Vermont has an effective and efficient DUI/DWI enforcement and prosecution system. Vermont uses the DataMaster DMT device to collect a breath test from a DUI suspect – this device reports the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as a three-digit number (for example, .125%). The DMT test is administered by the police officer in a secure location such as a police station or barracks, after the suspect is arrested, and the suspect is informed of his or her rights under the Implied Consent Law and provided with an opportunity to consult with a lawyer for advice before the test is taken or refused. The Vermont Forensic Laboratory is the state agency responsible for Breath Alcohol Analysis.
The legal limit in Vermont is .08%. If you drive a commercial vehicle, the legal limit is .04%. If you drive a school bus, the legal limit is .02%. A DUI charge may be filed against a suspect even if the breath test result is below the legal limit. The state may charge the suspect with “driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor,” and will use expert witness testimony to “relate back” the test result from the time of collection (the time the suspect submits to the breath test, which might be an hour after the car stop), to the time of operation (the time when the suspect was stopped by the police).
The police in Vermont are aggressively targeting drugged drivers – drivers who use street or prescription drugs that impair their ability to drive safely – also known as “buzzed driving.” The police operate random checkpoints to catch drunk and drugged drivers. Some police officers consider themselves “DUI hunters” and if you drive drunk or buzzed in Vermont, you will be their prey. Vermont uses specially trained police officers, Drug Recognition Experts, in cases where the suspect may be driving while under the influence of drugs (marijuana, opiates, other street drugs, or prescription drugs), or under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs, and the suspect will be examined by a DRE officer and asked to submit a blood sample so the state can collect evidence of any drugs in the suspect’s system. In cases where there is a fatality or serious bodily injury as the result of a motor vehicle collision, the police can get a search warrant to take a sample of the suspect’s blood without the suspect’s consent.
To be safe, you should not have any alcohol or drugs in your system if you drive in Vermont. If you do go out drinking with friends, always have a designated driver, or get a ride home. If you drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Vermont, you will have to pay for your crime, and you may hurt or kill yourself or an innocent person. The clear message here is to drive clean and sober in Vermont or don’t drive at all.
DUI Criminal Charges
There are several ways that you may be charged with DUI, depending upon the facts in your particular case. You may be charged with DUI, for example, if:
You drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor;
You drive a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08% or more;
You drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of any other drug or under the combined influence of alcohol and any other drug to a degree which renders you incapable of driving safely;
You are involved in a collision and cause serious bodily injury or death to another, the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that there is any alcohol in your system, and you refuse the chemical test; or
You are a repeat offender, you drive a motor vehicle, the police have reasonable grounds to believe that you are under the influence, and you refuse the chemical test.
Other aspects of Vermont’s law may be explored by consulting the text of the DUI statute.
For a first offense DUI – two years in jail, or a $750 fine, or both.
For a second offense DUI – two years in jail, or a $1,500 fine, or both, and a mandatory jail sentence of 6o hours or 200 hours of community service.
For a third offense DUI – five years in jail, or a $2,500 fine, or both, and a mandatory jail sentence of 96 hours.
For a fourth or subsequent DUI – ten years in jail, or a $5,000 fine, or both, and a mandatory jail sentence of 192 hours.
DUI convictions in Vermont and any other state are counted as prior DUI convictions in Vermont.
Vermont has the right to seek a forfeiture of the motor vehicle used to commit a DUI if the suspect is a repeat offender.
The court will collect special surcharges in all DUI cases: $60 for the Blood and Breath Alcohol Testing Special Fund, $50 for the Public Defender Special Fund, and $50 for the DUI Enforcement Fund. These special surcharges are in addition to the surcharges that are collected in all criminal cases.
If you are arrested for DUI, Vermont will prosecute you in a Criminal Case that will result in fines, surcharges, probation, or jail, and your driver’s license (if you live in Vermont), or your privilege to drive in Vermont (if you have a license in another state), will be suspended. If you hold a license in another state, Vermont will notify your home state of the DUI conviction in Vermont and you may be suspended in your home state under its laws and motor vehicle regulations. You should seek the advice of an attorney about the consequences to your license in your home state if you are convicted of DUI in Vermont.
