Do I Really Need a DUI Lawyer?
It all depends, but generally the answer is, "Yes.", especially if it is an aggravated DUI like a high blood alcohol content (BAC) or a repeat DUI. However, I understand that there are some people who "just want to plead guilty" and get it over with - even if this is not the best decision.
But I would like to share with you a few thoughts to consider. First, even if you believe that you're guilty, you're still legally presumed innocent. A good DUI attorney can evaluate the strength of the proof against you in ways that you cannot do yourself.
Second, a major issue in every case is whether the police overstepped their bounds and unlawfully stopped, arrested, tested, and charged you. A good DUI attorney will evaluate whether you were treated properly. If your rights were violated, there may be no case against you.
Finally, the help of a good attorney is critical in limiting the damage that a DUI case can have on your family, your life and your livelihood. Impaired driving law (alcohol or drugs) is one of the most politically sensitive areas of the American legal system. Although most DUI cases are misdemeanor offenses, the consequences for a conviction can often parallel or exceed some felony punishments. Therefore, handling one of these cases without legal counsel can be a life-changing mistake.
A good DUI attorney will direct you to the help and counseling that you may need to rebuild and restore your life after the damage of alcohol and a DUI case. Of course a good DUI attorney can minimize the penalties such as jail and revocation.
Failing to fight these seemingly impossible cases (and sustaining a conviction on your criminal record) can lead to nightmarish scenarios for you. Seeing these dire consequences, and wanting to avoid them, more and more citizens accused of impaired driving offenses are diligently searching for TOP DUI trial attorneys who specialize in challenging prosecution charges in these life-changing criminal cases. They want the very best legal specialist they can find to fight their DUI case.
While a driving under the influence arrest starts series of complex and embarrassing consequences for most people, the disastrous and infinitely more stressful consequences of pleading guilty or losing at trial make the arrest seem very mild by comparison.
A conviction for drunk driving or drugged driving in Nevada County or Placer County can lead to loss of driving privileges, mandatory jail time, lengthy community service hours, possible alcohol or drug treatment, possible ignition interlock device installation on your vehicles, financial devastation caused by employment problems, and possible cataclysmic personal upheaval (i.e., divorce, loss of visitation rights, loss of a college scholarship, or inability to travel to certain countries).
Over 85% of all people charged with impaired driving (alcohol or drugs) never hire an attorney skilled in fighting these high-difficulty criminal cases. Many who opt to hire someone do not even seek a lawyer who is an expert in the field of driving while intoxicated cases. Some attorneys do not investigate the facts of the case, to see if the case has a possibility (or even a PROBABILITY) of being won, through a reduced plea (not a DUI) or a successful trial.
These are tough times for drinking and driving and they require a skilled DUI defense attorney.
Judges fear being defeated in political races based on being "soft" on crime, especially driving while intoxicated [DUI] cases. Police officers are often promoted and given favorable duty based on their "track record" in arresting and prosecuting drunken drivers. MADD has become a formidable political and social juggernaut in America, and has its financial tentacles in various levels of federal, state, and local governments. Many "hanging" judges get the majority of their financial backing from M.A.D.D. and its supporters.
In large part, many police departments and courts depend upon state and federal grants and the revenues from DUI convictions to stay afloat. DUI prosecutions have become a new source of revenue and a "cash-cow’" for cash- strapped state budgets, county prosecutors and local law enforcement agencies. As a result citizen’s rights are trampled and all objectivity is lost if a person is truly guilty or innocent.
A Few Thoughts About What to Look for In a DUI Lawyer
THE KEY CONCEPT IS VALUE. IS $1,000 A GOOD VALUE IF NOTHING IS DONE? IS $10,000 A GOOD VALUE IF THE CASE IS REFERRED OUT TO A JUNIOR LAWYER ?
Get the best Nevada County or Placer County DUI lawyer you can afford, not the cheapest one you can find.
There are various different kinds of lawyers out there, and you will need to know how to choose. In general, you will find the following:
* Public defenders
* Discount lawyers
* General practitioners
* Focused and specialized DUI attorneys
* Extremely expensive criminal and DUI attorneys
Avoid the discount lawyer...
Perhaps like cars, you will get only what you pay for, and that won’t be much. Discount lawyers make their money by handling a high volume of cases or by maintaining unreasonably low office overhead (no secretary, no malpractice insurance, practice out of their home, etc).
