Not having a lawyer and just pleading guilty is essentially like giving up. It means you have zero chance to improve your sentence. You will never do worse by having a lawyer represent you. Your lawyer can save you from a more enhanced charge and might be able to get your charge reduced. Your lawyer can save you money and even keep your license from being suspended. In some cases your lawyer might even be able to get your whole case dismissed. If you just give up and plead guilty, you won’t ever know how much better an outcome you could have had if you were represented by an attorney.
Private Attorney vs. Public Defender
The public defender will not be able to make appearances for you at the DMV administrative per se hearing, so you will not have any opportunity to avoid the initial suspension on your license. A private attorney will schedule that hearing and attend it for their client. They will try to get their client’s license back or not have it suspended at that hearing.
Public defenders in misdemeanor courtrooms, where most DUI cases occur, deal with hundreds of cases at any given time and they might handle up to a dozen DUIs per day, so you, as their client, end up being just one of those. They will have very limited time to work with you, talk to you about the case, or answer your questions. Your case won’t get the attention it deserves and needs to get the best possible outcome.
Private attorneys have far fewer cases and a lot more time and energy to properly examine your case and communicate with you about every aspect of your defense. They are happy to answer all of your questions and concerns.
Qualities in Private Attorney
The first thing you should find out is what experience the attorney has handling DUI cases. The more experienced the attorney is the better he or she will be dealing in the courtroom with the DAs, the judges and the county.
You should also look for someone with trial experience, even if you don’t think your case will go to trial. The DAs know if an attorney has trial experience, and you will typically end up with better dispositions when the DA goes up against a defense attorney who has experience and is not afraid to go to trial.
It’s a very good idea to hire an attorney with specialized training in the area of DUI defense. I am a member of the National College of DUI Defense, which is for lawyers who practice substantially in the field of DUI defense. I am also a member of the American Association of Premier DUI Attorneys, which is for lawyers with specialized training in the area of DUI defense.
You should stay away from any attorney who has such a general practice that they do not have time to really learn the ins and outs of DUI defense. You want to avoid an attorney who, for example, practices family law, bankruptcy and DUI. That attorney will not be able to spend enough time getting into the nuances of DUI.
There are many things that are not in the police report that can potentially help someone’s case as far as a defense. I send my clients a questionnaire of 141 critical questions that ask about their DUI case. The answers my clients provide help me effectively cross-examine the officer and I may be able to prove to the judge or jury that the officer did not conduct the investigation properly, that the results of the field sobriety tests were not valid, that the results of the chemical test were invalid, or that my client was simply not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the incident.
Some of those questions deal with pre-existing medical conditions that can affect performance during field sobriety tests or the outcome of the chemical, blood and breath tests. An officer is trained to look for several clues of possible impairment, and the driver may have done one thing wrong, but they may have done 23 things right, which is consistent with not being impaired. Those are things the officer might not have put in his or her report. I like finding out this kind of information from my clients because I can use that as ammunition in their defense.