Do you need a lawyer to represent you in a DUI case? Hiring an experienced DUI attorney always has its benefits -- familiarity with the court system, knowledge of plea bargain details, and the ability to navigate complex administration procedures. It's especially important if you are a repeat offender. However, if this is your first DUI and there were no additional or aggravating circumstances such as reckless driving, DUI with a minor in the vehicle, or a high blood alcohol content (a BAC over .12) you may choose to proceed without a DUI attorney.
Should You Plead Guilty?
If this is your first DUI, you may choose to simply plead guilty. That might be a wise choice if there were some certainty that you would be convicted -- for example if your BAC is higher than .11 and the arresting officer testifies that you were driving erratically. But before you plead guilty, you should learn about the DUI / DWI laws penalties and fines in your state in order to make an informed decision. Even if you are convinced you should plead guilty, it is always possible that a DUI attorney may offer advice or counsel that could affect the severity of your sentence. Also keep in mind that if your BAC was between .08 and .11 (and there may be some question as to whether the reading was accurate) conviction is less of a certainty and a DUI attorney may be able to better plea bargain your case. Another fact to consider is that in most first non-injury first offense DUIs, judges hand down a routine sentence that seldom varies from one case to another.
In addition to plea bargaining (where the charge is reduced to a lesser one, like from DUI to reckless driving), most states have sentence bargaining. Sentence bargaining is extremely useful where a guilty plea might result in a long period of incarceration. For example, you may be willing to plead guilty to a second DUI but only if you know what your sentence will be. The same is true with an aggravated DUI cases where your BAC is over .15, or injury or death has resulted. In these types of cases you probably wouldn't want to plead guilty unless you knew what sentence you're going to get, and you would be well advised to have an attorney (as is generally true with all non-routine DUI cases).
Second Offenders Should Seek an Attorney
If this is not your first DUI / DWI, you will most likely need the assistance of a DUI attorney. If you're concerned about the costs, some DUI attorneys will work with you and may offer credit payment plans or discounts.
Finding a DUI Attorney - Things to Consider
Find a DUI attorney that specializes in the DUI/DWI laws in your state. Remember that an attorney that defends DUI / DWI exclusively knows the court system and how to best represent your individual case in a court of law. Shop around don't be afraid to call around in your local area and compare pricing.
- Seek out attorneys that specialize in defending DUI/DWI cases.
- Schedule an initial consultation with DUI attorney; this is often free of charge and will help you decide if this is the right person for you.
- Ask the DUI attorney for the up front and total cost for representation. Ask if there is anything else that may occur during the court hearing that would increase the price of representation? Ask about credit financing and payment options.
- If possible, meet with at least 2 attorneys before making your final decision.
If You Aren't Sure
If you are leaning toward pleading guilty (but you are uncertain), seek the advice of an attorney -- either sign up for the public defender or hire a DUI attorney to represent you. At least seek legal advice from this point to the next hearing where you will plead guilty to something, either DUI or a reduced charge of wet or dry reckless driving. While this may still be pricey ($1,000 or more), you'll get a lot of bang for the buck (unless the attorney doesn't come through with a reduction in charge). If the attorney tells you that reductions in charge are common in cases such as yours (although you'll never ever hear a guarantee from an honest criminal defense lawyer), and there is nothing in your record or the police reports to stir the prosecutor's ire, the risk of wasting your money (by paying the attorney but not getting a charge reduction) may well be worth it. For instance, if you spend $1,000 on a lawyer to get a charge reduction and you avoid having to pay for DUI school, you'll probably break even on that issue alone. And if you escape a driver's license suspension, the attorney's assistance will be invaluable to you.
State by State DUI Laws
Follow the links below to learn about the DUI laws in your state.