As a DUI Lawyer, I get calls on a daily basis from people who've recently been Arrested for a Drinking and Driving Offense. One goal of the Drunk Driving section of this blog has been to address the questions that I am frequently asked. Lately, and no doubt because of the tight economy, a number of people have candidly asked "Do I need a Lawyer for this?" This article, divided into 2 parts, will examine that question.
Rather than go in the predicable direction of listing all the things that can go wrong without a Lawyer, I thought we'd start by looking at a few aspects of a typical DUI case that can actually work out favorably even without Legal Representation. Then, we'll examine exactly what a good DUI Lawyer can and will do in every case to make the outcome better than if a person had gone forward unrepresented by a Lawyer.
For the uninitiated, even the steps in a DUI Case are mysterious. In practice, however, many of those who get to the point of asking whether or not they can proceed without a Lawyer are generally smart individuals who have done their homework. They've often read all kinds of articles (including mine) about DUI's, and are somewhat familiar with the steps in a typical DUI case. Here are a few things they often learn that supports their idea of going it alone:
1. Most DUI cases are resolved by a Plea Bargain, and without any kind of Trial.
2. Some Prosecutors will not restrict the offer of a Plea Bargain to only those individuals with a Lawyer.
3. Virtually no one winds up doing Jail time in a 1st Offense DUI case.
Looking at those facts alone, the idea of spending a few thousand dollars on a Lawyer might change from an automatic response after a DUI Arrest, to something that needs a bit of consideration before a decision is made.
In terms of risks in proceeding unrepresented, let's look at a few:
1. Some Prosecutors will not offer the same quality Plea Bargain, if any, to an unrepresented person.
2. A non-Lawyer might miss a critical problem in the Evidence that could be trouble for the Prosecutor's case.
3. The Judge may not be very enthused dealing with someone choosing to "play Lawyer."
These considerations are enlightening, but do not answer the question "Do I need a Lawyer for this?"
In order to correctly answer that question, we'll first need to turn our attention to the benefits that a skilled DUI Lawyer will bring to every case.
In another series of articles about the Mandatory Alcohol Assessment required in every DUI case, I pointed out that the score a person gets on this test is the single most important factor in determining what will happen to them. For those who've not read that deeply, let me explain:
After a person is convicted (either by Plea, Plea Bargain, or after Trial) of any DUI-related Offense, and BEFORE they go in front of the Judge for Sentencing, they must go through a process called a "PSI," or Pre-Sentence Investigation. This means that, before they ever come back to Court to see the Judge, they come back to Court for an interview with the Probation Department. The Probation Department is required by Law to prepare a PSI Report, which contains a Sentencing Recommendation. For all that can be said about it, the Sentencing Recommendation can pretty well be considered the blue-print for what the Judge is going to do.
The most important component of the PSI process is the Alcohol Assessment test. This is a written test. Amongst the most popular are the SASSI, the AUP/AUI and the NEEDS Assessment. A person's answer to the questions on these tests is given a numerical score. Generally speaking, the lower a person scores, the better. A higher score, on the other hand, tends to indicate either a drinking problem, or the potential for one to develop.
Therefore, if what really happens to a person in a DUI Case is most directly the result of how well or poorly they do in the PSI process in general, and the Alcohol Assessment in particular, then it is clear that it is a critical step in the proper handling of a DUI Case.
And here's where it's important to hire a good DUI Lawyer. Not to be indelicate about it, but the Lawyer who did someone's Divorce, and another person's Will is probably NOT the person to call in a DUI Case. Frankly, except for those relatively few Lawyers who are well-schooled in the variables of Alcohol Testing, and, consequently, the basics and nuances of Alcoholism, Addiction, Cross-Addiction and Recovery, there really isn't that much of a benefit to having one in a typical DUI Case.
Let me clarify before I get hate mail from every Lawyer who "does" DUI Cases. There is always a "benefit" to having a Lawyer as opposed to not. That said, however, if a person knows they can go in and get a Plea Bargain, and figures that's all some Lawyer is going to do for them anyway, it really is a matter of paying a ton of money to have some fancy suit keeping them company for the ride, and saying they "protected their rights." Translated, that's money wasted.
If, however, they spend the money in order to produce a real, bona-fide better outcome in their DUI case, then that's money well-spent.
In part 2 of this article, we'll continue by examining the actual, real benefits that a good, qualified DUI Lawyer can bring to the table in a DUI Case.