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What Happens When You Get a DUI for the First Time


Typically, a first-time DUI or “first offense” is punished not as harshly as subsequent offenses. However, defendants often mistake the words “first offense” for meaning they will receive leniency from the court. While everyone makes mistakes, in New Mexico, a first time DUI can still result in jail time and fines along with the consequences of having a criminal record.

Therefore, a DUI, whether it is a first time or not, is not something anyone should dismiss as minor. Instead, if you have been arrested for your first DUI, you need a criminal defense attorney immediately.

Understanding the Penalties of a First-Time DUI/DWI in New Mexico

First offenses are serious and the penalties are left up to a judge’s discretion, which means they have sentencing guidelines with leeway for using their opinion to sentence you.

Regardless, you need an attorney with experience handling DUI cases, as any conviction can result in a criminal record and that record can affect you long after you serve your sentence.

Can You Go to Jail for a First-Time DUI?

The answer, unfortunately, is not that simple.

The statute states that a judge may order up to 90 days in jail for your first-time DUI but there is no required jail time, meaning no mandatory minimum jail sentence. If your first DUI was considered “aggravated,” then the state does impose a mandatory minimum jail sentence.

Aggravated DUIs mean that your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) measured .16% or more. The mandatory minimum jail sentence is 48 hours and up to 90 days for a first-time offense.

So, based on the circumstances of your DUI, the judge will determine whether you can go home without jail time or if you will serve somewhere between 1 and 90 days in a county jail facility.

Community Service Is More Likely

Often, first-time DUI offenders are sentenced to community service rather than jail time (as long as they have a non-aggravated offense). Your first offense will require a minimum of 24 hours of community service, but the judge may impose longer.

Fines Are Applicable Regardless of Jail Time

Regardless if you serve time in jail or not, the court does impose penalties on first-time offenders. The fine is up to $500, which means again, the judge uses his or her discretion to assign a fine. They can pick a fine they feel is suitable in addition to your jail sentence.

For example, a judge might feel you need the maximum sentence, which would be 90 days in jail and a fine of $500. Other times, the judge may order one week in jail and a fine of only $200. The circumstances of your DUI weigh heavily in how much of a fine you pay – just as they do with your jail time.

Treatment from a DUI Educational Course

You will be ordered to complete a court-approved DUI educational course, which goes over the dangers of driving while intoxicated, how to avoid it, and the laws. First-time offenders cannot be excused from this course; therefore, plan to take it if convicted.

Revocation of Your Driver’s License Is Likely

Your driver’s license penalties are separate from your criminal penalties. Even if you do not serve a single day in jail, if you tested for a BAC of 0.08% or more at the time of your arrest, the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) will revoke your driver’s license for a minimum of six months; this applies even if the court does not officially convict you. Therefore, if the prosecutor drops the charges, the MVD can still revoke your license for the positive breathalyzer.

If you are convicted, then you have an automatic revocation of one year.

In some cases, you can request that the MVD allow you to continue driving with an ignition interlock device (IID). You would then be allowed to keep your license and still drive the vehicle with the installed IID. If the MVD denies this request, you are still required to use an IID in all vehicles you drive for one year after your license is reinstated. You also incur the costs to install, maintain, and service the IID.

New Mexico’s Laws for DUIs Are Only Going to Get Harsher

New Mexico, like many states, is imposing stricter laws against DUI offenders – including first-time offenders. Due to the number of accidents and fatalities associated with drunk driving, lawmakers are pushing for harsher jail sentences for first-time offenses as a way to deter the public from doing the same. Therefore, in the next year or so, you can expect the penalty for a first-time offense only to worsen rather than simplify.

The Other Consequences of a First-Time DUI

You have more consequences than potential jail time and fines. A first-time DUI is still a criminal record. While charged as a misdemeanor, you may be required to disclose that status on specific job applications such as those that do not ask specifically for felony convictions.

Also, with a criminal record in place, any time a background check is done on you, it will show that you were convicted of a DUI. That means employers who run background checks, landlords who investigate possible tenants, and even some government programs will find your first-time DUI conviction and possibly exclude you from their application pool.

Your current job might also be affected. If you do serve time in jail, you may lose your position, which means you will be out of work when you get out. Likewise, with a one-year license suspension, you may be unable to fulfill job duties, such as driving to and from work or if your job requires you to use a vehicle as part of your role.

How a Defense Attorney Can Help

A defense attorney with experience in DUI cases can negotiate the sentence with the prosecution and possibly work out a favorable plea. Other times, your attorney may be able to poke holes in the state’s case, which forces them to drop down to a lesser charge than a DUI or drop the case entirely.

If you want to protect yourself from the long-term consequences of your first-time DUI, speak with an attorney from New Mexico Criminal Law Offices today. Schedule a free case evaluation now at 505-200-2982 or request more information online.