Get out the calculator; time to add up the costs of a DUI

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   When you add up how much it's going to cost to get your driver's license back after you've been convicted of first-offense DUI, you may want to kick yourself. If you're a multiple offender, you may want some of your friends and family members to join in.
   First, there's the towing and car storage fee: $50 bucks minimum. There's no get-out-of-jail-free card: bond, about $750 cash, or $75 to a bail bondsman. If you've got a job, you're not indigent; add another $1,500 to $2,000 for a defense attorney.
   You've probably heard of John Paul Mathes and the fine folks at the Circuit Court Clerk's Office. If not, you're going to get to know them, because they want at least $200.
   Next comes the Tennessee Department of Safety and a reinstatement fee. This fee is based on your driving record and is estimated at $313. If you've had accidents, speeding tickets, or a driving on revoked violation, the price will probably go up. If you're a multiple offender, get out the calculator.
   By now you've likely seen the phrase "violation of financial responsibility." That means if you want to drive, you've got to have automotive insurance. If you don't, you're violating the law. The State of Tennessee estimates you can count on an increased insurance premium of roughly $2,000 a year.
   You also get to meet Rusti Miller of Crossroads and complete DUI school, or provide proof of completion of an in-patient treatment program. Another $300, according to the state.
   Oh, and don't forget that minimum fine of $350 and the mandatory 48 hours you're going to spend in jail.
   Bottom line: That last drink of the evening is going to cost you more than $5,000. Unless you've got a large cookie jar stashed somewhere, better add a few more dollars to pay somebody to haul you back and forth to work, because everything has got to be paid in full before you get your license back, which means you're going to have to work. Actually, the judge may make that a condition of probation.
   On the bright side, you're not going to be driving for a year if this is your first offense (two and three years, respectively, for subsequent offenses), so you'll have all of that extra gas money to pay toward fines and costs. If you don't make your payments, Miller is going to have you back in court on a "show cause" order, meaning you're going to have to feed your hard luck story to General Sessions Judge John Walton and hope he buys it.
   Once your fines and costs, DUI school and insurance issues are taken care of, you can leave that "I.D. Only" card with the Tennessee Highway Patrol office in Blountville, or deal with Nashville, and walk out of the THP office with a new license and a new lease on life. Of course, you can't just walk in and say, "I want my license back." You've got to show them:
   * Proof of SR-22 insurance (not cheap!);
   * DUI school certificate or proof of completion of an in-patient treatment program;
   * Certified paper from the clerk's office stating that all fines, court costs, and fees are paid in full; and,
   * Pay the reinstatement fee required by the state.
   If you get convicted of second-offense DUI, add another $300 to the $5,000 base cost, because your fine has increased from $300 to $600.
   And even that $600 is going to start looking good after you see what it costs for third and subsequent offenses: Add another $1,100 to the original $5,000 cost and multiply that total by the number of DUI offenses you've racked up, because you're going to court on each one.
   If those minimum fines sound excessive, listen to the maximum: First offense, $1,500; second offense, $3,500; third offense, $10,000.
   Also consider that the 48 hours you thought would never pass when you served time on that first DUI was a walk in the park compared to the 45 days you're going to spend the second time around, or the 120 days you're looking at on the third-offense. If you get the maximum, you're looking at seven days rather than 48 hours on the first offense; 11 months, 29 days on the second and third offense.
   At this point, your charges are all misdemeanors. If you catch a fourth, you have reached Class E felon status. This is rewarded by a fine of not less than $3,000 nor more than $15,000; 150 days in jail consecutive (in a row) to be served day for day. No "good time" credit.
   Once you leave jail and begin probation, it's time to put on the goggles. Miller keeps a special pair just for DUI school.
   These are no rose-tinted glasses. When you put them on you view the world as someone who just blew .10 on the Intoximeter. Miller will give you a better understanding when she draws a "big blue chalkline out on the floor" and lets you relive the arrest process, complete with field sobriety tasks.
   Miller says her clients are shocked when they first look through the goggles. "I do that at a time in their life when hopefully they're sober, so they can see how they act when they're drunk. It makes a big impact. They get to watch each other and they're like, 'This is like watching C.O.P.S.' "
   The goggles are used to demonstrate how one's vision, judgment, and coordination are off when they're drunk. The goggles "get to them a lot better than telling them how the liver metabolizes alcohol," said Sharon Nave, Crossroads probation officer.
   DUI school for a first offender is a 12-hour program divided into one night a week for three weeks. Multiple offenders must attend 24-hours spread over six to eight weeks.
   Robin Shaffer, director of Crossroads, said she believes the DUI school is helpful for those who apply it. "If they sit in here and they think they have no problems, then they will probably not get anything out of it except, 'This is a hassle,' " she said.
   Clients are instructed about the law, chemical dependency, alcoholism, and chemical dependency in the family. They also get to fill out a "what it cost me" form.
   "They get a certificate on the last night upon successful completion. They have to have that to get reinstated on a DUI. If they miss class, they don't get a certificate," Miller said.
   The certificate presented to THP when seeking reinstatement must be "current," or obtained within two years of your last DUI. You can't just walk in to Crossroads and say, "I went to DUI school 20 years ago; can I have a copy of my certificate?"
   Multiple offenders also must complete a series of workbooks, which require homework. "Sometimes if I get up there and talk, I may not reach them," Miller said. "But if they go home and work on something themselves, or do something in class as a group, it might get to them more than me talking to them.
   "I aggravate them: 'Don't take these [workbooks] home and use them as coasters. I can smell it,' " she said.
   That's another rule at Crossroads. Don't come in drinking, and don't even think about getting belligerent.
   "When they're here, I demand that they're sober," Miller said. "We tell them that the first day in court. And I tell them at the beginning of DUI school: 'If you come in here drunk, you're going to jail. We're not going to discuss it.' I will sit right there and watch them like a hawk" until police arrive.
   Nave said the probation officers tell their clients: "If you're back a second time, and you've been through the process, you've got a problem."