In Wyoming, as in all other states, alcohol is legal, drinking alcohol is legal, and driving is legal. So, inevitably, police end up stopping many drivers who have consumed too much. This post breaks down what happens in the legal process after a person is arrested and charged with DUI.
In Wyoming, like many states, DUIs run on what I like to call two “tracks”: the criminal track and the driver’s license track.
I. DUI: The Criminal Process
The criminal track is what you’d expect. Courtrooms, judges in black robes, prosecutors, the threat of jail time, and so on.
The process begins with the person’s arrest and citation. However, the first “formal” criminal proceeding is the initial appearance. At the initial appearance, the Court will collect demographic information from the defendant (date of birth, mailing address, occupation, residency history in Wyoming or elsewhere), take a defendant’s plea (guilty, not guilty, no contest, etc.), and set a bond.
After that first hearing, the next hearing is usually not until the eve of trial. In the interim, the State should provide the defendant, through his or her attorney, with the evidence against the defendant and attempt to resolve the case with a plea agreement.
DUI under Wyoming state law is generally a misdemeanor offense, meaning the maximum punishment cannot be greater than one (1) year. In the case of first-time DUI, the maximum punishment is six (6) months in jail and a $750 fine. However, the punishment is increased the more DUIs a person has been convicted of in the last ten (10) years. Here’s a useful chart for Wyoming DUIs (current as of December 2020):
|1st DUI in 10 years||Misdemeanor||Max. 6 months||$750|
|2nd DUI in 10 years||Misdemeanor||Min. 7 days; Max. 6 months||$750|
|3rd DUI in 10 years||Misdemeanor||Min. 30 days*; Max. 6 months|
*Court may suspend up to 15 days of the required 30 days in jail if, after the date of offense, the defendant completes “an inpatient program approved by the court”
|4th DUI in 10 years||Felony||Max. seven (7) years||$10,000.00|
While this chart accurately reflects the statutory punishment scheme for DUIs, defendants are rarely required to complete the maximum periods of incarceration or pay the maximum fines. While defendants cannot avoid the statutorily required minimum punishments, they often receive sentences less than the maximum possible. For example, most first-time DUIs result in a jail sentence that is suspended in favor of probation–meaning the defendant never spends a day in jail, but must comply with a period of supervised release. The maximum period of probation may exceed the maximum punishment, but usually is mirrors the maximum punishment.
Further, defendants charged with first-time DUIs who have a blood alcohol content (“BAC”) less than 0.15% may, in some counties, receive a “deferred prosecution agreement” pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-13-301. When a defendant proceeds under this arrangement–called a “deferral”–the State of Wyoming accepts the defendant’s guilty or no contest plea to the misdemeanor DUI, then defers further proceedings while the defendant completes up to three (3) years of probation. If the defendant successfully completes the probation, the Court may discharge the defendant and dismiss the proceedings against him. The discharge and dismissal “shall not be an adjudication of guilt and is not a conviction for any purpose.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-13-301(d).
(Note: the State offers the deferral, but the Court must dismiss the proceedings after the defendant completes the probation. So, the defendant must diligently follow the program and make sure the dismissal occurs because the State will not dismiss the action on its own).
To be sure, only some defendants qualify for a deferral. First, only certain counties allow deferrals for DUIs. For example, Converse County does not offer deferrals for any DUI. Second, if a defendant has previously been convicted of a felony, the defendant will not qualify. Third, if the defendant has previously received a deferral for a DUI or any other criminal charge, the defendant will not qualify. Basically, you only get one deferral in your life. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-13-301(e) (“There shall be only one (1) discharge and dismissal under this section or under any similar section of the probationary statutes of any other jurisdiction.”). And fourth, CDL-holders charged with DUI who have BACs greater than 0.04% (among many other offenses, see Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 31-7-305(a)) do not qualify for deferrals. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-13-301(f).
While I have tried DUI cases before, trials are rare due to the game-changing nature of BAC evidence. On the one hand, it is hard to combat the results of a blood test that show a person was over the limit. On the other hand, if the State lacks a BAC and there was no evidence of serious bad driving, like an accident or injury to another person, it is exceedingly difficult for the State to prove its case because the State must show that the defendant was “incapable of safely driving” due to his or her alcohol consumption in non-BAC DUI cases, see Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 31-5-233(b)(iii)–and proving that a person was “incapable” of doing something that the evidence shows they were, in fact, doing is a tall order. In short, if the State has a BAC on the defendant (and its over 0.08%), there’s not much to fight about (usually).
Because a defendant’s BAC is pretty much the ballgame when it comes to DUI prosecutions, I have dedicated a separate post to BAC and the process by which law enforcement can obtain a defendant’s BAC. See FAQ #2: BAC and Implied Consent.
II. DUI: The Driver’s License Process
At the same time the criminal process outlined above is occurring, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WyDOT) begins to process driver’s license sanctions for a driver charged with DUI. This process begins during the arrest-and-citation phase.