If you are arrested for DUI, and if your breath test result is .08% or more, or if you refused to submit a breath sample, Vermont will prosecute a Civil License Suspension case against you that could result in a separate license suspension in Vermont, typically for the same duration as the suspension for a criminal conviction (depending upon your license suspension history).
The civil license suspension cases are designed to be swift – the preliminary hearing is held within 21 days and the final hearing is held within 42 days. The goal is to remove impaired drivers from the road as quickly as possible. The state can rely on the affidavit of the arresting officer, the test is presumed to be reliable if collected in compliance with state laws and regulations, and the case is tried to a judge as part of civil, administrative hearing. The state does not have to prove that you were DUI – it only has to prove that the officer had “reasonable grounds” to believe that you were driving while under the influence, that the breath test was collected properly, and that the breath test result was .08% or more (or that you refused the test). Success in these cases often turns on whether the initial car stop was lawful, whether your rights were violated, or whether there was some irregularity in the breath testing procedure.
When you are released after your arrest, the police officer will give you a citation to appear in court at a future date for your initial appearance to answer to the criminal charge (arraignment), and a form (Notice of Intention to Suspend) notifying you that your license will be suspended. You must request a hearing to contest the license suspension by filling out and sending the form to the Vermont Dept. of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 7 days or your license will be suspended on the date indicated on the form (11 days after the date of issue). If you request a hearing, and it is your first offense, your license will not be suspended until the final hearing in your case, but only if you request a hearing within the 7-day time period. If you are a repeat offender, your license will be suspended whether you request a hearing or not, but you may still contest the suspension in court by requesting a hearing within the 7-day time period. There are no fines involved if you lose the civil suspension case, but there is a court fee ($75) if you request a hearing. You should seek advice from an attorney about whether to request a hearing in your particular case. Note that the date for the preliminary hearing in the civil suspension case may not always be the same as the date for your initial appearance on the criminal case (arraignment).
The license suspension in Vermont for a first offense (criminal and civil) DUI is 90 days. If you refuse the test, the license suspension is 6 months. The length of the suspension increases for repeat offenders – 18 months for a second offense, and a life suspension for a third or subsequent offense.
Everyone convicted of DUI, or whose license is suspended because of a breath test result of .08% or more, or a refusal to submit to a test, has to complete several steps before their license or privilege to drive may be reinstated. These steps take time and there is considerable expense involved, in addition to any fines, surcharges, and attorney’s fees you may have already paid in your case.
First, you have to complete an alcohol assessment screening by a Licensed or Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. ($200).
Second, you have to complete the alcohol and driver education course, Project CRASH ($250), and this may take at least 6 weeks to complete. See How to Begin the CRASH Process. The classes can fill up quickly; so you may not want to wait until your court case is over before you enroll in the course. See CRASH Schedule January – June 2014; CMC Weekend Program; HCHS Weekend Program.
Third, if treatment is required, the individual must successfully complete a treatment program. Consult the List of Approved Substance Abuse Treatment Centers.
Successful completion of a treatment program is determined by the counselor, the Project CRASH Evaluator, and by the Project CRASH Director or his/her designee. The fee for therapy will be determined between the individual and the counselor of his/her choice. In the case of a more intensive or weekend residential program combining both the Alcohol and Driving Education Program and the alcohol assessment screening, the total charge should not exceed $625.
Fourth, once you are suspended for DUI, DMV will require that you provide proof of financial responsibility (SR-22) before your license will be reinstated. A conviction for DUI may result in substantially increased insurance premiums for at least 3 years.
Finally, once you have completed the alcohol assessment screening, the Alcohol and Driving Education Program, alcohol treatment, and filed proof of financial responsibility (SR-22), there will be a reinstatement fee of $71 that must be paid to DMV prior to the reinstatement of your license or your privilege to drive in Vermont.
If you live out-of-state and cannot complete the CRASH course in Vermont you may take a weekend program in Vermont, or you may complete an equivalent course in your home state, but you first have to obtain approval from the State of Vermont. There are Project CRASH equivalent state licensed DWI/DUI education programs in all states. For contact information for acceptable out of state education programs, you should contact the Vermont Project CRASH Program at: 802-651-1574. Note that online DWI/DUI education programs will not be recognized by the State of Vermont Project CRASH Program for fulfillment of license reinstatement requirements.