These lawyers are not skilled in analyzing and defending cases. Rather, they are skilled in quickly disposing of cases by guilty pleas (never filing motions, doing investigation, or going to trial) to maintain their profit margin. Be very skeptical of any lawyer who charges a retainer less than $1500.00 on a first offense, and $2000.00 on a second offense.
Avoid the general practitioner...
That is, the lawyer who does some criminal work but also handles real estate, probate, family law, divorce, wills, - basically anything that walks in the door. Such a lawyer may be reasonably priced (with fees in the $1500-$2500 range), but will lack the specialized knowledge and skill necessary to properly defend a drunk driving case.
This may be true even if the lawyer handles a significant number of drunk driving cases. Most likely, cases are plea-bargained instead of investigated and fought aggressively. These lawyers have a reputation with the prosecutors as "dump trucks" as they dump on their clients by talking them into pleading guilty instead of putting up a fight. THESE LAWYERS ARE THE MOST COMMON.
Compared to the drunk driving defense attorney who has additional specialized training and has access to knowledgeable professional resources (such as expert witnesses, sources of scientific evidence, and private investigators), general practice attorneys typically do not have such resources available, since their practices are not focused on fighting and winning DUI cases.
SAVE YOUR MONEY!!! You are far better off with a public defender (if you qualify for such representation) than a discount lawyer or a general practitioner. Although public defenders are often overworked, they are skilled and dedicated specialists. But remember, court-appointed lawyers will not represent you in the DMV administrative hearing. This means you will lose your license, and to get it back you will need high-risk insurance and you will need to complete an alcohol class just as if you were convicted of the DUI.
Keep in mind that if money for a lawyer is impossible to obtain, you may need to be screened by the public defender or similar organization handling indigent cases if your financial resources are low. To qualify for such an “appointed” attorney, you will be screened extensively by your judge or his/her court staff to determine whether you truly are unable to pay a fee.
IMPORTANT: Now that the state is strapped for cash, you must pay the county back for the public defender so you are paying for an attorney anyway.
The Specialized or Focused DUI Attorney...
It is wise to choose a reasonably priced specialist (still expensive compared to a general practitioner). Look for a lawyer recommended by not one, but several other lawyers. Look for a lawyer who is active in The National College for DUI Defense, The California DUI Defenders Association or the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Such lawyers may handle only criminal cases and they may also handle other types of litigation such as personal injury. They will not generally handle non-litigation matters, such as wills, family law, probate, real estate, incorporation or business law.
These lawyers have extensive experience in DUI law, and understand the special complexities of a drunk driving case. Drunk driving defense work is a very complicated area of the law. It involves dealing with an administrative agency (California Department of Motor Vehicles) and criminal courts. Different rules of evidence and standards of proof apply to these legal entities.
DUI defense necessitates scientific knowledge about chemical testing and the various devices and conversion ratios used to determine blood and breath alcohol levels. It involves technical knowledge pertaining to search and seizure issues under the Fourth Amendment, and standards for the proper administration of field sobriety tests.
In fact, these lawyers will usually be far more experienced in DUI cases than the ultra-high priced preeminant criminal lawyers. These lawyers may charge retainers in the $3000 to $7000 range, depending on the severity of the offense, with additional fees for trial.
Quality DUI lawyers should also be active and recognized in local and national criminal defense organizations such as their state bar and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the National College of DUI Defense (ncdd.com). Again, get a DUI attorney who has extensive experience in trial by jury of drunk driving cases.
Remember, DUI cases are among the most difficult criminal law cases in the United States to succeed in defending due to the "scientific" issues that permeate this area of criminal practice. While a Nevada County attorney handling a simple battery (such as domestic violence) or murder case may be able to rely on top trial practice skills and a general knowledge of the rules of evidence and criminal procedure, a drunk driving specialist must be fully versed on breath testing instruments (hand-held and evidentiary devices at the police station or inside the “mobile” van that accompanies the DUI Task Force officers), basic electronics, radio frequency interference, flaws in breath testing “collection” procedure, human anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, “human factors” analysis (a part of the field of psychology), statistical analysis and pharmacokinetics (the movement of drugs within the human body).
