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“What Does a DUI/DWI Cost?” – A LOT

Sometimes I get asked by clients “how much does a DUI cost?”  Literally – in those words.  When I hear this question worded this precise way, I suspect (okay, I know) that I am dealing with someone who is ignoring reality, someone who hallucinates that the only cost of a driving under the influence charge is my legal fee.  Sometimes I accept such clients.  Sometimes I refer them out.  I am occasionally tempted to charge them $100,000 for putting up with their willful refusal to face reality, a “screwy flake” surcharge, except that Maryland lawyers’ ethics rules specifically prohibit quoting an unreasonable fee just to discourage a client.

Happily, it’s much more common for clients facing charges of operating under the influence to come to my office with a serious, reflective focus on their circumstances; those clients are much more satisfying to help.

Here are some of the money costs that motorists facing charges of driving under the influence/while impaired must face as possibilities, depending on the specific facts of the case and the disposition of the case by the courts and administrative agencies.

Fines – Up to $1000.00 in Maryland plus court costs, sometimes more with other charges added in.

Replacement of transport while suspended or revoked – how good a driver is your wife, husband, mother, father, housemate or next-door neighbor?  Do you have cash for cabs?  Remember: driving while suspended carries almost the same penalties as driving under the influence, and Maryland courts actually do jail motorists for driving while revoked.

Legal fees – not cheap (i.e. if you want quality representation you will pay a quality fee to a quality attorney.)  You may need an attorney for court, for appeals or re-trial, for post-trial motions including motions to modify sentence, for one or possibly multiple MVA hearings and if you lose your job because of your DUI situation an attorney to take to an unemployment appeals hearing to advocate for your rights.  If you violate your probation, or your probation agent thinks you did, you will also need an attorney in that unfortunate circumstance.  Competent legal representation can often help in predicting, controlling and reducing the damage of a DUI charge, sometimes leading to a not guilty finding depending on the government’s evidence.

Probation fees – charged monthly in most cases.

Costs of compliance with court order  – lots of gasoline or bus fare to get to court, to probation, Mother’s Against Drunk Driving victim impact panels, assessment, counseling, education, treatment, rehabilitation, driving school – including opportunity costs against your ability to earn a living while dealing with the fallout.  These costs are of course higher if you get convicted far away from your home or out of state.

Insurance deductibles – depending on facts of case and your coverage.  If you don’t have insurance and you hit someone while drunk, the personal injuries that you inflict on your victims may not be dischargeable in bankruptcy court.  If your own vehicle is damaged, you may face repair bills on your own or under your collision coverage or other coverage.

Insurance rates – you should not be surprised to learn that insurance carriers despise drunk driving and take an exceptionally unforgiving attitude towards evidence of alcohol motoring violations.  If you were on the hook for $40,000-$300,000+ of some motorists drunken adventure, how forgiving would you be?  Losing your insurance is a real risk, after which loss you will probably only have access to MAIF (if you are a Marylander), which is terrible, high-cost insurance.

The non-monetary costs of DUI are substantial as well:

Jail – What is the value of your freedom and good name?  How much do you think you will dislike the jail experience?

Conviction Record – can you keep your job with a DUI conviction on your record?  Can you replace your job if you cannot drive or if your boss or the government doesn’t want your record on its payroll?

Indignity –  congratulations, your arrest qualifies you for a career in television – on COPS, doing the perp-walk

Filth – jails are not maintained to the sanitary and cleanliness standardas of Swiss hotel rooms

Shame and Guilt – if you are capable of feeling these emotions (some are not), you may experience them as part of this process

Grounded – the loss of your enjoyable pursuits and career aspirations due to loss of your driving privileges, grounded not by your parents but by the MVA or a Maryland judge

Disrespect – will you lose respect among your family, friends and co-workers when they find out?

Grief  – this you will experience if you maim someone including yourself or kill someone other than yourself (unless you are a sociopath)  If you kill a woman, her brother, his wife and their infant son after a night on the town, how will you forgive yourself?  This is not a hypothetical; my closest friend in law school Nancy Yellin died in such an event barely outside her parent’s home in Florida in the fall of 1997. If you have a conscience – let’s hope you do – your grief will be unspeakable.

There are two ways to prevent a DUI charge – prevent the drinking or prevent the driving.

To prevent the drinking, simply do not drink any alcohol; if this poses difficulties for you, GET HELP FROM AA MARYLAND or AA-DC AREA or another similar sobriety support fellowship.  If you do not drink alcohol, by logic you will NOT drive under the influence of alcohol.

To prevent the driving, make yourself unable to drive by leaving the car at home and catching a cab.  While cabs are not cheap, they are FAR cheaper than DUIs are.  A cab from Fells Point to Towson, or from downtown Annapolis to Severna Park, or to Olney from Bethesda might cost $30-50 with tip; this is less than 1% of what you might spend on experienced attorneys, fines, deductibles and future cabs after you lose your license if you get cited for DUI in an accident.  Another alternative is to take your over-the-limit self to a hotel or motel and sleep off your drunk or sober up while watching Jay Leno or infomercials.

Bottom line: sobriety is CHEAP.  So is responsible drinking.  DUI is hideously expensive and destructive.  Far better that you stay sober or stay out of the driver’s seat and waste the legal fee, the money for the fines, the probation fees, the deductibles and other money on a big screen TV, an iPad and a trip to Vegas; none of that will kill anybody or cost you your job.

3 Comments

  1. Debbie Mittleman

    I went to high school and camp with Nancy, she was a close friend of my sister’s as well. I think about her and her family every time I hear about someone who is driving drunk. The loss for this family is immeasurable. Thank you for this post, people need to understand how one moment in time can change the course of people’s lives forever.

  2. Debbie Sherrill Mittleman

    Had no idea there was another Debbie Mittleman out there that could be confused with me. Posting to clear it up!

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