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It was a mistake. You left the bar or your friend’s home convinced you were okay. You only had a few drinks. Almost before you realized what had happened, you were pulled over and arrested. Now you’re facing a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) charge and wondering what to do.

So when should you get help fighting a DWI?

Sobering Truths

First, some facts. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) estimates that the average person has driven drunk at least 80 times before they are arrested. Although the advocacy organization is aggressively anti-alcohol, even if they are only half right, that’s a lot of dangerous driving.

There’s no question that drunk drivers continue to pose a risk in the United States. In 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that some 10,511 people died in drunk driving accidents. Although fatalities have fallen by a third in the last three decades, that’s far too many lost lives and shattered families.

Maybe you are the exception. Maybe this genuinely was an error in judgment. In Texas, the legal limit for arrest is .08. This is usually two or three drinks in an hour –– depending upon your height, weight, and gender. It’s incredibly easy to misjudge your own sobriety. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never driven under the influence before. You face the same life-altering charge as someone who was lucky 79 times before being caught.

Experts suggest upon release you should write down everything you remember about the events leading up to your arrest, along with any comments made by the arresting officer and the booking process. Describe exactly what you drank and in what quantity, and how long you’d stopped drinking before being pulled over. Try to remember if you were read your rights and which tests you took to determine your intoxication. Should your case go before a judge, those notes may help exonerate you.

Well-Qualified Help

As a first-time offender with a potential Class B misdemeanor, you are facing up to 180 days in jail, up to a $2,000 fine, and a driver’s license suspension of one year. You may also need to pay as much as $2,000 to get your license back. So, should you hire a DWI defense attorney?

Insurance experts suggest that a DUI conviction will raise your insurance rates by $5,000 per year. Besides that clear financial incentive, other consequences are more opaque.

You may find it harder to get certain jobs or get flagged by a background check. A DWI conviction will follow you for years, even decades-long after your insurance company stops noting it. So hiring a skilled attorney seems like a good investment.

So what can a DWI defense attorney do? They will examine arrest reports to make sure your rights weren’t violated. They will look at any sobriety tests and verify their accuracy. They can help you even if you decide to plead guilty, by advocating for a first-time offender program that leans more toward recovery than punishment.

Unfortunately, many people who believe a DWI arrest was just a one-time error in judgment actually have a drinking problem. After completing treatment, they view the arrest as the best thing that could have happened –– preferable to injuring or killing themselves or others.

It’s hard to remember what to do in that anxious moment after being pulled over. Remember, you are not required to tell the officer that you were drinking or how many drinks you consumed. You have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Some also recommend refusing field sobriety tests, although this guarantees arrest –– you may not be legally intoxicated by the time tests are administered at the station. Most importantly, the next time you go out drinking, plan on having rideshare or sober friend bring you home.