Three cases when people charged with DUI should seek legal help

People facing DUI charges may benefit from hiring a lawyer if the case involves aggravating factors, prior offenses or grounds for challenging the charges.

Every year, charges of driving under the influence upend the lives of thousands of people in Tennessee. In 2015 alone, 23,150 people throughout the state were arrested for DUI, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility.

For most drivers facing the possibility of a DUI conviction, a first concern is deciding whether to seek legal assistance. Many people may hesitate to do so, due to beliefs that they can handle the process alone, concerns about cost or certainty that they will not be convicted. However, in the following common circumstances, seeking legal help is usually imperative for drivers.

1. Multiple offenses

A strong defense is crucial for people with prior offenses because the consequences of a DUI conviction escalate based on a person's prior convictions. Under Tennessee law, the sanctions for a conviction without aggravating factors are as follows:

· For a first-time DUI conviction, a person may face fines of up to $1,500, one year of license loss and jail time ranging from 48 hours to 11 months and 29 days.

· After a second DUI conviction, sanctions may include fines as large as $3,500, at least 45 days of jail time and two years of license revocation.

· For a third-time conviction, the penalties include license revocation for six to 10 years, fines up to $10,000 and a minimum of 120 days of jail time.

· Fourth and higher convictions, which are class E felonies, may result in one year of incarceration, fines up to $15,000 and license revocation for eight years.

By seeking legal assistance, drivers may be able to improve their likelihood of avoiding a conviction or at least securing reduced penalties.

2. Aggravating factors

Working with an attorney may also be advisable anytime that a DUI case involves aggravating factors. These factors, which automatically result in stricter sanctions, include the presence of a minor in the vehicle and the occurrence of an accident that results in injury or death. In some cases, these offenses may be prosecuted as felonies, resulting in even more severe penalties.

3. Questionable circumstances

Drivers who believe authorities erred in performing a traffic stop, gathering evidence or making the arrest may also benefit from hiring an attorney. A case may be dismissed if authorities lacked probable cause for performing a traffic stop or arrest. Similarly, if authorities made mistakes while administering breath tests or field sobriety tests, the resulting evidence may be challenged. Unfortunately, without an attorney's advice, many drivers may be unaware of missteps that could affect their cases.

Regardless of the circumstances of a DUI arrest, most drivers can benefit from at least consulting with an attorney to better understand their rights and options. An attorney may be able to help a driver evaluate whether legal representation is needed and, if so, craft an effective strategy for fighting the charges.