In every state in the country driving under the influence is a crime. Therefore, the criminal courts handle DUI charges. You do have the legal right to represent yourself in the criminal courts. However, a majority of defendants either have a public defender that has been appointed by the court representing them or they hire a private attorney to assist them.
This article discusses some of the most important factors you may want to consider before you decide what type of legal representation is the best for your situation.
Obtaining an Attorney’s Opinion About Your Case
It is very difficult for a person with no legal training or experience to make an assessment of the weaknesses and strengths of a DUI case. The main reason for this is that DUI law is complex and changes constantly, and every case has its own unique facts. Therefore, it can be invaluable to get the opinion of an experienced DUI attorney about your case.
According to this Maryland DUI Attorney most DUI attorneys offer a free consultation to prospective clients. However, even if you are charged a small fee for a consultation, most likely it will be well worth the money spent. Take your police report along with any other case documents that you have to your consultation to maximize your time. It can also be very helpful to prepare a list of questions that you would like to get answers to.
You are not obligated to hire a lawyer you have a consultation with. However, meeting in person is an effective way to assess whether or not things might work out with a lawyer you are considering hiring to help you with your DUI case.
Cases Where It May Not Be Worth It To Hire An Attorney
Usually, prosecutors have standard first-offense plea offers. What that means is everyone is offered the same standard first DUI plea deal. Typically, they are on the lower side of allowable first DUI sentences. In general, an offense will be considered to be a standard first DUI when the offender does not have any past DUI convictions and there were no aggravating factors involved in the offense such as an especially high BAC (high blood alcohol concentration), injuries, or accidents.
Theoretically, the standard offer will be the same whether the defendant is being represented by a public defender, a private attorney, or no attorney. It would appear that it may not be worth it to hire a lawyer for a standard first DUI case. In some cases, this conclusion definitely holds. However, from a practical standpoint, the standard offer is often simply a starting point.
The standard offer is often whittled down by experienced DUI attorneys by pointing weaknesses out in the prosecution’s case or by calling attention to mitigating factors. An experienced attorney’s familiarity with the judge, the district attorney, and local practices can help with these kinds of negotiations as well.
It may also not be advisable to accept a standard offer in situations where a defendant does have a viable defense. However, it is unlikely that an unrepresented defendant will be aware of these types of defenses. So before you accept a plea deal, you should get an attorney’s opinion at the very least.
In general, criminal defendants all have the right to have an attorney. So if you are unable to hire a lawyer on your own, one will be appointed for you by the court. Appointed attorneys using are from the public defender’s office.
A high number of criminal cases are handled by public defenders, including many DUIs. Therefore, a majority of public defenders are very familiar with DUI defenses and law. Usually, public defenders are very familiar with the judges and district attorneys and know what their tendencies are. For plea bargaining, this type of knowledge can be very beneficial. Also, public defenders have a tendency to have very good trial skills since they take many cases to trial for their clients.
However, there are downsides to having a public defender represent you. Public defenders have very big caseloads. Therefore some defendants might feel like their case isn’t getting enough attention. You also do not get to select your public defender. One is assigned to you by the court. Also, representation by a public defender is limited to just criminal court. Normally, a DUI arrest will result in there being two separate proceedings. There is the criminal court case and also the DMV administrative per-se proceedings. Usually, defendants with a public defender must deal with their DMV proceedings themselves.
When a private DUI attorney is hired, it is usually for the purpose of representing you in criminal court and in DMV proceedings. When the same attorney is working on both of these aspects, it can result in better outcomes for your case, including a shorter license suspension time period.
Many defendants view the price of hiring a private lawyer to be a major drawback. Hiring a private DUI attorney will usually cost $1,000 to $5,000. It could cost even more if your case ends up going to trial. (There are certain cases where spending money on a private attorney will not get an outcome that is more favorable than what you would have received with a public defender.)
However, it can definitely be worth it to hire a private DUI lawyer (if you are able to afford one). Of course, when you retain a lawyer, you get to choose which one you want. Attorneys specializing in DUI cases usually thoroughly understand DUI defenses and law to a much greater degree than other attorneys. In certain cases, their expertise can provide you with more satisfactory results. This could include the charges being dismissed or maybe a better plea bargain.
When a private attorney is hired it may also minimize the amount of time that you must spend in court. Public defender clients in some areas are required to appear in person for all of their court dates. On the other hand, when you have private counsel, usually you will not need to appear in person for routine court appearances. It can be a significant benefit for many people to not need to miss work to appear in court, especially busy professionals.
Another benefit that comes with hiring a lawyer is that you will usually receive more one-on-one time compared to what you would get with a public defender. Most people are going to feel much more comfortable and confident about their case when all of their concerns are addressed and their questions are answered. Alcohol and drug laws can be complex and there can be a lot of different nuances that a attorney can add some clarity about.
To Go To Trial You Will Need A Lawyer
Although in a DUI trial you have the right to represent yourself, that is never a good idea. Trial practice has a very steep learning curve and is usually only achieved with extensive experience. In court, you will be at a serious disadvantage if you are lacking in trial skills and legal knowledge. You should not attempt to try a DUI case yourself. You need to have a lawyer if you are going to trial.