(Note: Out-of-state drivers can be subjected to the same general driver’s license process. However, their situation is more complicated because the driver’s license process for them happens in two locations, Wyoming and their home state. So, there is more happening for them. Accordingly, a separate post will be dedicated to DUIs and the driver’s license consequences for out-of-state drivers.)
While law enforcement are processing a person they have arrested on suspicion of DUI, they will seize that person’s Wyoming (or other state) driver’s license and provide the person with a document entitled “Suspension Order and Temporary Wyoming Driver’s License.” The document looks like this:
The document is just one part of a complicated and stressful event. As a result, many people do not read it closely or understand it fully. Most people just think they’ve lost their driver’s license and they don’t know what they’re going to do to identify themselves, how or if they can still drive, and many other scary or stressful thoughts. It certainly doesn’t help that the document identifies itself first and foremost as a “Suspension Order.”
The trouble with not reading and understanding this document is two-fold. First, the document is not condemning a person to a life without a driver’s license. Second, the document triggers a very short time window–20 days!–to challenge any adverse driver’s license consequences. In other words, the document is both less serious and more urgent than people realize.
At bottom, this document is really (and poorly) designed to put a person on notice that WyDOT will be taking action against their driver’s license unless the person can provide a legitimate basis for WyDOT to refrain from doing so. Look here:
There it is. Plain as day and buried in the fifth scary paragraph in the center of this Suspension Order is the advisement that the suspension that seems to have already occurred can be contested.
And, even if the person cannot provide grounds to halt adverse action, the notice provides that the person with the opportunity to obtain a probationary driver’s license that gives them most of the driving privileges they will need to get through their day-to-day lives (e.g., go to work, get groceries, go to the doctor, etc.). See here:
But the person receiving this notice only has 20 days to get going. So time is always of the essence.
Now, just like the graduated punishment scheme for DUIs in the criminal process, there is a similar scheme for suspensions and other driver’s license consequences in the driver’s license process. The scheme does not match up exactly with graduated criminal sanctions, however. First, WyDOT will automatically suspend a driver’s license where a test of a driver’s blood reveals the driver had a BAC greater than 0.08%. Further, for a first or second DUI conviction in ten (10) years, WyDOT will suspend a driver’s license; for a third or subsequent DUI conviction in ten (10) years, WyDOT will revoke a driver’s license. Lastly, for any DUI conviction, WyDOT will require a driver to maintain “proof of financial responsibility”–i.e., maintain SR-22 insurance–for three (3) years beginning on the date the driver’s license is suspended or revoked.
“Suspension” means “the temporary withdrawal for a specified period by formal action of [WyDOT] of a person’s license or privilege to drive a motor vehicle on the public highways.” See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 31-5-102(a)(xliv).
“Revocation” means “the termination by formal action of [WyDOT] of a person’s license or privilege to drive a motor vehicle on the public highways.” See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 31-5-102(a)(xxxix).
So, “suspension” is a pause on a person’s ability to drive; while a “revocation” is a termination of the person’s ability to drive.
With those terms defined, here’s the chart for driver’s license consequences for DUIs in Wyoming:
|Triggering Event||Driver’s License Consequence||Length||SR-22 Insurance|
|BAC results > 0.08%|
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 31-6-102(a)(ii)(B)
|Per se suspension||90 days||N/A|
|1st DUI conviction (in 10 years)|
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 31-7-128(b)(i)
|Suspension||90 days||3 years|
|2nd DUI conviction (in 10 years)|
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 31-7-128(b)(ii)
|Suspension||1 year||3 years|
|3rd or subsequent DUI conviction (in 10 years)|
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 31-7-127(a)(ii)
|Revocation||3 years||3 years|
Any suspension or revocation begins twenty (20) days after notice of intent to suspend or revoke is given or at the end of the hearing process, if a hearing is requested. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 31-7-130(a)(i)-(ii).
Finally, one last driver’s license consequence is imposed for any driver who has a BAC greater than 0.15% or who is convicted of a second or subsequent DUI. The driver will be required to obtain and use an ignition interlock device for a period of time.
- For a first conviction where a person’s BAC is greater than 0.15%, the person will be required to operate only vehicles with an ignition interlock device for six (6) months.
- For a second conviction for DUI, a person must have an interlock device for one (1) year.
- For a third conviction for DUI, a person must have an interlock device for two (2) years.
- For a fourth or subsequent conviction for DUI, a person must have an interlock device for the person’s life. (The person can apply to have the interlock device removed five (5) years after the date of the relevant conviction and every five (5) years thereafter.)
III. Drunken Mess
The bottom line is that DUIs cause enormous procedural and bureaucratic headaches. Not to mention the costs if a person is harmed by a drunk driver.
Given the complex process and consequences that flow from a DUI charge, it’s essential to know what to expect after things start rolling. For this reason, you or anyone you know charged with DUI should consult an attorney who can guide them through the process.