This question (or some variation of it) comes up in almost every single consultation, and understandably so. Potential clients want to know if hiring a private attorney is worth the investment. This article aims to answer that question.
THREE DUI DEFENSE OPTIONS: REPRESENT YOURSELF, PUBLIC DEFENDER, OR PRIVATE ATTORNEY
I hesitate to even label it as an “option,” but you may choose to represent yourself. Whether it be a Public Defender or private attorney, you ought to consult an attorney about your case. DUIs are extremely complicated and require a skilled DUI lawyer that is not only familiar with DUI law/procedure, but also DUI prosecution in the county that you are charged.
Depending on your financial situation, you may or may not have access to a Public Defender. Typically, if you make more than $2,500/month, you cannot have a Public Defender appointed to your case. However, there are exceptions to this rule.
Public defenders are skilled and experienced attorneys. However, they tend to have extremely large caseloads. Enormous caseloads make daily client communication difficult. In addition, Public Defenders in certain counties are not permitted to conduct your DMV hearing.
Conversely, private attorneys tend to have smaller caseloads and are able to handle your DMV hearing. DMV hearings are significant in many ways. First and foremost, if a DMV Adminstrative Per Se isn't timely requested, your license will be automatically suspended 30 days from the date of your arrest. Beyond protecting your license, a DMV hearing allows a private attorney to subpoena evidence directly from the arresting agency by using a civil DMV subpoena.
PRIVATE ATTORNEYS DON'T HAVE A CRYSTAL BALL
Hiring a private attorney is not a guarantee that your case will be dismissed or even mitigated. At the very least, an attorney must see police reports to value a case. Even after seeing a police report, though, no guarantee can ever ethically be made. There are simply too many variables.
That being said, a skilled DUI defense attorney is able to use their knowledge and experience to uncover shortcomings in the District Attorney's case that might otherwise go unnoticed. Beyond mounting the strongest substantive defense, an experience DUI attorney is also able to guide you through the entire process. This includes, but is not limited to: criminal court appearances, protecting your license at DMV, and ensuring that you're in compliance with all the terms of your punishment should you be convicted.
IF YOU DECIDE TO HIRE A PRIVATE ATTORNEY…
There is no shortage of DUI defense attorneys, so you have to do your homework and shop around! Start off by looking at client reviews. Yelp, Avvo, Facebook, and Google reviews all provide valuable insight. After you check out reviews, take a look at a potential lawyer's website. Focus on the content they post to see if they stay current with substantive and procedural California DUI law.
After doing some online research, set up some free consultation(s). Very few DUI defense lawyers charge for consultations, so there's really nothing to lose. Ideally, try to meet a potential attorney in person. It's key that you choose someone who you will get along with because frequent communication is key to effective DUI defense.
During the consultation, ask about the lawyer's DUI defense experience. Does their practice focus on defending against DUIs, or do they dabble in multiple practice areas? Also, ask about their experience defending against DUI charges in the county that you're charged in. While black letter DUI law doesn't change from county to county, each county operates differently. Having firsthand knowledge of how a county investigates and prosecutes DUIs can be an advantage.
Also, get an idea of what the attorney's plan of attack. What discovery will they request? What potential defenses do they see after consulting with you? The ideal DUI defense attorney will have a plan of attack that they should be able to articulate after hearing the facts of your case.
©NorCal Criminal Defense 2016