What can I expect from my mom's DUI charge?
May 19, 2010 2:51 PM   Subscribe

My mom got a DUI in New Jersey today. My parents are getting a lawyer, but what can I expect will happen? Lots more detail inside.

My mom was pulled over yesterday in NJ and given a DUI citation. Her court date is tomorrow at 5pm. I don't know anyone who's ever gotten a DUI, plus it's my mother, so I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by everything and looking for some details/advice/anecdotes in a few areas. Anonymous because of the legal issues and my sleuthable screenname.

Background, relevant to secondary questions: My mother is a long-term alcoholic and depressive. She had been doing well for the past 9 months, not drinking and attending AA regularly after about 3 weeks in a residential treatment program last summer. Her drinking is of the binge-secretly-and-deny-it mode, and my family, and my dad in particular, are very uncommunicative about it, so there's probably a lot I don't know about this situation. She has often gone years without drinking at all, but has suffered more frequent relapses in recent years. She has previously gone to AA with varying degrees of commitment and with and without a sponsor. Last summer's cycle back into drinking was the most severe yet, and brought my parents to the brink of divorce as my dad was at his wit's end, unable to live with my mom's drinking and unable and unwilling to police her to prevent her from drinking. This went to the point of my dad consulted a divorce lawyer, but since my mom's apparently successful treatment in rehab they've been trying to work it out. Since then she'd been back to going to AA regularly. I don't know what kind of psychiatric or psychological care she's been receiving.

1. What can I expect about DUIs in New Jersey? I've done a little googling, and it seems that there's no first-time offender diversion/treatment program and that the sentencing guidelines are pretty inflexible. Assuming my parents get a good lawyer, what is the likely range of outcomes? I don't know the BAC, but I'm sure she was drunk. She's driven drunk before, but this is the first time she's been pulled over. The police pulled her over for erratic driving, but I don't know any details. I will not be involved in the process of finding the lawyer.

2. My mom is a tenured public school teacher in NJ. Her career is basically over, right? I'm pretty sure a DUI conviction is enough to fire a tenured teacher for cause, but what happens if she is not convicted? If she is convicted, will she ever be able to teach again, perhaps after her punishment or some kind of probation, or will she automatically fail background checks?

3. I'd like some advice on how to talk to my parents and siblings about this and change the prevailing dynamic of WASPy silence. I live on the opposite coast, so all immediate talking will be over the phone, but will be seeing them all in person for my brother's graduation from college in less than a month.

The family dynamics around my mom's alcoholism involve never talking about it. Despite it's having been a recurrent issue for years, my dad didn't believe in telling my younger siblings about it when they were teens, saying that it was none of their business. My dad does not usually share any information about how my mom is doing, expect when things are bad, she is drinking, and he is stressed out and somewhat more frank. When things are going better and she is sober and going to meetings, he clams up and won't talk about it. For example, yesterday I was talking to him on the phone, and he mentioned that mom was out at an AA meeting. When I asked how she was doing, he said 'fine'. Today when he called to tell me she'd gotten a DUI, he also told me that she'd been drinking since Saturday. I told him that I was upset that he'd lied to me and wanted him to be straightforward about the issue from now on. This probably wasn't the most sensitive move, but I do understand that he is in a really difficult position with his wife relapsing again, serious potential legal consequences and a rather thin support network. He was probably in some kind of denial, or was hoping it would resolve and he wouldn't have to tell me. By contrast, my siblings and I have much better communication about this issue, partly as a response to my parents' non-communicative style and partly as we're all out of the house and thus one step removed from the immediacy of it.

How can I encourage more open communication within my family about my mom's alcoholism and its various consequences? I'm not expecting deep emotional sharing, but I want to know the basic outlines of what's going on. I also don't want to hurt my dad, who is hurting enough already. How helpful might family therapy be, assuming I can convince anyone to go? Should I drop the issue, at least for now, and pursue it when or if things stabilize again?

4. I'm trying to process my own emotions about this at the same time. In one way its just a continuation of the 'new normal' of the past several years, but getting DUI and the possible consequences ups the ante. I'm concerned about the future of my parents' marriage, and about my mom's future as she gets older. Going to therapy is not a great solution at this point, as I will be away from my home for several months. I saw a counselor last time she relapsed and it wasn't particularly helpful, but I think that was mostly due to a poor fit with the therapist. I know about Al-Anon, but am not interested in attending meetings. Any advice for short to medium-term tactics for managing my own emotions about this?

Thanks for reading and for your advice. Anonymouse email: MomsDUI@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can only speak to #2. How it affects her job will depend on what her contract says- if there is a morals clause or not.

Generally speaking, districts that have a morals clause in their contract can fire you for DUI, districts without them can't. I've known teachers in both situations.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:08 PM on May 19, 2010

Getting a DUI and a court date is not a bad thing, it means she isn't dead and didn't kill anyone which are the other two outcomes with drinking and driving. Not sure about the laws in NJ (I work with the court system in WA) but there are literally thousands of DUIs each month in our state. The basic process in our state is that you get a DUI, go to the arraignment, get a court ordered attorney (or a person can pay for their own), the process usually involves an alcohol evaluation, an alcohol education class, then a variety of punishments based on individual factors (could include in patient or out patient alcohol treatment, mandatory AA, random UAs, jail time or house arrest, suspended license, mandatory interloc device on the persons car, fines...). Some states have diversion programs as well. Anyway, it isn't the end of the world but it is certainly a wake up call. Hopefully she will get help and you will as well. I know you don't want to go to AlAnon but they are one of the few (only?) support groups for relatives of alcoholics. Don't know about fixing family dynamics--if there was an easy fix there wouldn't be so many alcoholics in the world but depression and alcoholism and crazy family dynamics are multi-fasceted problems with no simple answers.
posted by MsKim at 4:38 PM on May 19, 2010

It's shame you're not interested in going to Al-Anon. They could help you tremendously with #3 and #4.
posted by Elsie at 4:50 PM on May 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

« Older What should I cook with all these veggies?   |   Employment repercussions of having a criminal... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.