We see the signs everywhere now…”DUI, You can’t afford it”. What most people probably take from that is the astronomical costs for a lawyer, fines, fees, and any number of other costs that can come into play. But what really has to be thought of is that it could cost someone’s life, or even sadder, multiple lives. Of course when you are in the middle of a “fun” night of drinking, the consequences grow farther and farther away from any actions, and completely go out the window if you become black-out drunk, which is why it’s against the law to begin with. What kind of nightmare would that be, to finally come to, and find out you killed someone? It could happen without a car involved, but after just one serving of alcohol, a car could become one of the biggest weapons you will ever yield.
A few years ago I made the horrible mistake of getting behind the wheel drunk. I had been celebrating a promotion…in my mind I was “fine”, and was only driving a couple of blocks away, but it didn’t matter. Something could have potentially went horribly wrong in just the parking lot of the bar I was at. I made it to the block of the house I was headed to when I saw the lights start flashing behind me. I went numb. I tried to think of what I did to even get pulled over, but my thoughts were all over the place. The cop said he pulled me over for a headlight being out, and asked to see my license and registration. I handed him my bank card!! Go ahead and laugh, I sure do, but it’s not a funny matter when you get down to the seriousness of the situation. How many people have lost loved ones due to drinking and driving…10, 874 drunk driving deaths occurred in 2018 alone.
They made my passenger and I exit the vehicle, made me do a sobriety test that I failed, handcuffed me, and brought me in to be booked. I was searched, fingerprinted, had my blood taken, asked if I was part of a gang, and had my picture taken. Then I was led into a cell with a single metal bench, and made to wait there for who knows how long. I was told I didn’t have to post bail to leave, but was asked if I had anyone to come pick me up. I said no, so I had to wait a little while longer before an officer could drive me home. He told me I had to wait 24 hrs before I can pick up my car from the tow lot, and gave me the info for it’s location along with my release papers. I still was numb, and somehow fell asleep, just to wake up and call out of work for the day.
It was $200 to get my car out of the lot, and I began Googling first time D.U.I.’s in the state of Pennsylvania. I saw that I could qualify for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, or ARD, which is a pre-trial diversionary program offered to first time offenders under certain circumstances, for the cost of $1,500-$2,000. There is a 6-12 month probation, mandatory Highway Safety classes, and 20 hrs of community service as a basis to the program, plus I had to waive my right to a trial while pleading guilty to the charge to be eligible. On my lunch break from work a couple of days later, I went to my local courthouse and told them that’s what I wanted to do…as it happens, a judge was available to see me right away, and I went in without a lawyer to process the first step. He asked if I was sure I didn’t want council at that time, I said yes, and he granted my request. He then strongly suggested I get a lawyer for the upcoming conviction hearing, and I left.
I called around for Highway Safety classes and got into the first available slot that allowed me to take 3 consecutive-8 hr days of classes, instead of the drawn out-6 Saturday’s option. I had to miss work, and pay about $90 per class, so I was out another $270, plus had to use up vacation days. In the mean time I was getting a pouring of mail from various local lawyers, all within a week of the booking…and without me doing a thing to request them. I opened them all and picked the one with the best deal. He was offering flat rates, with a three payment option of the fee, and I jumped on it. I couldn’t afford to have someone add in any hidden fees or extend an hourly rate to who knows what, so I called him and set up a consultation within a week. He was surprised I had already arranged the ARD, classes, and community service, which he said knocked off the first payment right there. All I would need him for was to draw up the paperwork, and represent me at the conviction hearing, for just two payments of $750.
I was lucky enough to be able to do my community service with a farm not far from where I lived, and it took 5 months from the day of my arrest to finally get a conviction hearing, which was another vacation day out the window. On the day of the hearing, my lawyer apparently had about 5 other clients showing up, and we were all part of a mass hearing that included over 50 individuals there for the same thing. The judge read out his statement and read out his verdict, to which we all had to respond yes to in unison. Then we had to individually sign something for our lawyer, who handed them in, and told us we could leave. After it was all said and done, I had spent about $5,000, and all I could do was think that I am a horrible mom for basically taking away that money from my son. That was $5,000 I could have used for him in any number of instances, and I was thoroughly disgusted with myself.
After the conviction, PennDot sent a letter to state my 90 day license suspension would begin as soon as I turned in my license, and I had 6 months to do so. I didn’t want to wait though. I turned it in as soon as possible, and spent the next three months walking 40 min. to work, and 40 min. home, Monday through Friday…it gave me a lot of time to think. I took full responsibility for my horrible actions, and while I had a fitting sentence for my stupidity, it also made me realize how so many poor people wind up far worse than any one else in the same situation, all because of money. The judicial system is in place to generate a revenue, not to actually serve and help rehabilitate people. After my 6 month probation, my record was expunged, but it will still be used against me if I am arrested again within 10 years of my conviction. And PennDot doesn’t expunge anything, the DUI will stay on their records for 10 years…for anyone to see. There are countries that I can’t enter right now, and certain jobs that I couldn’t be hired for. All because I thought I was “fine” to drive after drinking.
While it was one of my darker learning experiences, I still have a lot to be grateful for that it happened the way it did. No one was hurt or killed. Property wasn’t damaged. My son wasn’t in the car. And I had the vacation time and funds to make it through as fast as possible. I don’t drive at all when I know there will be heavy drinking, I limit my intake to the One An Hour rule for how long it takes our body to process alcohol if I am driving, and I just keep my fingers crossed that I served, and learned enough that karma doesn’t decide to bring it back around for my son or me again. I’m a firm believer of getting what you put out, so I hope my lesson can help even one person not make the same mistake.