We recently surveyed readers in different parts of the country who had been arrested for first-offense DUI to learn about the range of costs and outcomes associated with this common criminal charge. Read on to see what we found—and what you might be looking at if you’ve been arrested for DUI, DWI (driving while intoxicated), or another drunk driving offense.
What’s the Likely Outcome of a First-Offense DUI?
The majority (79%) of our readers who were arrested for first-time DUI were convicted of some kind of charge. As you would expect, misdemeanor DUI was the most common conviction; 56% of all readers were convicted of this offense. But 18% of alleged first-time offenders were convicted of a lesser charge like reckless driving or "wet reckless."
The most common penalties after first-time DUI arrests were court-ordered fines, alcohol education or treatment, and license suspension and/or restriction. Only 9% of our readers did any jail time. The readers who got jail time reported sentences of anywhere from 1 day to 3 months, with the average amount of time spent in jail being 6 weeks. Those with community service as part of their sentences generally had to do 30 to 80 hours’ worth.
In addition to these court-ordered penalties, increases in car insurance rates were standard—47% of readers reported boosted rates, typically for three years. Not only that, but our survey results indicate that a DUI arrest and the proceedings that follow can lead to lost income due to a suspended license or even a lost job; almost 25% of readers reported this kind of cost.
How Much Does a First-Offense DUI Cost?
States, counties, and cities and their law enforcement agencies often warn the public about how costly DUI is. Our survey results corroborate their warning. The average cost to our first offender survey respondents, including those who didn’t end up with any kind of conviction, was $6,500. This average cost includes the price of:
- attorney’s fees and expenses (average $1,900; includes readers who had public defenders)
- court-ordered fines (average $1,100)
- increased car insurance rates (average $800 per year)
- traffic school and alcohol education courses (average $360)
- DMV fees (average $260)
- ignition interlock devices (average $170)
- towing and storage (average $170), and
- bail costs (average $150).
This total average cost did not count lost income. A quarter of our readers arrested for first-time DUI also reported an average of $4,400 in lost income.
Of course, several factors will affect the cost of a first-offense DUI, not least of which are the precise circumstances of the alleged crime. For instance, was there an accident? What was the blood alcohol level? (To read about the likely outcome, cost, and duration of DUI broken down by various blood alcohol content (BAC) levels, see our article on how BAC affects the cost and outcome of a DUI.)
Another critical factor is whether someone facing DUI charges goes to trial. In general, you should expect to pay more—and perhaps much more—in attorney’s fees and expenses when choosing to go to trial. But this observation isn’t to dissuade anyone with a good defense from fighting the case in court; it often makes sense to force the prosecution to try to prove its case.
Geography can also affect the cost of legal proceedings. The cost of living in your area might make your case more or less expensive than had it occurred elsewhere. Indeed, cost can vary significantly not only from state to state, but also within a single state.
Does the Cost of a DUI Depend on the Outcome?
The final outcome of a DUI case does affect the total cost. First-time DUI defendants whose had their charges dropped or were acquitted spent an average of only $3,700 while those who were convicted of DUI spent an average of $7,100. The first-time DUI defendants who pleaded guilty (or "no contest") to a lesser offense, such as reckless driving, spent less on average: $6,400.
Why the difference? Those whose charges were dropped or acquitted saved on costs like court-ordered DUI fines and insurance increases, though not on attorney's fees: those who "got off" completely paid the same attorney's fees on average as those convicted of DUI ($1,700). Those who were convicted of DUI paid higher DMV fees, higher fines, and had higher insurance rates.
Interestingly, attorney's fees were significantly higher for those who pleaded guilty to a lesser offense: $2,700. This difference is no doubt because those who pleaded guilty to a lesser offense more often used private DUI lawyers: 22% of people who hired private lawyers pleaded to a lesser offense while only 7% of those who used public defenders were able to plead guilty to a lesser offense (compared to 0% of those who represented themselves).
Even though DUI defendants who pleaded to a lesser offense paid more in attorney's fees, they paid less on average overall. Those who pleaded guilty to lesser offenses paid fines that were 20% lower than those convicted of DUI, DMV fees that were 40% lower than those convicted of DUI, and insurance increases that were 90% lower than those convicted of DUI. Other costs, such as DUI classes and ignition interlock devices, were fairly similar for those who were convicted of DUI and those who pleaded to a lesser offense. All in all, the lesser offense folks paid $1,000 more in attorney's fees on average but about $1,700 less in other costs.
How Long Does a First-Offense DUI Take to Resolve?
On average, it took defendants 5 months to resolve their DUI cases, from the time they got arrested to the time the charges were dropped or they were acquitted or convicted.
Those whose got off completely were done in 1 month on average while it took 7 months for those ultimately convicted of a DUI. In the middle were those who pleaded guilty to a lesser offense such as reckless driving: the process in their cases took an average of 5 months.
In addition, according to Christopher Cosley, a DUI attorney from Rolling Meadows, IL, taking a DUI case to trial can add six months to a year to the time that it takes to resolve a DUI case.
Talk to a Lawyer
Remember that surveys indicate trends—they won’t determine what happens in your case. Circumstances help dictate outcomes (for instance, DUIs that occur with a child in the card or that cause property damage or physical injury carry stiffer punishments). The policies of prosecuting offices and the attitudes of individual prosecutors also help shape results. For practical advice, make sure to consult a lawyer who knows the local system and has experience representing people charged with DUI.
(To see what we learned about the effect of legal representation in DUI cases on the whole, see our article Does Using a DUI Lawyer Give You a Better Outcome?)