Legal Fallout of DUIs: What Happens? What Can Be Done to Offset Reputation and Professional/Academic Damage?

Contributor: Sierra Tucson clinical team member Ryan Poling, M.A.

car-407165_640“Ma’am, can you please step out the vehicle?” May’s [1] head spins and her thoughts race about a possible DUI. She has seen this before on TV. She will probably have to walk down a straight line or recite the alphabet backwards.

Maybe blow into a breathalyzer machine. I only had one extra glass of wine at dinner, she thinks. There’s no way I’m drunk.

May steps out of her silver sedan into the humid night air and stands on the still-warm blacktop. Sure enough, the officer begins a field sobriety test. May feels wobbly but is confident she is passing. The officer retrieves a breathalyzer machine from his squad car, places a clean tip on the mouthpiece, and asks May to blow into it as hard as she can.

She’s Drunk

May complies. The machine takes a few seconds to calculate her blood alcohol content and finishes with a beep. The officer turns the display to show her the result. May stares at the number and it stares back.

0.10. Over the legal limit.

May’s story is not unique, and she might even be considered lucky. In 2013, over 10,000 people died in alcohol-related vehicle crashes [2]. The year 2010 saw 1.4 million arrests for driving under the influence, which is a tiny fraction of the 114 million self-reported incidents of drunk driving that year [3].

What Happens When I Get a DUI?

Gavel, symbol of judicial decisions and justice after a DUIOne of the first steps after being arrested for a DUI is a court arraignment. During the arraignment, a judge may set bail and request a plea, typically either guilty or not guilty. In Arizona, minimum jail time for a DUI is 24 hours for the first offense and 30 days for a second offense. There is no minimum jail time for a third offense.

In addition to jail time, those who are convicted of DUIs often lose their driver’s licenses for a period of time and can become ineligible for a number of professional licenses. Insurance companies are reluctant to provide insurance for those with DUI convictions, and so car insurance rates can increase by more than double. Certain jurisdictions may require community service, counseling, attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous or other groups, or a combination of these.

Managing the Repercussions of a DUI

DUIs are serious offenses and the consequences are often life-altering. However, there are steps you can take to manage the repercussions of a DUI arrest and conviction. Before following any of these steps, make sure to consult with your lawyer.

Work with the court and with your lawyer. Experienced DUI lawyers are often able to work with you, the prosecutor, and the court to find an arrangement that satisfies all parties. Prosecutors sometimes approach defendants with a plea deal.

In exchange for pleading guilty, and therefore avoiding a long and expensive jury trial, prosecutors may be willing to exchange jail time for community service or come to other arrangements. While a DUI conviction is serious and requires restitution, there may be ways to both pay one’s debt to society and minimize the effects of a DUI conviction.

Staying Cooperative and Honest

step-275929_640Be open, honest, and cooperative. While it is generally unwise to openly discuss a DUI arrest with others since they can be called into court to testify against you, friends and family members will often have mixed emotions if you are convicted of a DUI. They may feel sad, angry, embarrassed, scared, betrayed, or any number of other emotions.

Despite their feelings about your conviction, your loved ones are your strongest asset during the stressful time after a DUI conviction. To the best of your ability, listen to their concerns and openly and non-defensively allow them to express their emotions. Listen to and acknowledge their concerns and humbly own up to your mistakes. Understand that their reactions most likely arise because they care for you.

Staying Open with Your Lawyer

In the same way, be open and honest with your lawyer and the court. Do not hide any details about the circumstances of your arrest and previous behavior. Cooperate with your lawyer’s advice and especially cooperate with the court’s instructions.

It is not necessary to admit guilt outright, but do be willing to comply quickly and fully with the court’s recommendations. If you are required to attend treatment, do so with openness. You may not like the fact that you must attend therapy or groups, but you might as well gain what you can during your time there.

Find Opportunities to Grow

Smiling female student doing homework about a DUI topicEngage in introspection and personal work. Life often has a way of using dramatic circumstances to illuminate personal gaps or areas of hidden pain. You may not feel as though you have a problem, but take advantage of opportunities to look inside yourself and grow.

Even if the court does not require it, attend therapy and consider attending one or two AA meetings just to try them out. At the very least, by seeking therapy you will have someone to talk to as you work through the difficult months after a DUI conviction.

Tell Your Story

Tell your story. Always follow your lawyer’s advice regarding who to tell and how much to say, but consider being open about what happened. If you find yourself applying for jobs, your employer will most likely conduct a background check and discover your DUI conviction. You might consider being forthright with your employer.

Disclose your DUI conviction before the employer finds it and describe the steps you have taken since the conviction to remedy the problem. Honesty and forthrightness may demonstrate to a potential employer that you are trustworthy despite your conviction. While you still will likely be ineligible for certain jobs, such as those that involve driving, based on company policy, it may be to your benefit to let him or her know before he or she discovers the conviction during your background check.

A DUI is a Serious Matter, but not the End

silhouette-691502_640A DUI conviction is a serious matter, and state laws treat it as such. Being convicted of a DUI will likely require you to make substantial changes in your life. However, a DUI conviction is by no means the end of the road for you.

You will face challenges and will likely experience a range of emotions from embarrassment to sadness to anger, but it is also possible to see a DUI conviction as a pivot point in your life. With help and a decision to face your conviction head-on, it is possible to recover and even thrive after a DUI.

If you know you are struggling with substance use, take the time to seriously look at escaping your cycle of addiction. Begin a substance use treatment program. Resist the temptation to allow yourself to sink further into substance use. Know that there is help and hope available to you.


  1. Pseudonym. Names and circumstances have been changed to protect anonymity.
  2. National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2014). Alcohol impaired driving: 2013 data. (Traffic Safety Facts. DOT HS 812 102). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved from
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Impaired driving: Get the facts. Retrieved from

About the Author:

“Legal Fallout of DUIs: What Happens? What Can Be Done to Offset Reputation and Professional/Academic Damage?” was written by Sierra Tucson clinical team member Ryan Poling, M.A. Ryan has experience working clinically with a wide range of populations and presenting concerns. He is a clinical psychology doctoral candidate at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology and was an adjunct professor of psychology at Azusa Pacific University from 2012 to 2015.

About Sierra Tucson:

Founded over 30 years ago, Sierra Tucson is a leading provider of mental health and substance abuse care. Sierra Tucson’s treatment model integrates evidence-based medical and psychological care and is staffed around-the-clock with dedicated, compassionate physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and Master’s-level clinicians.

The campus is situated on 160 acres in the high desert north of Tucson, Arizona, and offers stunning views of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on July 10, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 7, 2021
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