DUI Lawyer in Montana
If you have been pulled over, arrested, and charged with driving under the influence (DUI) in Montana, you need a good defense team to mitigate the damages and fight for your rights. The penalties of a conviction are substantial, and the collateral consequences that come with the arrest alone are not insignificant.
The DUI-defense attorneys at The Criminal Defense Firm have represented numerous drivers who have been accused of driving while drugged or drunk. With their savvy legal defense strategies and vigorous advocacy, many of our clients have found their cases being dropped or have gotten acquitted at trial. Even many of those that did get convicted for DUI in Montana have gotten reduced sentences or negotiated plea deals that protect their interests and their future in ways that were extremely important to them.
Drunk and Drugged Driving Law in Montana
In 2021, DUI law in Montana went under massive revisions by lawmakers in Helena, making lots of the information on the internet about drunk driving law in the state out-of-date. The good news is that it is easy to see which sources have not been updated: If a source says that Montana’s DUI statutes are found at Montana Code Annotated § 61-8-401 or any other statute that ends with a number in either the 400s or the 700s, it is no longer current.
Recent state laws have renumbered the state’s DUI law, creating its own Part in Title 61, Chapter 8. The statutes are now found at Montana Code Annotated §§ 61-8-1001 et seq. They went into effect on January 1, 2022.
These revisions did not just renumber and move the state’s DUI laws; they also increased the penalties of a conviction even more.
There are numerous significant topics to discuss in these laws. Three of the most important are:
- You can be “under the influence” even if you do not have a blood alcohol content (BAC) level at or above the applicable legal limit,
- You violate the state’s implied consent law by refusing to provide a breath sample to determine your BAC, and
- You do not have to be driving your vehicle to be convicted for DUI.
1. Under the Limit But Under Arrest
One of the aspects of Montana’s DUI law that surprises most people is that it creates two different ways for you to be considered “under the influence” of alcohol:
- You have a BAC over the legal limit, or
- You are under the influence.
The first is what is known as a “per se” DUI. If a breath or blood test shows that you have a higher BAC than allowed by law, you are presumed to be under the influence of alcohol and in violation of the law. The legal BAC limit is generally 0.08 percent. However, it can be:
- 0.04 percent for commercial drivers
- 0.02 percent for drivers under the legal drinking age of 21.
However, you can still be deemed “under the influence” if your BAC was under the legal limit. Even if your BAC was 0.03 percent, if the arresting officer thinks that you were too impaired to drive, their perception can lead to an arrest and can support a criminal DUI conviction.
2. Montana’s Implied Consent Law
Montana Code Annotated § 61-8-1016 is known as an implied consent law. It states that, by driving on the public roads of Montana, you give your prior consent to a breath or blood test that may be requested by a police officer. If you refuse that request, it leads to an immediate 1-year suspension of your driver’s license.
3. Actual Physical Possession of the Vehicle
Another surprising aspect of Montana’s DUI law is that you do not even need to be driving your vehicle in order to be convicted. Montana’s law states that convictions can follow “if the person drives or is in actual physical control of” their vehicle. Based on court interpretations of similar wording in the DUI laws of other states, like Nebraska, this can mean that you can get convicted for DUI if you are drunk or drugged and:
- Asleep in your vehicle,
- Able to touch the controls of the car, or
- Capable of driving without much effort.
Penalties for a Conviction for Drunk or Drugged Driving in Montana
The penalties for a conviction for drunk or drugged driving are substantial. They include consequences like:
- Jail time
- License suspension
- Other legal consequences and obligations, like taking a substance abuse course or performing community service
- Collateral consequences, like:
- Losing your job because you could no longer drive to the workplace
- Becoming ineligible for a professional certification because of the blemish on your criminal background
In Montana, DUI offenses are priorable, meaning the penalties of a conviction get worse if you have prior convictions. They can also get worse if there are any aggravating factors at play.
