In the year 2012 alone, over a million drivers got arrested for driving under the influence of either narcotics or alcohol, a rate of 1 arrest for every 165 licensed drivers across the country. A DUI arrest is quite a stressful experience. However, it's crucial to keep your composure enough to deal with the circumstances as best you can. One effective way of making the best of the situation is by hiring the right DUI lawyer. Keep reading to learn ten tips for hiring the best DUI lawyer in 2021.
1. Be Honest With Yourself About Your Circumstances
Every state has a set of DUI laws that deems a driver "per se intoxicated" if their blood-alcohol concentration, or BAC, is over a limit of 0.08, which applies to all states. Further complicating matters is that your state might charge you with violations of more than one law. You might also face one set of penalties from your DMV while also facing criminal charges at the same time. The right DUI attorney can help you sort it all out and plan a way to move ahead with your best interests in mind.
2. Do Not Try To Represent Yourself
You are entitled to the right to represent yourself. However, it's rarely a good idea. Preparing for an actual trial involves a seriously steep learning curve, and your lack of legal skills and knowledge are only going to hurt you in the courtroom. Judges are also usually very impatient with defendants who represent themselves and are ignorant of court rules.
3. Think Twice About Public Defenders
Most of the time, any criminal defendant has the right to legal representation. You've likely heard actors on police shows say it millions of times when they arrest someone, that if they can't afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to them. You should have been advised of this at your own arrest as part of your Miranda warning unless you waived it off saying you knew your rights.
Public defenders are free of charge to you, and they are very familiar with the DUI laws of a state and common defenses. They also usually know the local judges and prosecutors well enough to know what tendencies they have, which is useful in pursuit of a plea bargain. They also have good trial experience, given their high caseloads.
Then again, the big downside is still they have lots of caseloads. You might not get the level of attention you want or deserve. You also have no say in who your public defender is, and they only represent you in criminal matters. You will get no legal guidance about DMV matters like keeping your license. A private attorney can help you out with both the criminal case aspects as well as the "administrative per se" dealings with your state department of motor vehicles.
4. Start Forming Your List Of Potential Candidates
Your hunt for a DUI attorney might start with how you look for a lot of things, which are online reviews and testimonials. It's an excellent place to start, but you should also dig deeper.
Ask for personal recommendations from those you trust, or at least the ones you don't mind sharing your circumstances with. Anyone you know who has used local legal services before can relay to you what their experience was like, how well their attorney did, the outcome, and what costs were like. No two cases are ever alike, but word-of-mouth referrals are still valuable in this digital day and age.
If you used an attorney of your own in another matter, he or she might be an excellent resource to pursue, even if they don't deal with DUI cases themselves. Lawyers have many network connections in their field, be it colleagues in the area, other members of their firm or practice, or just those they knew back in law school.
DUI laws are a complex field, and always in a state of flux. Given that every case is a unique thing, the very facts can vary drastically in any situation. This is why you need a DUI attorney who can assess both the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
The majority of DUI lawyers offer free consultations to potential clients. Others might charge a nominal fee, but it can still be money that's well worth it.
Phone interviews can be a good starter round, but for anyone you might get serious about using, you should meet in person face to face if you can.
Do note that some attorneys might have you meet with a member of their office staff rather than them. Good lawyers can be quite busy.
To prepare for consultations, you need first to make sure you have the necessary documents assembled and with you. That includes court documents spelling out your charges and court date, your bail papers, and if possible, the police report itself. You also need to add the search inventory report and other documents provided to you by the police, and the names of anyone connected directly to your DUI case, such as victims and/or witnesses.
6. Always Tell The Truth
The documents might not tell your potential attorney everything that they need to know. Be prepared to answer questions, and be honest when you do. Hold nothing back; otherwise, you might not get an accurate assessment of how your case is likely to go.
Part of the reason you want to hire an attorney is that they not only know the law but how to speak to other legal professionals, like prosecutors, district attorneys, and judges, about legal matters. Still, you will likely need to know specific terms that you might encounter. DUI is an acronym for driving under the influence, but your state might also use DWI, which means driving while intoxicated. Some states even use OWI for operating while intoxicated or OVI for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
7. Be Prepared To Ask Your Own Questions And Write Down Answers
Having a good list of questions helps you learn specifics about any lawyer and gives you a chance to gauge their reactions. You don't have to ask every problem, but it's still great to have a list. Consider the following as examples to start with:
How many DUI jury trials have you successfully defended?
If you got charged with your own DUI, what lawyer would you get for your representation?
Do you have sufficient staff to cover representing me in both DMV hearings and DUI court?
What percentage of your practice is focused on DUI defense?
Do you have access to experts and investigators in DUI cases?
How many DUI lawyer seminars have you attended in the last 12 months?
Have you ever spoken at such a workshop or taught other DUI lawyers about successful DUI defense?
How frequently do you have a client seek a plea deal before filing pre-trial motions or conducting a jury trial?
Can you meet me face-to-face or talk to me over the phone as needed?
8. Consider The Firm Size
Even though you're looking for a DUI lawyer for you, the size of the firm behind anyone's lawyer can matter much. You're more likely to have representation in all matters and hearings, and there will be more time and attention put into your case. It's also more likely that the firm will have someone with good standing with any law enforcement or prosecutors involved in your case so that there won't be prejudice or lack of professionalism that hurts your case.
9. Narrow Down Your List Based On Comfort And Confidence
It's simple enough to look up lists of possible lawyers qualified on paper to handle your case, and your consultations and interviews should narrow down who the real contenders are. However, you still need to pick one above all else, and this is more subjective than objective. This comes down to their confidence and how comfortable you are with them.
You might find a DUI attorney that doesn't seem very confident about winning your case, but they suit your personality well. On the other hand, you might find someone very optimistic about winning for you, but you see them grating. You need to find someone that suits you both ways since your appearance as a team in court will go a long way towards good results for you, be it a trial or a plea bargain.
10. Make Your Decision When You Have Time To Think About It
Much like a hiring manager might know during an interview when they found a promising employee, your instincts might kick in during one consultation or phone call and let you know that you have found your DUI lawyer or attorney. Still, it's best not to make this decision at the moment. Tell any lawyer that you talk to that you need to think things over for yourself at home before you reach a final decision.
Any lawyer or attorney who is not trying to oversell you and is an actual professional will respect and understand this. Anyone who says they need an immediate answer from you is likely rushing their work too much, and/or not considering your own needs enough to be trusted enough to represent you.
Get The Representation You Deserve
These 10 tips for hiring a DUI lawyer should put you well on your way to finding the right attorney for your case and circumstances. Having said that, if you'd still like to learn more, feel free to contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys.