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Land of the free, home of the brew gods

It’s no secret that Montanans love their beer. The state is home to more than forty breweries, which brought a combined profit of $50 million in 2012 alone. It’s the fourth-largest state in the nation, which naturally gives rise to expansive farmland and otherwise workable, rugged terrain that’s just begging to be the subject of a heartrending country song. Although there aren’t a whole lot of people living out there, you know that the ones that do call Montana home are more than happy to raise a drink to all that natural beauty that comes from just being an American. Hell, I’d drink to that. And I’ve never even been to Montana.

Of course, being an American isn’t only about freedom to do whatever you’d like. Even in the event that you’re drinking the best craft brew known to man, there are still some limitations on where and to what degree the law will permit you to drink. Like in any other place in these United States, such limitations are largely defined by DUI law. In Montana, the penalties associated with drinking and driving include both administrative and criminal regulations, and neither group is terribly fun to deal with. The law is, overall, reasonable and pretty conducive to a respectable place to live. Our advice? Don’t drink and drive. And for all you “what-if’ers”…read on.

Hindsight: it’s 20/20

“If I’m the sort of person who has to worry about drinking and driving,” you might be thinking, “I want to know exactly what will land me in hot water.” Good thinking – and a smart approach to the issues of DUI. (Although testing these sorts of limits might not be the wisest move in the playbook.) There are three main things to know about blood alcohol content limits, as necessitated by the three main types of drivers around in the great state of Montana:

  • It is illegal to drive with a BAC of 08% or higher if you are over the age of 21 and hold a standard driver’s license.
  • It is illegal to drive with a BAC of 04% or higher if you hold a commercial driver’s license (a CDL.)
  • It is illegal to drive with any alcohol in your system whatsoever if you are under the age of 21. Sorry, kids.

The penalties associated with a first-offense DUI are pretty standard – we’ll go into specifics a little later on. What ought to make you start worrying, however, is those repeat offenses. Not all repeat offenses are created equal! In other words, the state of Montana operates within a lookback period, or the amount of time that has to pass before a subsequent offense is counted as a “first” in terms of mandatory minimum penalties. In the past, it was just five years. But as of a new law’s passage in 2013, the lookback period is now 10 years. That’s kind of a long time to resist a similar fuck-up, if you think about it.

Four strikes…

Ten years is an understandable lookback period when you consider what constitutes a felony offense when it comes to drinking and driving (based solely on the number of offenses accrued.) If you reach four DUI offenses, that equals a felony. You’re definitely going to want to avoid that. It comes with all sorts of heightened penalties, including a jail sentence that can last up to five full years and a fine that can reach $10,000. As obnoxious as those lower-level offense consequences might seem, hopefully it’s evident why they exist and what sorts of ugly outcomes they’re meant to deter.

The penalties: A breakdown

We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t provide a comprehensive breakdown on exactly what happens per each type of offense in the state of Montana. First and foremost, let’s answer the question that at least one of you are thinking right now: Yes, you will go to jail for at least one day per state law. Sorry, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. If while reading over the following consequences you start realizing that this all seems pretty harsh…you’re right. Montanan DUI law is commonly viewed as some of the most stringent penalties out there. Consider yourself warned.

Also, keep in mind that those offenses involving a BAC of at least 0.16 are usually subject to much higher penalties.

  • First offense: A misdemeanor offense.
    • At least 24 hours and up to six full months in jail.
    • A fine somewhere between $300 and $1,000.
    • A six-month license suspension. It is possible to apply for a restricted license during this time, which is subject to approval of course.
    • The possible installation of an ignition interlock device (an IID) in your vehicle.
    • A substance dependency evaluation, and if deemed necessary, the completion of a treatment program.
  • Second offense: Also a misdemeanor.
    • At least one week and up to six full months in jail.
    • A fine somewhere between $600 and $1,000.
    • A one-year license suspension. Again, you can get a restricted license, but in this case, you must wait 45 days before applying.
    • The mandatory installation of an IID in your vehicle, to be maintained for a length of time to be determined by the court.
    • Possible vehicle seizure and forfeiture.
    • A mandatory substance dependency evaluation and subsequent completion of a treatment program.
  • Third offense: Still a misdemeanor…but getting’ pretty gnarly.
    • At least 30 days and up to one full year in jail.
    • A fine somewhere between $1,000 and $5,000.
    • A one-year license suspension. You may get a restricted license after waiting 45 days.
    • The mandatory installation of an IID in your vehicle.
    • Possible vehicle seizure and forfeiture.
    • A mandatory substance dependency evaluation and subsequent completion of a treatment program.
  • Fourth or subsequent offense: A felony offense.
    • At least 13 months and up to five years in jail. Although this aspect of sentencing cannot be deferred or suspended, you can complete a residential treatment program (the Montana state WATCh program) and then spend 13 months on parole if it is completed successfully.
    • A fine somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000.
    • Any other extra restrictions such as IID installation and vehicle forfeiture as deemed necessary by the court.

Am I aggravated (as in an aggravated DUI)?

As any reasonable human might assume, there is a legal caveat to the typically prescribed penalties when it comes to drinking and driving. We’re talking something called an aggravated DUI, which, if a penalized driver qualifies, will mandate heftier fines and all-around harsher treatment of your case. In Montana, an aggravated DUI is defined by any of the following qualifications:

  1. Your BAC was 0.16% or higher at the time of your arrest.
  2. You refused a roadside chemical test.
  3. Your license was suspended, cancelled, or revoked as a result of a DUI charge within the past 10 years.
  4. You are already under instruction to drive with an IID (meaning you somehow got the car started while drunk and then drove.)
  5. You received a prior conviction (or had a pending charge) with respect to a DUI charge, negligent vehicular assault, or negligent homicide at some point within the past 10 years.

As far as mandatory minimum sentencing goes in this sort of scenario, think mainly in terms of doubling what is considered standard for non-aggravated DUI’s. For example, a first-time aggravated charge is associated with two days to one full year in jail and a fine of exactly $1,000. Yeah…don’t let it happen to you.

In a booze-fueled conundrum and need some help?

Fear not. You’re already in the right place. At BernieSez, you have the power of browsing local attorneys and experimenting with a few consultations before really taking the financial plunge. No matter the severity of your crime or the number of times you’ve gotten busted by law enforcement, know that your right to an attorney exists and you’ll thank yourself later for exercising said right. What are you waiting for? Upload your case, and embark on your path to better justice today.