It is possible to have the length of the license suspension reduced if you have an approved Ignition Interlock Device (IID) installed on your car and you are issued a Restricted Driver’s License (RDL). There is an application fee ($125), renewable annually. The device prevents the car from being started if the driver has a BAC of .04% or more. For more information, consult the DMV FAQ Ignition Interlock Program and the Manufacturers-Installers list. You have to have insurance and be enrolled in an alcohol and driving education program to qualify. IID/RDL device installation rules do not apply to DUI convictions involving serious bodily injury or death to another.
Some Things You May Not Know
Travel: As a general rule, Canada does not allow persons with a DUI conviction to enter their country.
Double Charges: If your BAC is .08 or more, the State will file two charges against you (“driving while under the influence” and “BAC of .08% or more”), and the State can prosecute you for both charges, even though you can only be convicted of one offense.
Videotape: Almost all of the police departments now have video cameras in their cruisers, and video cameras in their stations and barracks, so there may be video evidence in your case of your driving, the car stop, your performance on the field sobriety tests, and your processing back at the police station, including your statements and behavior, the advice of rights, and the breath testing. After your arrest, you can get a copy of the video recordings in your case by paying a fee of $45 to the police department involved in your case.
Roadside Questioning: The police will ask you to to produce your documents during the car stop (license, registration, proof of insurance), and they may ask you questions about your travel plans and whether you have consumed any alcohol beverages. You are not required to answer any of these questions. The ACLU has useful information about what to do if you are stopped by the police or questioned – Know Your Rights – and the ACLU Bust Card – that you may download, print, and keep with you in your wallet or purse.
Search: Once you are out of the car, the officer may ask for permission to check your person for weapons – “to conduct a pat down for his safety,” or he may ask for permission to search your person. You do not have to give the police permission to search your person, and you do not have to give the police permission to search your car or any objects in your car. If the officer has probable cause to search your car for evidence of crime or contraband, the law requires that he first obtain a search warrant.
Field Sobriety Tests: If the officer suspects that you might be impaired from the use of alcohol or drugs, he will ask you to perform a battery of field sobriety tests (FST). You are not required to perform the field sobriety tests and there is no penalty if you refuse. If you choose to do the tests, the officer will score you on the tests, note any clues of impairment, and your performance on the tests will be admitted in court as evidence against you.
Alco-Sensor: As part of the screening, the officer may ask that you submit a breath sample for testing with a preliminary breath testing device (PBT) – the Alco-Sensor. You are not required to submit a roadside breath sample and there is no penalty if you refuse. If you choose to do this test, the officer will get an instant reading of your BAC, and will use this information to decide whether to arrest you. The results of the roadside PBT test are not admissible in court as evidence against you.
Towing: If you are arrested, you will be handcuffed, placed in the cruiser, and taken to the police station or barracks for processing. It is likely that your car will be locked and towed, unless there is a sober passenger who is licensed and can remove the car from the scene.
Right to Counsel: If you are under arrest for DUI, your first opportunity to speak to an attorney will be at the police station when you are given your Miranda rights (if the police want to question you), or when you are read the Implied Consent Form explaining your rights about the breath (or blood) test. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before giving a sample, and if you don’t have one, the police have a list of public defenders and their telephone numbers, who are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, who can be contacted for you, but they will do this only if you request an attorney. Do not give up your right to an attorney’s advice because you can’t afford one or don’t want to wake anyone up in the middle of the night. Exercise your rights and always get an attorney’s advice. The forms that the police will read to you are complicated, and you should seek the advice of an attorney before you make any decisions that may hurt your case (for example, whether to waive or give up Miranda rights, whether to give a breath sample or refuse, whether to give a second breath sample, whether to get an independent blood test, whether to submit to a DRE examination, whether to request a hearing to contest the civil license suspension).
Curing a Refusal: If you initially decide to refuse the breath test, you can change your mind and give one, but you have to let the police officer know as soon as possible, while the DataMaster DMT is still available, otherwise it will be recorded as a refusal. If you refuse the test, your refusal will be used as evidence against you in court in the criminal case.