Even without any aggravating factors, the penalties of a conviction are steep:
|Jail time||Fines||License suspension|
|First conviction||1 day to 6 months||$600 to $1,000||90 days|
|Second conviction||7 days to 1 year||$1,200 to $2,000||6 months|
|Third conviction||30 days to 1 year||$2,500 to $5,000||1 year|
|Fourth or subsequent conviction||13 months to 2 years, plus a 5-year suspended sentence||$5,000 to $10,000||At least 1 year|
Note that DUIs in Montana have mandatory minimums for jail time. Even if it was your first offense you will spend some time behind bars if you get convicted.
You can also face even stiffer penalties if:
- A child was in the vehicle at the time of your arrest
- Your BAC was 0.16 or higher, in which case it is the offense of aggravated DUI
- You get accused of vehicular manslaughter for causing a fatal accident while under the influence
- There was an open container of alcohol in the vehicle
- A search of the vehicle finds drugs, in which case you can get accused of drug possession or drug trafficking
Defenses to DUI Allegations
Because the penalties of a conviction are so severe, it is essential to hire a DUI-defense lawyer who can invoke your rights and challenge the case against you. There are legal defenses that can be raised that may get your case dismissed, secure an acquittal, or at least mitigate the damages of a conviction. Some of the most common DUI defenses that The Criminal Defense Firm has raised in the past for defendants in Montana have been:
- A lack of probable cause to support the traffic stop
- Unreliable officer testimony regarding your impairment
- Poorly administered field sobriety tests
- Incorrectly calibrated breath testing machines
The Criminal Defense Firm also helps defendants in especially difficult cases reduce the penalties of their conviction. Our attorneys have helped defendants make informed decisions regarding plea deals and have negotiated on their behalf to get terms that are more in their favor.
FAQs About Montana’s DUI Laws and The Criminal Defense Firm’s Legal Team
Is There a Difference Between a DUI and a DWI?
Not in Montana.
Different states call the offense of drunk or drugged driving different things. “Driving under the influence” and “driving while impaired” or “driving while intoxicated” are common. Some states use other phrases like “operating under the influence” and get different acronyms.
However, in a couple of states, there is a difference between these acronyms. In Oklahoma, for example, a DUI is the crime of driving with a BAC over the legal limit, while a DWI is the crime of being too impaired to drive but with a BAC under the legal limit. DUIs are more severe offenses in that state, so the terms are not interchangeable there.
Is There a Legal Limit for Drugs?
Montana is one of the few states in the U.S. that has an explicit legal limit for driving while under the influence of marijuana. It is 5 nanograms of THC, the hallucinogen in marijuana, per milliliter of blood. If a blood test finds this amount or higher, then you are presumptively “under the influence” and in violation of Montana’s DUI law.
This legal limit is not without controversy, though. The science is still out on how long THC stays in the bloodstream and how much of it makes you too impaired to drive a car safely. Montana became one of the leading states to add a legal limit for THC, but there are significant questions as to whether they did it too soon.
Why Should I Hire The Criminal Defense Firm?
The Criminal Defense Firm is unique among law firms in that it only employs senior-level attorneys who have decades of experience handling criminal cases. Many of our attorneys even have experience prosecuting federal crimes in some of the leading law enforcement agencies.
That intimate understanding of the law and the experience that only comes with rigorous practice is what you get when you hire The Criminal Defense Firm to handle your DUI case in Montana.
Why Doesn't The Criminal Defense Firm Call Itself the Best in Montana?
While our team of senior lawyers have years of experience and a proven track record of success for our clients, we think that statements like these are better when they are made by our prior clients. They have left numerous testimonials to the same effect.
The Criminal Defense Firm: DUI-Defense in Montana
If you have been arrested and accused of drunk driving or drugged driving in Montana, you need effective legal representation, and quickly. Administrative action will often be taken against your driving privileges in the days after the arrest, even before your court case has moved an inch.
Call The Criminal Defense Firm at (866) 603-4540 or contact us online to get started on your case immediately.