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What Happens to My Driver’s License if I’m Arrested for DUI in Montana?

Drivers License and DUI Montana

Photo: Dennis Yang on Flickr

As a lawyer in Montana, I’m frequently asked questions about how a DUI arrest or conviction can affect a person’s driver’s license. Not only is this question very common, but it’s a very misunderstood area of the law, especially among the general public.

That’s why I want to make sure you understand the facts about what can happen to your driver’s license if you’re arrested or convicted for DUI in Montana. But before I go any further, there are 2 things you should know:

1. Did You Refuse a Breath or Sobriety Test?

If you refused a breath or sobriety test when you were stopped by the police, your driver’s license will likely be suspended for 6 months. Your suspension will probably begin on the day you refused the test.

This is a civil suspension issued through the Department of Motor Vehicles. This civil suspension is a result of your refusal to take a breath or sobriety test and is completely unrelated to a suspension stemming from a criminal DUI conviction.

2. Were You Convicted of DUI or Related Offense?

If you’ve been convicted of a DUI or related offense, your driver’s license will be subject to a criminal suspension. This is unrelated to any civil suspensions caused by refusing a breath or sobriety test.

So, what’s the difference, and what can you do about them?

Suspension Due to Breath/Blood/Sobriety Test Refusal

Field Sobriety Test

Photo: ODT on Flickr

Let’s start with a suspension due to refusing a sobriety test. As I mentioned earlier, in Montana, if you refuse a breath, blood, or other sobriety test, your license may be suspended as a result of the refusal itself. This is not a criminal punishment, although several cities, including Missoula, have made refusing a breath test a separate misdemeanor crime.

This suspension is a civil administrative suspension. There is only one way to avoid this suspension. A person who has allegedly refused a sobriety test can file a petition in District Court asking the Court to return his or her driver’s license and lift the suspension.

Without an order from the District Court order you can’t get out of a refusal suspension. Once you’ve filed your petition, the burden is on you to prove that either there was not sufficient reason for the police to stop your vehicle, or that you didn’t actually refuse the breath/blood test.

The State of Montana can agree to the reinstatement of your license, or they may require a court hearing to contest your petition. Either way, filing a petition is the only way to even attempt to get your license reinstated if you’ve refused any kind of sobriety test.

It’s also worth noting that DUI defense attorneys in Missoula, Montana will frequently use such a petition as a tool to help negotiate a successful resolution to a DUI arrest for their client.

Suspension Due to DUI Conviction

If you’re convicted of DUI or a related offense, you’ll face a suspension as part of your criminal punishment. Your driver’s license won’t be suspended if you’re only arrested for DUI (unless of course, as I mentioned earlier, you refused a sobriety test). In Montana, to receive a criminal suspension of your driver’s license, you must be convicted of a DUI or a related offense.

The length of the suspension will depend on whether you have any prior DUI convictions. If it’s your first conviction, with the Judge’s approval, you’ll be eligible for a probationary driving permit or an essential driving license. This allows you to drive to work, home, the hospital, the grocery store, or to make any other trips deemed essential by the Judge.

To receive a probationary license, you’ll also need to enroll in a mandatory ACT program to be eligible for this type of license. Currently, in the state of Montana, only convictions for a first DUI offense are eligible for a probationary permit following conviction.

You should also know that there are no options for appealing a suspension of your driver’s license beyond appealing your DUI conviction after trial. In other words:

If you take a plea agreement, you won’t be able to appeal any resulting driver’s license suspension.

Avoiding DUI Conviction & Driver’s License Suspension

Judnich Firm PictureIf you don’t want your driver’s license to get suspended after a DUI arrest, you need to invest in a great DUI defense attorney. Your attorney can start by filing petitions to avoid suspension if you refused a breath or sobriety test. Your lawyer will also work towards a resolution of your case that doesn’t involve a DUI conviction and driver’s license suspension.

Your attorney will be able to navigate complex cases, like those involving multiple refusals of sobriety tests, prior instances of driving with a suspended license, and other traffic crimes that may affect your driver’s license.

Call the Judnich Law Office for a free consultation to discuss your issues in dealing with a driver’s license and DUI related charges today.

What are Your Chances of Being Convicted for DUI?

Police Car DUI

If you’re reading this and you’ve been arrested for a DUI, stay calm. These are serious charges, but panicking won’t help.

