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When Your Spouse is arrested for DUI

It usually happens on Friday or Saturday night. You get a phone call from a number you don’t recognize. You don’t pick up. But the person keeps calling. When you finally do pick up, you hear the message: “This is a collect call from [your spouse’s name, in their voice].” They’re calling you from jail. Then you will hear your options for answering the call. Most of the time, you need to purchase phone minutes through a third party provider to complete the call. The spouse will say they have been arrested and when their first appearance is.

Take a deep breath. This is not the time to cry, yell or accuse. It is important to remember that everything said on these phone calls is recorded and can be used in court later.

What should you NOT do?

Don’t panic. What’s done is done. Now we have to deal with the present, and the first priority is to get the person out of jail.

It is also not advisable to let your spouse appear without a lawyer even for first appearance. What can happen without help or advice is that the arrested person, not fully understanding the consequences, enters a plea at their first appearance before a judge (more on this later). During that first appearance, accused persons with misdemeanor charges can resolve their case right then and there, and enter a plea. However, that is always a bad idea. (People charged with felonies are not able to enter a plea on the spot, and will be given a court date.)

What SHOULD you do?

The most important thing you can do for your arrested spouse is to call a DUI lawyer right away. It is always worth having an attorney at the jail after a DUI arrest. That attorney can help in several ways: make sure the arrested person does not enter a plea; advocate for bond being set as low as possible; and see that no unreasonable conditions of release are added. You’ll also need to find a bail bondsman.

Should your spouse’s employer be told?

This depends on whether the arrested spouse has an obligation to disclose a DUI arrest. I always tell clients that unless they have a duty to self-report, there is no reason to do that, because their case may turn out to be very different from when it started. And it may benefit them greatly not to disclose an arrest for DUI, since there may be a chance to enter a plea to a reckless driving offense instead. (SHB note: this paragraph could be safely taken out without affecting the content)

What’s a hardship license?

Anyone who lives in Jacksonville knows it’s next to impossible to function in the city without a driver’s license. So the most important thing is to get a hardship license. Please see my posts on this:

When a person is arrested for DUI in Florida, the person can drive on that DUI citation for 10 days, it serves as a driver’s license. Within those 10 days, the person must choose either a DMV hearing, which challenges the administrative suspension of their license, or if they qualify, waive that hearing and after signing up for DUI school get their hardship license.  Most people choose to waive the DMV hearing so they can still be allowed to drive. Please note, you will only qualify for a hardship license on a first DUI case, even with a refusal.

What services should you expect an attorney to provide?

If you are going to hire an attorney for first appearance, that’s often the same attorney who will represent the person in the case. First appearance is the first hearing before a judge that happens within 24 hours of arrest. The purpose is to set bail and conditions of release. So during this hearing the judge will consider things such as the person’s ties to the community, employment, family, kids, school, and length of time in Jacksonville. These details are used to determine whether the person is a flight risk or what program they should be part of.

Many times first time offenders without prior criminal history will end up in a pretrial services program. But it has become common in Jacksonville — even on a first DUI – for a judge to order an offender to wear a “SCRAM” alcohol monitoring device, which can be very uncomfortable and costly.

The attorney who attends first appearance with your arrested spouse, in most cases will have the opportunity to briefly speak with your spouse before the court starts. They’ll give them instructions on how to behave in front of the judge and what to say, and — most importantly — what not to say. Then in the majority of cases, the attorney will meet with the prosecutor and judge in chambers. The judge reviews the case ahead of time and sets bail.

Having a spouse arrested for DUI can be a frightening experience. An experienced DUI attorney  can make it less so.

Disclaimer: information provided in this article does not constitute legal advice.

Kate Mesic headshot by Agnes Lopez(1)Kate L. Mesic is the President of Mesic Law, specializing in business law and criminal defense.

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