How Can DWI Convictions Impact Family Law Issues?
If alcoholism is a fact in a person’s life, it’s usually part of the custody battle or family court litigation, even without the presence of the DUI. DUI has practical ramifications with getting kids to school events and visitation without a driver’s license.
One could plead guilty to DUI in New Jersey and request something called a Protective Order. Under our court rules, a person can ask the municipal court to mark a guilty plea so that that plea will not become evidence in civil litigation. So, the fact of a DUI conviction itself wouldn’t be considered in, say, a divorce trial. But that’s a very small protection because other aspects–ability to drive, whether there is an underlying drinking problem or some alcoholism or drug issue–are probably issues that are already well-known by the parties in the matrimonial litigation. The DUI, with the loss of license and additional financial commitments (fines, surcharges, etc.) that result from conviction, just accentuates these aspects.
How Can a DWI Conviction Impact Academic or Employment Prospects?
Like employment, the effects of a DUI conviction can vary considerably from one institution to another. DUI in New Jersey is not a crime. So, if a condition of a scholarship or employment is whether one has a criminal record, DUI should not be considered. But you have to really look hard at the questions because sometimes they’ll also ask, “Have you been convicted of DUI or have you been convicted of a serious traffic offense or have you had your driver’s license revoked?” Those kinds of questions would require the respondents to say, “Yes, I had a DUI, and this is what happened”. You also have to consider whether the question is really intended to elicit disqualifying information but whether it’s just calling for disclosure.
Sometimes the question is calling for disclosure, and the questioner is really trying to understand how you dealt with that challenge. If the issue arises in, say, matrimonial litigation or in professional licensing or a contract that takes into account disabilities like alcoholism, it’s always a good idea to see a certified alcohol counselor or psychologist or other mental health professionals to evaluate the situation, to make a diagnosis if it’s appropriate, and to make a referral for further education, evaluation, or treatment and to follow those recommendations.
Health insurance can defray the expense of counselling and treatment. I always tell people that, if they’re going to use health insurance, do not say they are doing it because their lawyer told them to, but say they’re doing it because a significant event occurred to them, the DWI charge, and they want to get themselves checked out. This is not a lie. After all, without the event implicating the law, one may not have been truly aware of the nature and depth of the problem. It may also lead to the awareness that this is, at base, a medical issue–not a legal issue.
Will Getting an Alcohol Evaluation Hurt My Case?
Of course, in the legal arena, we can take advantage of whatever the evaluation says. I recommend that, when getting such an evaluation, the person should be perfectly honest. Just as we have privilege within the attorney-client relationship, there is also privilege in the counselor-patient relationship. Because the law elevates a concern for finding out what’s going on medically over a disclosure of evidence, we can prevent disclosure by virtue of the privileges if there is something that shouldn’t be disclosed.
More often than not, from the legal perspective, it doesn’t matter whether you have a drinking problem or not. How you handle those determinations can cut positively for negotiating alternative dispositions to a guilty finding on a DUI as charged–i.e., getting an offer for a guilty plea to reckless driving or a downgraded DUI charge. If the counselor says, “There is no problem”, I can honestly say at sentencing or in negotiation that this is an isolated event unlikely to recur. That’s not me saying it as the person’s advocate; rather, some detached third-party professional is giving an assessment and diagnosis. On the other hand, if the determination is that there is an issue with alcohol, you would expect the referral that should be covered by health insurance, minus any co-pays. Then the pitch becomes that the DUI event was a wakeup call that led you to take appropriate rehabilitative actions and follow through in dealing with the issues.
If the third-party professional, a mental health professional deals with it objectively, and then a client follows those recommendations appropriately, that evaluation is going to work in our favor.
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