You’re probably wondering, “what’re the chances I’ll be convicted?” and “what will happen if I am convicted?” Those are tough questions to answer. Getting results after a DUI arrest depends on a number of factors, including the evidence against you, any prior convictions you might have, the prosecuting attorney, and your defense attorney.

Before I go any further, remember that no matter who you choose as your attorney, any case has the possibility of a conviction, acquittal at trial, or plea negotiation. That’s just the nature of our criminal justice system.

Your DUI Case is Unique

First, know that every single DUI case is different. I’ve watched many hundreds of videos of field sobriety tests. I’ve also reviewed the results of hundreds of breath samples and blood tests. And I’ve found that while they may have shared common elements, each DUI case is truly one-of-a-kind.

Let me tell you more about your how to improve your chances of avoiding a DUI conviction, as well as what to ask when looking for a lawyer to handle your DUI case.

Plea Agreements and Reduced Charges

Why are some people offered plea agreements to offenses that are not DUI’s, while others don’t?

It depends heavily upon your choice of lawyer.

Judnich Firm PictureExperienced DUI defense attorneys like those at the Judnich Law Office know how use their expertise and the tools available to them to persuade prosecutors to dismiss cases or reach an acceptable plea agreement for a lesser offense. This only occurs after years of trying cases against those prosecutors and achieving results.

There’s No Such Thing as a Cut & Dry DUI

As I mentioned earlier, all DUI cases are unique. Don’t believe people who say that you’re either guilty or you’re not. The law isn’t black and white. There are plenty of grey areas and anyone who says otherwise isn’t worth listening to. In almost any case, you could be convicted if represented by one attorney, yet acquitted in the very same case with a more experienced DUI defense attorney. The difference is the attorney.

And There’s No Such Thing as Magic

Additionally, be wary of any attorney who claims to have a magic formula to winning a DUI case or getting a good result from any case, for that matter.

However, there is such a thing as hard work and sometimes that can seem like magic. The truth is, the more hard work that an attorney puts into a case the more likely he or she is to achieve great results.

Your DUI Attorney is an Investment

Most people realize that experienced attorneys with a good track record when it comes to DUI defenses can cost a lot of money. But this is an investment in your personal future, not an unrecoverable sunk cost.

A positive outcome in your DUI case can save you from missing out on thousands of dollars down the road when it comes to future employment opportunities, not to mention the upfront costs of a DUI conviction. Investing significant amounts of money into a top-tier DUI defense attorney increases the amount of time they can devote to your case.

Do you want your attorney giving your case the bare minimum attention it requires or do you want them to research and explore every reasonable option? Do you want evidence, including police dashcam footage, reviewed for hours or just a few minutes?

Do you expect your attorney to interview the arresting officer? Do you expect your attorney to be able to identify and understand the officer’s training and any biases that may have caused mistakes in your investigation?

An attorney who devotes extra time to your case costs more money than one who isn’t as thorough. Think about it. You wouldn’t want to work extra hard for extra long hours for no money at your job would you?

The Judnich Law Office Difference: Pretrial Dedication

We’ll spend a minimum of 2-3 hours simply dissecting the videotape of our client’s encounter with law enforcement officers. This is the main evidence that prosecutors use at trial, so that is what must be scrutinized.

Our DUI defense attorneys look at everything from the reason an officer pulls a person over, to how they conduct and evaluate field sobriety tests and breath tests. A single viewing isn’t enough. We watch videos over and over, devoting massive amounts of time to extracting the evidence that benefits our clients.

An interview with the arresting officer is almost always necessary. This helps determine exactly what the officer did and did not do. This is important because every law enforcement officer in the United States is supposed to conduct every DUI investigation in exactly the same way.

However, very few officers follow the DUI stop protocols as closely as they are required. Only experienced DUI defense attorneys with access to law enforcement training methods and experience with similar cases can identify and use those facts to their client’s advantage.

When searching for a DUI defense attorney, here are two questions you must ask:

  1. First, do they have the training manuals officers use and are trained on?
  2. Next, ask to see them.

If a prospective attorney says no to either question, move on. A thorough understanding of and access to these training manuals are vital to winning a DUI case.

