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The first thing you may want to do is hire an attorney. A lawyer will do many things for you that you cannot easily do for yourself, if you can do them at all. Furthermore, you don’t want to be in the position of realizing in the middle of your DUI case that you need professional help. Getting involved in the middle of a case is more complicated and difficult for us, or any other firm, than if we start a case from the beginning. We can’t always fix the early mistakes or undo missed deadlines and the best possible outcome may no longer be attainable. The other important reason to have a lawyer is to manage the paper trail and to keep an accurate record of the proceeding and the outcome. Hiring a lawyer avoids things like mistakes with paperwork or court/DMV records or a misunderstanding of the consequences of a plea deal. Without the file an experienced lawyer creates and maintains, it may be difficult to straighten out these problems.


What is the difference between DUI and DWI?

DUI is a nickname for driving under the influence. DUI is sometimes referred to as DWI which is a nickname for driving while intoxicated. In Vermont, DUI and DWI mean the same thing.

Criminal and Civil Cases.

A DUI case in Vermont usually consists of two different cases. First, there is a criminal case which is a criminal prosecution for driving under the influence. Second, there is also a civil license suspension case which is a civil case (like a traffic ticket) in which a license suspension can be imposed as a result of driving under the influence of alcohol or refusing a blood-alcohol measurement test. Although these are separate cases, they are generally treated as one case with two different parts. There are some cases in which only the criminal case or only the civil case are brought against the defendant.

License Suspension Periods.

The driver’s license suspension periods for DUI in Vermont are: A. First offense with test: 90 days B. First offense with test refusal: 180 days C. Second offense: 18 months D. Third offense: Life.

Driving During the Case.

You may or may not be able to drive while your case is pending. This depends on several different factors. First, if this is a second offense or higher, your driver’s license will likely be suspended within a few days of your arrest. If this is a first offense, you should be permitted to continue to drive (as long as you send in the Notice of Intent to Suspend) at least until your first court date. At your first court date, you may or may not be permitted to drive away from the courthouse. In cases with a high blood-alcohol content or an accident, it is not uncommon for the Court to impose a condition of no driving at all while the case proceeds. You should clarify this point with your attorney prior to coming to court.

An important point about the Notice of Intent to Suspend: If you fail to deliver the white copy of the Notice of Intent to Suspend with your signature on the back requesting a hearing to the Department of Motor vehicles by the due date, your license will be suspended on the suspension date set out on the front of the form for a period of either 90 days, 180 days, 18 months, or life.

If you are subject to a civil suspension case, there will likely be a Final Hearing. If you were not suspended prior to the Final Hearing, you will not be subject to immediate suspension at the Final Hearing even if you lose. In this case, you may drive yourself to and from the courthouse for the hearing (as long as your Conditions of Release in the criminal case permit you to drive and your license is otherwise valid). If you lose the Final Hearing in the civil suspension case, you will later receive a letter from the DMV setting out the date on which your license suspension will begin. You must stop driving on that date.

No Automatic Reinstatement.

Your driver’s license will NOT be automatically reinstated following the suspension period for DUI. You will have to complete the CRASH program and obtain an SR-22 form from your insurance company in order to get your driver’s license reinstated. After you have completed CRASH and obtained the SR-22, you then must go to the DMV, apply for reinstatement and pay a fee.

Criminal Refusal.

It is a separate crime to refuse the blood alcohol test at the police station if you have been previously convicted of DUI and the officer had a reasonable basis to request that you take a blood alcohol test.

Fees and Surcharges.

A DUI conviction and/or civil suspension for DUI includes a multitude of DMV fees, surcharges, court fees and the like. There are too many to list here and they change often but you, or your attorney, should check with both the court and DMV to find out if you have paid all of them.

Entry to Canada.

If you are convicted of the crime of DUI, you will be denied entry into Canada. After five years from the date on which you finished any sentence, including probation, which resulted from your DUI conviction, you can apply for permission to reenter Canada.

Can I get a “Work License” if my driver’s license is suspended?

No. Vermont does not offer a restricted or “work” driver’s license for people under a DUI suspension. No such thing exists.

What is the “legal limit” in Vermont?

There is no standardized “legal limit” in Vermont below which you cannot be convicted of DUI. You can be convicted of the crime of driving under the influence in Vermont if the State can prove to a jury that you were under the influence of alcohol “to the slightest degree” while driving. The State does not need to have an alcohol blood test result to prove this. This is not widely known and most people are very surprised to learn this. 

What does the .08 “legal limit” mean then?

The .08 test result refers to a measurement of the alcohol content in your blood stream. There is an evidentiary presumption that you were driving under the influence of alcohol if the police obtained a valid, admissible sample of your blood alcohol content with in two hours of your operation of a motor vehicle which showed a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater. If the State can prove that your alcohol concentration was .08 or higher, at the time of operation, you can be convicted of DUI on this basis alone. This does not mean that if your test is a .079, you cannot be convicted of the crime of driving under the influence. With a test result lower than .08, the State can either do a Relation Back analysis to prove that your blood alcohol content was .08 or higher at the time you were driving or it can attempt to prove that you were under the influence “to the slightest degree.”

What is Relation Back?

Relation Back refers to the process of “retrograde extrapolation” in which a chemist or other qualified professional uses accepted averages to estimate your blood alcohol content at the time of operation of a motor vehicle as derived from a test result obtained sometime after operation. Relation Back is a mechanism to take into consideration the absorption and elimination of alcohol in your blood stream. This is important because the crime is to be under the influence of alcohol at the time of operation of a motor vehicle. It is not a crime to be under the influence of alcohol at a police station 60 minutes after operation.

An important point about absorption: When you drink alcohol, it is not immediately absorbed into your blood stream. For instance, if you guzzle a bottle of vodka, you will likely not be under the influence two minutes later because the vodka has not had time to be absorbed into your blood stream. So, if you guzzle the bottle of vodka and immediately drive and get stopped, you will not have been under the influence at the time of operation but when you take the test an hour later, the test result will be very high. In this case, a chemist could come to court with you and provide expert testimony to show that you were not under the influence at the time of operation although you were falling down drunk when you took the test.

What happens on the first court date?

The first court date is the arraignment on the criminal DUI charge and the preliminary hearing in the civil suspension case. You should make careful note of the date and time for your court appearance and arrive on time. Bear in mind that the judge will be seeing you for the first time. You may or may not be permitted to drive away from the courthouse after the first court date even if you were permitted to drive to court. You should consult with your attorney prior to the first court date to determine if there is any likelihood that you not be able to drive after the first hearing.

When you arrive at the court, you will receive paperwork including the official charging documents in the criminal case and required disclosures in the civil suspension case. You will have to appear in front of the judge. You will have to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the criminal charge and the judge will impose Conditions of Release or order that you be held in jail until you post bail in the amount the judge determines to be appropriate.

What are “Conditions of Release?”

In the time between the beginning and end of a criminal case, the court has the power to impose restrictions on the defendant. Instead of holding a defendant in jail pending the outcome of a DUI case, the court will generally release the defendant on conditions. These conditions, known as the “Conditions of Release,” are a set of rules the defendant has to follow while the criminal case is pending. If a defendant violates one of the conditions, the violation constitutes a separate criminal offense. Also, if a condition is violated, the court will then review the conditions and decide whether more restrictive conditions should be imposed or whether the defendant should be held in jail until the case is concluded.

A DUI charge is guaranteed to be an unwanted expense and a source of inconvenience and difficulty. The assistance of a lawyer experienced in this type of case provides an opportunity to lessen the ultimate consequences of the DUI charge and will almost certainly make the process smoother and less intimidating.

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