DUI Process: Understanding The Components of a Utah DUI Arrest

There were over 10,000 DUI arrests in the State of Utah in 2015. The large number of arrests is evidence that the criminal justice system in Utah, as well as a large majority of its citizens, consider DUI a serious crime. Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal. The prosecutors, judges, and members of a jury take DUI charges seriously. Ultimately, a jury may decide the fate of a driver charged with a DUI.

In short, the court system will use the law and the facts surrounding the circumstances of any DUI arrest to attempt to punish an accused driver for their alleged actions. This is why it is extremely important that you understand the components of a DUI case in Utah.

To begin with, in Utah there are two different types of DUI. First, under Utah Code 41-6a-502, it is illegal for any person to operate or be in physical control of a motor vehicle if:

  • They have a blood or breath alcohol level of .08 or higher; or
  • They are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs to a degree that renders that person incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle.

Second, under Utah Code 41-6a-517, it is illegal for any person to operate or be in physical control of a motor vehicle when they have any measurable controlled substance, or active or inactive metabolite of a controlled substance in their body. Let’s take a look at what these both mean in the context of the average DUI arrest.

The average DUI investigation begins with a traffic stop. Maybe you were going a few miles an hour above the posted speed limit. Maybe you didn’t signal a turn. Or, maybe you were swerving while driving. The point is that a police officer observes you driving in a way that gives them reasonable and sufficient reason to pull you over.

At this point, it should be noted that you don’t necessarily have to be driving in order to be charged with DUI. Utah law clearly states that it is illegal to be in control of a motor vehicle while intoxicated or with drug metabolites in your body. This means that the vehicle doesn’t have to be moving or even running in order for you to be arrested. All you have to do is behave in a way that gives a police officer a reasonable suspicion to investigate your behavior.

More than one person has gone to sleep in their car instead of driving after drinking thinking they were doing the right thing. They’ve awoken to discover that sleeping it off behind the wheel is just as illegal as driving home after the bars close.

Once the police pull you over there are several things that can reasonably change a routine traffic stop into a DUI investigation. The officer may smell the odor of alcohol. They may see drug paraphernalia in the vehicle. They may observe signs of alcohol or drug use. You might be slurring your words, your eyes might be bloodshot, or you simply might be acting too nervous. The point is that once the officer has reasonable suspicion that you’ve been drinking or using drugs, they can begin investigating this suspicion further.

The investigation usually begins with the officer asking if you’ve been drinking or using drugs. Based on the answers to your questions, they can then investigate further. This usually takes the form of a field sobriety test.

Thanks to reality television shows, we’ve all seen video footage of field sobriety tests being performed. The purpose of the officer’s questions and the field sobriety test is to allow the officer to determine whether there is probable cause to administer an alcohol chemical test. Based on your performance, the next component of a DUI is the chemical test. A chemical test may in the form of either a breathalyzer or a blood draw, at the discretion of the law enforcement officer.

When it comes to the alcohol or drug testing involved in a DUI investigation, Utah is an “implied consent” state. This means that per Utah law, a person who has obtained a driver’s license is considered to have already given their consent to chemical testing to determine if they are in violation of the state’s DUI or driving with a controlled substance or metabolite. Even though the law presumes that you’ve given your consent to being tested, you still have the right to refuse testing. However, you should be aware that a refusal to be tested carries a stiff penalty.

Under normal circumstances, a first-time DUI results in an automatic 120-day suspension of your driver’s license. If breathalyzer testing is refused, this automatic suspension in first time cases is increased to 18 months. If this isn’t your first DUI, the suspension times just get longer – up to three years for a second offense that involves a refusal.

In any event, refusing a chemical test is often pointless. By the time an officer asks you to submit to testing, he or she has already established probable cause that you’ve been operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. This means that they can obtain a search warrant from a judge which will force you to submit to testing, by force if necessary.

Once an officer has concluded the DUI investigation, you will be issued a citation. You may also be arrested and booked into jail. Depending on the jurisdiction of your arrest, you may need to post bond in order to be released from jail pending your trial or disposition of your case. This can take the form of a cash bond that you pay to the court or paying a bail bondsman to post the required bond amount on your behalf.

As was stated above, if you’ve been arrested for DUI, your driver’s license will automatically be suspended. The only way to possibly prevent this automatic suspension of your license is to contact the Driver’s License Division within ten days of your arrest and request an administrative hearing.

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