You’re out with friends having a few drinks at your favorite watering hole, and whether it’s a couple of beers or a glass of wine, you feel fine to drive. Maybe your friends even run you through a mock DUI test and you pass with flying colors, so this means you’re fine to get behind the wheel, right?
The answer is probably no; you’re not okay to drive. If you’re involved in a traffic wreck, even after having only one beer, you may find yourself navigating the legalities of DUI accidents. If you’re not familiar with current DUI laws, here’s what every driver should know.
Potential Legal Consequences of Driving While Intoxicated
If you’re pulled over for suspected drunk driving, there will be legal consequences if you’re intoxicated. The law doesn’t differentiate between drugs or alcohol. Even driving under the influence of prescription medication can land you in the same legal trouble as if you’re drunk.
So, what does Texas law have to say about driving under the influence? For starters, get out your checkbook or debit card. You’re facing fines of up to $2,000. You may also want to grab a couple of books. Jail time is also a possibility. You’re facing anywhere from 3 to 180 days in jail. You may even lose your driving privileges for up to two years, even if it’s your first offense.
These are the potential penalties for a DUI if you’re not involved in a vehicle accident. If an accident occurs because you’re intoxicated behind the wheel, the penalties typically increase.
You’re still facing the same penalties, only on a larger scale. The severity of the punishment depends on the type of accident and the severity of the injuries. If a fatality occurs, you can even face a vehicular manslaughter or homicide charge.
Navigating the Legal Challenges of a DUI Accident
Whether you’re the defendant or the plaintiff in a DUI accident case, the legalities are almost always complex. This isn’t going to be as simple as accepting a settlement offer from the insurance company. You will need to work with an attorney familiar with Texas DUI laws. So, what can a DUI lawyer do for you if you’re the defendant or victim in a drunk driving accident case?
Understand Your Legal Rights
Everyone has legal rights, even if you’re the one charged with drinking and driving. While you can rarely get out of the charge, there is a possibility of getting your case reduced to something a little less serious.
Victims of drunk driving accidents also have rights, and an attorney can help ensure you receive full and fair compensation for your damages, including helping you calculate your economic and non-economic damages.
Texas allows victims of DUI accidents to seek compensation for damages like mental anguish, pain, and suffering. These types of damages are difficult to calculate since they don’t have an intrinsic value. This is where your attorney can help by referencing compensation amounts in cases similar to yours.
Collect Evidence and Witness Statements
Texas law is pretty clear if you’re pulled over for a suspected DUI. You must take a breathalyzer test, even if you can walk a straight line and aren’t slurring your words. Like any type of test, there can be false positives.
While rare, it’s something your attorney will consider while reviewing your case. If you’re positive you weren’t driving under the influence, witness statements can be invaluable. Witnesses can be anyone who saw the accident to the bartender serving your drinks.
Witness statements are also often crucial to support a victim’s accident and damage claims. While you’re recuperating from your injuries, your attorney will be working to support your personal injury case.
Collecting evidence can even extend to the accident scene. Your attorney may even bring in experts to help recreate the events leading up to the accident. Whether you’re the defendant or victim, the evidence can be crucial in your case.
Working Out Plea Bargains
This only applies to defendants in a DUI case. If you and your attorney realize the case against you is too strong to effectively argue against in court, a plea deal may be possible. Working out a plea deal with the prosecution may also be your best option to avoid hefty fines and lengthy jail time.
So, what is a plea deal? Also known as a plea bargain, the deal is typically worked out between the defendant’s attorney and the prosecution. Basically, you’re admitting to the DUI charge in exchange for receiving a reduced sentence.
For example, the original penalty may include 3 months in jail but this is reduced to one year of probation. The terms of your plea agreement will depend on the severity of your charges.
If you’re the plaintiff, you may have a say in the plea deal but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, the defendant and prosecutor work out an arrangement without notifying the accident victim.
So, the settlement offer only applies to the accident victim, which is the offer the defendant’s insurance company places on the table. You can agree to the offer or turn it down, and if you refuse, the negotiations typically continue. How long the negotiations go on varies on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, it can take months before an agreement is reached.
What happens if you can’t reach an agreement with the defendant’s insurance company? Your personal injury attorney will file paperwork notifying the insurance company your case is headed to civil court. Sometimes, this is enough to force the insurance provider to create a settlement offer everyone can live with. If not, a jury or judge will decide your case.
Don’t Navigate A DUI Accident Without an Attorney
In the case of a DUI accident, whether you are the defendant or the victim, it’s essential to seek guidance from an experienced attorney.
For defendants, a skilled lawyer can navigate the legal intricacies to possibly reduce charges or mitigate consequences. Conversely, victims need legal representation to ensure they receive full and fair compensation for their damages.
An attorney’s expertise in DUI cases is invaluable in navigating these complex legal waters effectively.