Our Advantage in the Courtroom

courtroom

Photo: Clyde Robinson on Flickr

Too many attorneys take DUI cases, then plead them out to whatever deal they can get, and never see a trial. This isn’t the best way to get great results for clients. Only attorneys who are willing to take cases all the way to trial receive the best deals from prosecutors.

Do you think a prosecutor is intimidated by an attorney that pleads all of his/her clients out and never goes to trial? Or does intimidation come from attorneys who never accept a bad offer, who are willing to go trial, and who win once they are in the courtroom?

At Judnich Law Office, our attorneys fight for you in the courtroom and we typically obtain great results for our clients.

Choosing the wrong attorney can mean the difference between being convicted of DUI and acquittal.
Do your research, and get in touch to see if experienced DUI defense attorneys like those we have at the Judnich Law Office are the right choice for you.

Is Your Auto Insurance Ripping You Off?

auto insurance form

You did your research. You went out of your way to make sure you have “good” insurance on your car. So you think you know what’s really in your policy, right?

Unfortunately, probably not. Many insurance companies try to dupe you in the fine print.

Unless you’re an expert in insurance, I am going to assume you haven’t read every line of your insurance policy. Most people don’t.

How do insurance companies get away with this? Let’s look at an example.

Your Declarations Sheet

Most people receive and review their Declarations sheet and assume they know what they have in their policy. The Declarations sheet is the first page of your policy. It’s supposed to be a clear, concise, and accurate summary of your coverage that does not mislead you. Here’s an example of a USAA Declarations sheet:

usaa auto insurance declaration sheet

If you find it confusing, don’t worry. Most people have a difficult time figuring out exactly what is on this “summary” sheet. Here is what it says:

  • There are two vehicles that are insured: A 1995 Dodge and a 1996 Olds.
  • There is $100,000 of liability coverage per person and up to $300,000 for a total claim value in the event that you are at fault for a crash and other people are injured by you.
  • There is up to $50,000 of property damage coverage.
  • There is up to $25,000 in Medical Payment coverage per person (note that this only costs $6.98 per 6 months).
  • There is Lost wages benefits up to $2,000 per 30 day period.
  • There is Uninsured Motorist coverage up to $100,000 per person up to $300,000 per incident.
  • There is Underinsured Motorist coverage up to $100,000 per person and up to $300,000 per incident.
  • There is a $500 deductible for comprehensive and collision coverage to fix your own vehicle.

By most standards, this should be pretty good coverage. But look a little deeper and you see a different picture. USAA doesn’t tell you about the ridiculous restrictions they place on these coverages. The most egregious is the Medical Payment coverage. This person paid for up to $25,000 in medical payment coverage. What USAA doesn’t tell you is that there are severe limits on this coverage.

car accident insurance

Photo: Natloans

USAA Restrictions

Let’s go through them one at a time.

1. They will only pay your medical bills for one year.

If you need medical treatment, USAA will refuse to pay for any bills after the one year deadline. So, whether you pay for $10,000 in coverage or $100,000 in coverage, it is all only good for one year.

The vast majority of people take longer than one year to fully recover from a serious crash. That means this coverage will not cover all your bills in an average case.

2. USAA decides what medical bills are “necessary and appropriate.”

So, if they decide that any medical treatment wasn’t necessary and appropriate, they won’t pay for it. This tends to be more the rule than the exception.

3. USAA will decide on their own when you have had enough treatment.

If they feel that you are taking too long to get better, they will have one of their own doctors look at your medical records. They will almost always say that you are over treating, and they will not pay for additional treatment.

4.They will let bills go unpaid.

Unless you dispute their denials and really push them on a refusal to pay certain bills, they will simply deny them, and if you don’t do anything, they will remain unpaid and potentially go to collections.

What Should You Do?

At the end of the day, insurance companies try to get you to pay a larger deductible every month by promising better and more coverage. But that may not be what you’re really getting. They are tricking you with the fine print by refusing to pay bills and claims that they are duty bound to pay.

Don’t sit back and take it! Have a talk with your agent today about terms like this and see if your insurance company is ripping you off.

If you think your insurance company has illegally refused to pay your bills, I can help.

Call me for a free consultation at 406-721-3354.

 

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Judnich Law Office | 2419 Mullan Road Missoula, MT 59808 | Phone: (406) 721-3354
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