The attorney must also be trained to be able to understand the job of a registered nurse, EMS/EMT, or phlebotomist who drew blood, as well as the role of a laboratory toxicologist when dealing with blood tests and urine tests involving alcohol, drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs in impaired driving cases.
Further, a body of law has evolved around so-called "field sobriety testing" that is almost always utilized by California police officers in evaluating possibly impaired drivers in deciding on whether to arrest the person for DUI. These evaluations are OPTIONAL and VOLUNTARY, yet almost all officers “trick” or mislead citizens into believing these are “required” tests. This misrepresented, pseudo-science has been responsible for more wrongful arrests and convictions than any other voodoo forensic science in America, far surpassing all erroneous, bogus eyewitness identification arrests and convictions.
The criminal attorney handling drunk driving litigation must be knowledgeable of "human factors" affecting such variables as stress during physical agility testing, environmental distractions such as strobe or rotating emergency lights, surface irregularities and obstacles, and lighting deficiencies involving these agility exercises.
Additionally, a DUI defense attorney must be familiar with the dynamics of an officer’s ambiguous verbal instructions, or of an officer’s poor execution of a field evaluation “demonstration”. All of these matters affect your performance of these psycho-physical evaluations promoted and allegedly "validated" by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Association (NHTSA), which is part of our federal government.
Expensive Criminal and DUI Attorneys...
If you are lucky enough to have the financial ability, you may wish to hire the most preeminant criminal defense lawyer you can find. Look for a lawyer who has "written the book" so to speak. With a little research, you will be able to find the Johnny Cochran, F. Lee Bailey or Barry Scheck of your city.
If you live in a smaller community, which does not support criminal defense specialists, it makes sense to go to the nearest large city. Expect these kinds of lawyers to charges retainers in the range of $10,000 to $18,000, with substantial additional fees for trial, and more if it is for a repeat offense with a substantially enhanced penalty.
Be aware, however, that some of the more famous criminal lawyers may not be experienced in drunk driving cases, as these are seen as too minor. So, make sure that you get a lawyer who understands the intricacies of a drunk driving case.
While books about DUI law and attorney web sites hawking their skills in handling drunk driving defense are ubiquitous on the internet, it could be a grave mistake to rely entirely upon these sources for legal advice relating to successfully defending your DUI case.
All of these internet sites and sources of information provide lots of data and "hype" to the citizen facing a criminal conviction and possible jail sentence, but may not in any fashion identify a truly skilled DUI lawyer in California. Why? Many attorneys who have launched web sites are NOT skilled in fighting DUI cases, but want a high volume STATEWIDE DUI business to allow them to handle guilty pleas in large numbers in order to increase their bottom line.
Often, these lawyers' practices are known as "bait-and-switch" shops, referring to the front-end assurances of their successful track records, "connections" to judges or prosecutors within the courts, prior prosecutorial experience and very convincing promises of fighting a DUI case to the last breath in his or her body.
Lastly, remember you should be able to schedule a free initial consultation, where the lawyer should spend between one-half hour and one hour with you discussing your case. The discussion should include a recitation by you and a brief analysis by the lawyer of the possible issues in your case and an overview of DUI law.
A good Nevada County or Placer County DUI defense attorney should be able to give you an honest and thorough assessment of your case after reviewing the facts and be able to explain the options that are available to you based on not only the current law, but also on potential legal changes that are in the legislative and judicial pipeline at any given time.
Often, new legal challenges are in the process of being pursued in the appellate courts, and ONLY a DUI law specialist would know about these cutting-edge legal attacks and be able to structure your case and its pleadings (written motions and other maneuvers) to take advantage of such transitions in the law.
Unfortunately, there are literally several thousand attorneys in California who will take a DUI case for a couple of thousand dollars or less and ram you through the system without a clue as to your possible defenses or the actual consequences of an administrative suspension or conviction.
They don’t fully investigate the facts, visit the scene, interview all the potential witnesses, obtain complete discovery, have the blood retested (in every case!), deal with the DMV hearing, file any pretrial motions and rarely if ever go to trial!
At the end of the day, making yourself an educated consumer of legal services will improve your chance for your California DUI case to be managed successfully. That means learning as much as you can about California’s drunk driving laws so that you can work with your DUI attorney to seek to achieve the best solution possible for your DUI case. It also will help you make sure that you are hiring a DUI lawyer that really is a true specialist in this complex area of law.