LEGAL ADVICE: Driving Drunk, You are a loaded gun driving down the street |

LEGAL ADVICE: Driving Drunk, You are a loaded gun driving down the street

Jacqueline Mittelstadt
Special to the Tribune

Early in my career as an attorney, I prosecuted criminal misdemeanor offenses. I recall being very thankful I didn’t drink at the time when I saw the costs, the inconvenience, and the significant impact to people’s lives that even a first time DUI conviction could have. Even back then the projected costs were about $10,000 from beginning to end. With heavy law school debt, who could afford such an expense?

Over the years, I’ve known, or heard about people from all walks of life who couldn’t afford the costs to their lives after being arrested for a DUI. Two people that I know, one an attorney colleague the other a bartender, both suffered extreme anxiety over the possible loss of their jobs due to their second DUI conviction, which included mandatory jail time.

A neighbor just last week, was arrested for a DUI and lost his job, and his 30 year career as a commercial truck driver. Before his arrest, he had never had so much as a traffic violation. With the loss of his job, he faces a forced sale of his house, and his wife is leaving him.

None of these instances compare to the young 20-something driver who was so intoxicated that after leaving a late night drive-through with his food he entered the San Diego I-5 Freeway via an exit ramp. His life was over, even though he survived the ensuing crash. Even worse were the lives of the entire family he killed in the oncoming car. Have you ever noticed that it seems like the drunk driver is the one who survives? Even if the 20-something convicted felon does eventually get out of jail, how can he sleep at night?

The Fourth of July is one of those weekends during the year that enjoys stepped up law enforcement including DUI checkpoints to snare the unwary.

From a legal standpoint it doesn’t matter what the intoxicating substance is including illicit drugs, alcohol, prescription drugs, marijuana (illicit status uncertain in California) or even over the counter medications. As long as any law enforcement officer has probable cause to stop a car, the officer may explore if the driver is intoxicated. Probable cause may be something egregious – swerving between lanes, or over the center divider – or something as minor as a broken taillight or not wearing a seat belt.

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Law enforcement officers are well-trained in administering field sobriety checkpoints and documentation required under the law. They send their report complete with information about probable cause for the traffic stop: the in-field breath test, the blood, breath or urine test, all of which amounts to a solid case against the defendant.

Prosecutors thrive on convictions as a victory notch on their belts. DUIs are generally speaking an easy “notch” for prosecutors and a very troublesome “notch” for an intoxicated driver.

Some of the consequences of a DUI include the time off from work to be in jail, get the vehicle out of impound, go to court and/or meet with a lawyer.

A DUI can cost anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000. In addition, a person convicted of a DUI cannot drive for at least 30 days and can only drive to work for a longer period of time. Add on community service, and a DUI costs time and money that many people do not have.

But the real costs and consequences cannot be measured in time and money.

“Worst case you kill yourself or even worse somebody else, go to prison and have to live with that the rest of your life,” said criminal defense attorney, Anthony Solare, of Solare & Associates. “A $100 cab ride is a bargain compared to any of that.”

Victor Barr, Deputy District Attorney for the County of San Diego describes intoxicated drivers as a loaded gun going down the street.

“People never think it will happen to them,” Barr said.

Solare said anyone who drinks socially is susceptible to getting their first DUI.

“Someone like that can be in the .08 (blood alcohol concentration) to .12 range, feel fine, and not even think about it,” said Mr. Solare. Nevada and California’s legal limit is .08 BAC for drivers older than 21.

A DUI can happen to you or to a loved one. Stay safe this Fourth of July.

– Jacqueline Mittelstadt is an attorney with the firm of HackerBraly, LLP,, a full-service law firm establishing an with office in South Lake Tahoe and an office in Santa Clarita, Calif. If you have a legal question or issue you would like to see addressed in a future article, please e-mail it to