The Basics of DUI Defense in Oklahoma ... What to expect, and what can be done about it.
First, Stop and Do This Now!
First, if you or someone you know has been arrested in Oklahoma for DUI or APC, you only have fifteen days from the date of arrest to request an administrative hearing from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS) to prevent your license from being suspended. DO NOT miss this deadline. If you cannot hire an attorney in time to get this hearing request filed, the instructions for filing it are in very small fine print on the "Officer's Affidavit and Notice of Revocation" that you should have been served at arrest. If you request this hearing yourself, you will preserve your right to a hearing, stop your license revocation/suspension from happening until the hearing has taken place, and buy yourself some time to find an attorney experienced in conducting these hearings to try to save your license. Also, even if your license was already suspended, or you haven't been issued a license, request this hearing anyway. Doing so will give your attorney an opportunity to test the State's evidence, obtain discovery in your case, and even cross-examine the officers involved. This can sometimes be a huge help in putting together a defense to your criminal charges. If you do not request this hearing, your license will be automatically suspended beginning thirty days from the service of the Officer's Affidavit. Finally, even if you believe your case is hopeless, and that you cannot possibly win a fight with DPS over your license, request this hearing anyway!! If the arresting or testing officer(s) are late to the hearing, or do not appear for the hearing, you will win this hearing and your license will not be suspended or revoked. In short, if you do not timely request this hearing, your license will automatically be revoked, and you will face $1,000 to $2000 in assessments, classes, fees, and costs to get to reinstatement of your license. If you request the hearing and win, it can save you all of that cost, as well as prevent you having to have an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle for anywhere from 1.5 to 8 years at your expense.
If you missed Step 1
If you are already past the 15 day deadline discussed above, it is too late to request the hearing. Oklahoma no longer has hardship or 'work' permits to drive when your license has been suspended for DUI/APC. However, you may petition for a modified license, which will allow you to drive during your suspension period under some restrictions, the biggest of which is that you must have an ignition interlock device installed on any vehicle you are driving.
Your Criminal Case vs. Your Driver License Case
When you are arrested for DUI or APC in Oklahoma, there are actually two separate proceedings started against you. First is the criminal case filed in city, state, or federal court. Second is the DPS administrative action against your driver license discussed above. The state has two opportunities to suspend or revoke your driving privileges. First, if you lose your administrative hearing, or do not request the administrative hearing as discussed above. Second, if you are convicted (found guilty) of the DUI or APC in the criminal case, your license will automatically be suspended based on the conviction.
Know where you are supposed to appear for your case.
If you were arrested by a city police officer, your criminal charge may be filed in either the municipal court for that city, or they may refer the charge to the state District Court for the county in which you were arrested. Check your ticket, jail release paperwork, or your bond paperwork to see which court you will have to appear in. If you were arrested by a Sheriff's Deputy, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, or any state level agency, your criminal charge will be filed in the state District Court in the county in which you were arrested. Finally, if you were arrested on a Federal facility, such as a military base, national park, or other Federal property, your criminal charge will be filed in the Federal District Court for the District in which you were arrested.
What is DUI?
Regardless of which court your criminal charge is filed in, the government has the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In trying to do this, the government must show that you (1) operated a motor vehicle (2) on a public roadway (3) within their jurisdiction (4) while, "under the influence" of alcohol or drugs. If any one of these four elements is not met beyond a reasonable doubt, the government has failed to meet their burden of proof, and you cannot be found guilty.
You just might be NOT guilty
While some cases may revolve around the first three elements above, the vast majority of cases are won or lost on element #4 ... whether you were, "under the influence." This is a legal term of art that has a very specific meaning. In Oklahoma, it means that you were so impaired by the alcohol or drugs that you were incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle. Unless you were under 21, it is NOT a DUI if you simply drink and drive, the State must prove impairment, and that impairment must be to a high enough level to show beyond a reasonable doubt that you were incapable of safely operating the vehicle. If you were under 21, the standard and the penalties are different, and those are not covered here.
How the prosecutor tries to show guilt and what can you do about it.
There are basically two ways the government can show impairment. First, the officer's testimony about the driving behavior observed, like swerving or weaving, combined with observations about your behavior and results of standardized field sobriety tests (SFST's) will be introduced to try to show that you were impaired. SFST's must be done properly, by the officer, or they may not be admissible against you. Tell your attorney all that you remember about the stop and arrest, and an attorney experienced in DUI defense can discuss with you whether this evidence can be suppressed in your case, and whether any admissible evidence is enough to show a high enough level of impairment that you might be found guilty. The second way the government tries to show impairment is from any breath or blood test results in your case. The Oklahoma legislature has created a statutory presumption that you are incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle if your blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is at or above .08. This means that if the government can show that your BAC was .08 or above, the prosecutor does not have to bother trying to show you were too impaired to safely operate a motor vehicle, and a judge or jury may presume you were that impaired solely based on your .08 BAC. The presumption is rebuttable, which means that if the prosecutor gets your .08 or higher BAC admitted to the jury, the burden then shifts to you to affirmatively rebut the presumption of impairment with some evidence that you were not incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle even though your BAC was .08 or above. Again, an attorney experienced in DUI defense can discuss with you whether the test was conducted correctly, and would be admissible against you in court. If those breath or blood tests were not done in accordance with the rules of the Oklahoma Board of Tests, your test results may be inadmissible and should be suppressed and not used against you.
A DUI or APC in Oklahoma is a misdemeanor offense, carrying from 10 days to up to 1 year in jail, along with fines and costs, and the driver license penalties discussed above. If you have a prior DUI or APC within ten years, your DUI or APC can be filed as a Felony offense, which carries much harsher penalties, including potentially a much longer term of incarceration in prison. Because of the severe penalties and costs of a DUI/APC, it is extremely important to take full advantage of the opportunities to fight your case at the DPS administrative hearing, and to try to get any evidence of impairment including SFST's, breath or blood tests, and your own statements to officers about the case suppressed in your criminal case to try to get your case dismissed. An attorney experienced in the technical aspects of a DUI defense will give you the best chance to get a favorable outcome in your case.