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
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
If 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.
Marty is a former criminal prosecutor in the Cascade County Attorney’s Office and now uses that experience to defend those accused of crimes. A University of Montana School of Law graduate, Marty focuses his practice on personal injury and criminal defense and is a premier DUI defense attorney. He is also well versed in the insurance claims industry and has negotiated significant settlements with nearly every major insurance company.