspend you for the longer of the State B suspension or as your record in your home state requires. For example, imagine you are from Maine, you had a Maine OUI two years ago, and are convicted of DUI in State B. State B treats it as a first offense and, gives you a fine and a 90 day license suspension State B then reports the conviction to Maine. Maine will give you a three year suspension because this is a second offense based on your Maine record.
You cannot ignore the criminal case and hope it never affects you. If you fail to take care of the case a warrant will issue for your arrest and your license will be suspended. If you are convicted but fail to take the alcohol school and get your license reinstated, the suspension remains in effect. Every state reports the suspensions to the National Driver Registry. Every state checks the NDR when issuing or renewing a license. If your state finds out you are suspended in State B they will refuse to issue or renew a license, even if the conviction was never reported to them.
Other problems include being arrested on warrants if you are stopped for some reason and being barred from foreign travel.
What to do.
The first and best thing to do is to hire a DUI lawyer in State B, the state you were in when you got the DUI. The sooner you do that the better. Important deadlines often start to run from the time of your arrest or shortly after. I would be happy to discuss the matter with your further.
Seth T. Carey, Esq.