If you are facing DUI charges, then you need to consider whether you want to represent yourself or obtain legal representation. While you can represent yourself in court as a right, you also have a right to representation by a public defender appointed to you by the court. Then there is the option of obtaining legal help from a private practice attorney. Consider some of the information outlined below to help you assess whether you need a drunk driving attorney.
The Difference Between Representation by a Public Defender and Hiring a Private Attorney
If you cannot afford your own counsel, then you have right to an attorney appointed by the court. Court-appointed attorneys are usually from the public defender’s office, but they also include private attorneys selected from a panel. You cannot change court-appointed attorneys once one is assigned to you.
Public defenders and court-appointed attorneys often have very large caseloads. This may lead to feelings that your case is not being given much attention, which can be true in instances of attorneys being too busy. It is a downside with not being able to pick the attorney yourself.
An upside is that public defenders only work in criminal court. As such, they are likely very familiar with DUI laws and defenses, as well as local court procedures. They also may have built relationships through working with the state prosecution and the court in prior matters. This can be helpful to someone that is unfamiliar with the law.
DUI laws are complicated and it is difficult for someone to know what defenses may be available to them if they are not already familiar with this area of law. Also, a DUI lawyer that knows the local district attorneys and judges may know their patterns and have an advantage in negotiating more favorable terms through a plea bargain or at sentencing.
Administrative Per Se Hearings
If you have other proceedings that are not in criminal court such as proceedings with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), then a public defender will likely not help you with those. A public defenders’ representation is limited to cover the criminal court proceedings. Most DUI charges also result in DMV proceedings as well.
In most states, the DMV can suspend your license following DUI charges, even before you are convicted. If this happens, then you usually need to request an administrative per se hearing to have your license suspension revoked pending the outcome of your case for the DUI at court. If you are concerned about representing yourself for this, then you may want legal representation from a private attorney that can assist with both.
Usually if you hire a private drunk driving attorney, then you hire that attorney for the criminal DUI charges as well as any civil proceedings, such as administrative per se hearings. Private attorneys may cost $1,000-$5,000 or more. However, if you can afford this, then it may be worth it and may save you substantially with lower fines and a lesser sentence.
Some other benefits of seeking representation from a private drunk driving attorney include finding an attorney of your choosing and being able to pick one that specializes in DUI law. This can make a big difference in plea bargains and sentencing, especially if there are any potential defenses or mitigating factors.
Moreover, even though public defenders or court-appointed attorneys likely have experience with DUI law, a benefit in hiring a private attorney is that you can obtain representation from an attorney that specializes in DUI law. This can be important for when your case may contain nuances. However, if you are unfamiliar with the law, then obtaining advice from an attorney is a good starting point to understand what possible defenses you may have.
Cases Where You May Not Need an Attorney
If this is your first DUI offense, there were no injuries, and there is strong evidence to prove that you were intoxicated such as a very high blood alcohol content level (BAC) over 0.08%, a field failed sobriety test, witnesses that can attest to you driving unsteadily, or officer testimony that you were acting intoxicated (e.g., slurring speech, smell of alcohol on your breath, poor motor skills, etc.), then you may get the standard sentence from the court regardless of whether you have representation.
Obtaining Legal Representation
Plea Bargaining and Sentencing
An experienced DUI attorney may be able to help with plea bargaining, trial, and sentencing. During plea bargaining, some attorneys can negotiate for a guilty plea with a conviction of a lesser offense. This may be good if the outcome of going to trial will likely be that you are convicted guilty.
An attorney can also help at trial if there are any areas that the state prosecution must prove that can be questioned, such as the BAC level, the reason you were pulled over, etc.
Moreover, if you go to trial and you are found guilty, an attorney may be able to negotiate with the judge a more favorable sentence. This will depend on the facts of your case and the applicable state law. That is why it is a good idea to contact a lawyer to understand your options.
Obtain a Consultation
Most DUI attorneys offer a free consultation and so it is worth it to seek out one of these if there is any doubt that you will likely be convicted based on the facts of your case. You also should consider one if there are aggravating factors because you may face a higher sentence. An experienced DUI attorney could help negotiate a lower one if that is the case.
Obtaining advice or a free consultation from a drunk driving attorney can help you better understand what defenses you may have or if there are aggravating factors that could potentially lead to a much higher charge, such as possession of controlled substances, driving over a certain speed, etc. This depends on the state law and an experienced drunk driving attorney can help you get an idea of what your situation is like under the laws of your state.
You do not have to hire an attorney if you simply meet with them for a free consultation. If you decide you want to hire an attorney after a consultation, you are free to first meet other attorneys experienced in DUI law before making this decision.
Questions? Contact an Attorney
If you are not represented by a public defender and are considering a plea deal that has already been offered to you, it is also wise to first get the opinion of an attorney. You can choose not to hire them, but at a minimum you should consult a local drunk driving attorney for a better understanding of possible defenses.
Some attorneys may charge a small fee for a consultation but that consultation may help give you a better understanding of your case. Additionally, evaluations may be offered for a smaller fee than full representation. This can help you with advice on how to proceed with the expert knowledge from someone experienced in this area of law.
If you or someone you know is facing potential DUI charges and are wondering if you need legal help, fill out our contact form to include your information and we will get back to you to discuss your options.