Editor’s note: This is the second report in a three-part series about driving under the influence in Brookings County.
BROOKINGS – Some people think getting picked up by law enforcement while driving under the influence is the worst that can happen to them.
It’s not, say three local experts in law enforcement and the legal system.
“Most people don’t want to end up in a situation where they’re trying to get home and they end up with an accident and, God forbid, a fatality,” Magistrate Judge Abigail Howard said.
Howard, Brookings Assistant Police Chief Joe Fishbaugher and Brookings County State’s Attorney Dan Nelson see the results of DUIs all too often, especially as the number of cases is rising.
Legal results of a DUI can be fines, loss of driver’s license and jail time. Other results can be higher car insurance or job loss.
DUI can also result in accidents where the driver or someone else is injured, sometimes permanently, or even killed. There are legal consequences like prison time for the death and financial ruin from civil lawsuits.
“It does create a lot of consequences and … it creates a lot of risk for everybody else on the roadway,” Howard said.
Being picked up for DUI has consequences.
For a DUI first offense, there are fines and costs totaling in the hundreds of dollars, driver’s license revoked for 30 days, and you could face 30 days in jail, all suspended. A significantly high blood alcohol content (BAC) could mean a chemical dependency evaluation and treatment, according to Lynn Cramer, legal assistant in the Brookings County State’s Attorney’s Office.
A DUI second offense can mean fines and court costs totaling in the thousand-dollar range, 90 days in jail with 80 days suspended, and driver’s license revoked for a year. A significantly high BAC could mean a chemical dependency evaluation and treatment, according to Cramer.
For a misdemeanor DUI, which is the first or second offense, “your maximum penalty is up to one year in the county jail, $2,000 fine, plus court costs,” Howard said.
“Consequences … can vary, depending on the situation. Jail time can be imposed – and often is – especially for DUI-seconds. Community service can be ordered, especially on a DUI second it’s required by statute in some instances,” Howard said.
DUI third offenses and above are a felony offense, and the judge has discretion in terms of the sentence, within the set standards, Howard and Nelson pointed out.
“It depends on whether it’s a third, a fourth, a fifth, it goes up and up,” Howard said.
Fines and court costs for DUI third offense total more than $1,000. Driver’s license is revoked for one year. A person faces two years in the state penitentiary, all suspended, with three years’ probation and several weeks in the county jail, Nelson said.
They cannot consume alcohol or be in an establishment where it is served; must submit to voluntary testing and search or seizure of their person, personal effects, electronic devices, vehicle and residence; must undergo chemical dependency evaluation and recommended treatment; and be under the supervision of a court services officer, according to Cramer.
“The collateral consequences, I think that’s what people forget, whether they are in the legal setting or not,” Howard said.
She had a list of questions for people to consider.
“Can you afford to lose your license for a month? If it’s a second (offense) or more, can you afford to go sit jail time for a week or more? Is your job going to let you just be gone? Is your job OK with getting a DUI on your record? Do you have a job where you need to drive for work? Is it going to impact your family if you go sit in jail for a week? How does it impact your children if you’re a drinker and a driver? There’s just a lot of other components that people maybe don’t take into consideration at the time,” Howard said.
Fines and court costs aren’t the only expenses you can expect after a DUI ticket, Nelson warned.
“One of the other collateral consequences for a DUI is your insurance increases tremendously when you get a DUI conviction. So it’s not just your fine that you’re paying or restitution if you hit someone or damage property. It’s the increased insurance you’re going to pay on a month-to-month basis for a very long time. That’s really where the monetary cost is coming in,” Nelson said.
How much your insurance goes up depends on the vehicle you drive, how old you are and what gender you are, he added.
“If you’re a younger driver and you’re driving around in an expensive vehicle when you get a DUI, that’s going to be very costly compared to if you’re driving around a 1980s-something and you’re 55 years old,” Nelson said. “The insurance companies have a lot of different ways of measuring that.”
The results of a DUI accident can be wide-ranging, agree Fishbaugher, Nelson and Howard. It depends on how severe the crash was, they said.
Charges range from careless and reckless driving to manslaughter and vehicular homicide, Fishbaugher said.
“You’re looking at prison time. Especially if you injure somebody and then leave the scene. That’s a whole ’nother level there, too,” Fishbaugher said.
Again, depending on the details, a person who drives under the influence and causes an accident could be looking at tens of thousands of dollars in expenses.
“Lawyer’s fees and then if you end up going to jail, you know a lot of times, you have to pay back that jail time … pay the cost,” Fishbaugher said.
Other expenses include the vehicle you hit and that person’s insurance suing your insurance company, Fishbaugher noted.
There could be a lawsuit in civil court, as well.
“I’ve heard people get a hundred-some thousand dollars out of accidents and they sued them civilly, through their insurance,” Fishbaugher said.
But money and jail time isn’t the true cost of DUI, he said.
‘See what we see’
Law officers and other first responders see the results of impaired driving all too often, and some crashes are haunting.
“It’s anywhere from you can walk away to, obviously, death,” Fishbaugher said. “I’ve been at accidents where the driver had the car roll over the top of him because they were thrown from the car.”
People lose limbs in accidents, are paralyzed, suffer traumatic brain injuries and other lifelong consequences.
Sometimes the impaired driver walks away but causes someone in their vehicle or another vehicle to be injured or die. It’s bad enough if the person you injure or kill is an adult, but it “would be horrible” if it were a child, Fishbaugher said.
“You’ve got your whole life to sit and think, ‘I just killed somebody because I decided to drive my vehicle intoxicated,’ which, once again, was 100% preventable,” Fishbaugher said.
Fishbaugher thinks most people have never seen the aftermath of a DUI accident. What he’d like to do is every time there’s a serious accident, go get members of the public and take them out to the scene.
“All I want you to do is see what we see ... It changes your perspective,” Fishbaugher said. “It definitely makes you realize what’s important in life and what’s not.”
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]