Is it better to get a lawyer for a DUI?
For many people, a DUI charge is the first legal matter requiring them to appear in court. Most fear the thought of going to court alone and prefer to have an attorney present, giving them peace of mind in the belief that they are going to reach the best possible outcome.
However, there are some who would rather face the unknown alone because the thought of hiring a lawyer is just as scary.
Some people arrested for DUI want to know whether hiring a lawyer will make a difference in the outcome of their case. I heard a great response to this question about 10 years ago. I had a friend who was arrested for DUI in Phoenix, Arizona. He was worried about going to jail in “Tent City” and wearing a pink jumpsuit but was skeptical about whether an attorney would make a difference because he believed that his case was unwinnable.
The Arizona attorney told my friend: “Look – if you hire me, I may win the case or I may not. However, if you do not hire an attorney, you have no chance of coming out on top.” My friend hired the attorney and avoided jail time. Could he have avoided jail time without an attorney? I don’t know for sure, but I believe the lawyer’s statement was true.
In DUI cases, lawyers may win the case on constitutional grounds (where evidence is excluded) or on the merits of the case (where evidence is insufficient to convict). Under the exclusionary rule of the fourth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, some of the mistakes police make result in people winning DUI cases. The exclusionary rule prevents law enforcement from benefitting from unlawful searches and seizures.
How Does Having a DUI Lawyer Affect the Likely Outcome?
Most players in the criminal justice system would agree that it’s almost never a good idea to represent oneself when facing charges. Let’s take a look at what the data says about private DUI lawyers versus public defenders and self-representation.
Outcomes for People Who Hired Private DUI Lawyers
A majority of DUI defendants who hired private lawyers were convicted of some form of DUI, whether by a plea bargain or a conviction after trial (as with those who used public defenders and those who represented themselves). But the percentage convicted—65%—was the lowest for readers who hired private lawyers. Charges were dismissed or never filed for another 12%, and 1% were acquitted (found not guilty) after a trial.
Notably, 22% of people who hired private lawyers were able to plea bargain for lesser, non-DUI offenses. These offenses included reckless driving, “wet reckless,” and impaired driving. By comparison, only 7% of public-defender clients and 0% of self-represented defendants ended up with such “lesser” pleas. While one of the benefits of having an attorney seems to be a better chance of getting a favorable plea bargain, sometimes the prosecution will offer a standard deal regardless of whether a lawyer is involved.
An attorney can help you plea bargain
If it is your first offense, depending on your blood-alcohol level and your driving record, you might be able to plea bargain where you don’t contest your guilt in exchange for a minimal sentence. This is where an attorney with knowledge of the prevailing climate in your location and the local prosecutors is most able to help. There are various plea bargaining strategies that an experienced attorney can use to obtain a favorable outcome for their client. Some states acknowledge “wet reckless driving” charges, which is when a DUI Is reduced to reckless driving with alcohol involved.
In instances where you’re unsure of how to proceed with your plea—are you pleading guilty or no contest, for example—the advice of an attorney could be helpful in determining your next move. At the very least, you can seek advice rather than hiring someone for a full-fledged case, and you can potentially argue your case down to a lesser charge.
The advice of a lawyer for reducing your charges is also helpful in navigating the collateral consequences for a DUI charge—that is, the penalties you will face that do not involve fines, licensing suspensions, or jail time. It’s worth it to hire the best DUI attorney you can afford.
Using an Attorney to Reduce Your Sentence
Courts in most states are willing to bargain down a DUI sentence in exchange for a guilty plea in certain instances. For example, you may be facing charges for a second or third DUI, which can land you in prison for a few months or years. Instead of taking it to trial, the prosecution may be willing to reduce the sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. And if it’s a DUI charge involving drugs other than alcohol, an attorney may be able to negotiate away random drug testing or other conditions of probation.
But, as with plea bargaining, “sentence bargaining” goes much smoother when handled by an attorney. Keep in mind that it is very difficult to negotiate the sentence for a first-offense, non-injury DUI case.
Why Would I Need A Quality DUI Attorney As Opposed to a Cheaper Attorney?
You cannot win unless you fight. A good DUI lawyer will take your DUI case and if they feel like they have a motion to suppress, they will bring the motion to try to get the evidence knocked out. That means the officer did not have sufficient probable cause to pull you over and do a DUI investigation. Ask the attorneys who are charging in the low two thousands or less than two thousand, how many of their cases they do suppression hearing on and then ask them to show you evidence that they do those hearings. They don’t do them, we’ve never seen them doing suppression hearings. We see them pleading people guilty or no contest, same thing all the time. You need a lawyer who will fight. I have never seen anybody get evidence thrown out when they didn’t do the suppression motion.
You’ve got to do the motion to suppress the evidence if you want a chance to win the case, to have the evidence thrown out because everything that happened after that invalid stop goes out if it is an invalid stop. We don’t do a suppression motion in every case. Some are obviously frivolous and we don’t do that. When we have a fightable case, we may win with a suppression motion. We bring it. So that’s something to ask a low fee attorney about. Will they bring a suppression motion? How often do they bring a suppression motion? We fight them, if we don’t win and think, the judge made an incorrect decision, we will appeal it. We don’t stop fighting, you can’t win unless you fight. You need an attorney who can take the time to win your case and an attorney who only charges you a couple of thousand or less is not saying, ”I understand this case is important, it is going to take a lot of time, and I am going to fight.”