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Woman's drunk driving probation nightmare highlights need for strong legal advocate

In recent blog posts, we've discussed some of the penalties associated with a drunk driving conviction. In addition to often costly fines, Rhode Island residents who are convicted of a misdemeanor or felony DUI may lose their driving privileges and be forced to spend time in jail or on probation. While probation is often believed to be an easier and less-punitive means of punishment and determent, a recent New York Times article provides compelling evidence that proves otherwise.

The article details the events that preceded the 2013 drunk driving arrest and conviction of a middle-age Maryland woman named Donyelle Hall. Mrs. Hall's legal nightmare began on the evening of Christmas Day 2013 when, after a Christmas celebration at her apartment, she offered to drive two guests home. She was subsequently stopped by police and arrested for drunk driving.

While the arrest police report indicates that Mrs. Hall was traveling 38 in a 25 MPH zone, both she and her husband, who as a passenger at the time, dispute this claim. Additionally the police officer asserted that the driver was difficult and refused to open her eyes to complete the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, a claim that, while fully within her rights, Mrs. Hall also disputes.

She was arrested and submitted to a Breathalyzer test at the police station, which she narrowly failed. Despite the troubling circumstances that preceded her arrest and the fact that she had no prior driving penalties or a criminal record, Mrs. Hall was advised to plead guilty to DUI charges and to agree to the terms of probation as determined by the judge overseeing the case.

This began a legal nightmare that still continues today and resulted in Mrs. Hall paying thousands of dollars in fines and fees, losing her driving privileges and two jobs, spending weeks in jail and be forced to attend unnecessary AA meetings. While Mrs. Hall lives in another state, her story is likely similar to those of first-time DUI offenders in other states including Rhode Island who are subjected to unusually harsh probation terms.

When facing DUI charges, it's critical to have a strong legal advocate on one's side. A defense attorney should not only vigorously defend against DUI charges, but he or she should also have extensive knowledge of the court system and provide legal guidance based upon possible DUI-related penalties.

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