“How much do you charge for a DUI?” This is a question that I’m asked almost daily. In truth, I find it somewhat funny, because I list my Fees on my site and my blog under the section at the top marked “Fees.” Look up at the top of this page. See it? It’s there.
This article will examine Fees in a DUI case, and why some are so low, while others are so high, and what a person can expect to get for their money.
For what it’s worth, I only handle charges brought in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, and I charge the following for DUI cases:
1st Offense: $3200. I begin with ½ ($1600) down, and the other ½ ($1800) must be paid prior to the conclusion of the case.
2nd Offense: $4200. I begin with ½ ($2100) down, and the other ½ ($2400) must be paid prior to the conclusion of the case.
3rd (Felony) Offense: Starting at $8400. I begin with half (½) down, and the other half (½ ) must be paid prior to the conclusion of the case.
No one wants to pay too much, or anymore than they have to, for anything. It’s no different for Legal Fees. My Fees are more than what some Lawyers charge, and less than others. Yet there are still really two competing bookends to this scenario. Many people are absolute “bargain hunters,” intent on finding the lowest price on anything, regardless of quality, while others cannot help thinking that the more you pay for something, the better it must be. Most often, however, the very best “deal” lies in the middle.
I have repeated this theme throughout many of my blog articles: Looking for a Lawyer on a “low-bidder” basis is about the worst way to find quality representation. There is simply no way to not cut corners when offering a discount price. We’ll come back to this later.
On the opposite side of the coin, paying a King’s ransom for a legal Fee all too often means getting “soaked.” Anyone can request every document under the sun from the Prosecutor and work the daylights out of a file, but whether or not that is necessary, or even advisable, is another thing altogether.
As an example, imagine a leak on your basement wall:
One contractor may propose excavating all the soil around that wall in order to “get a good look” at the problem. This may cost thousands of dollars, but that certainly will do it.
Another contractor may simply show up and, for $150, slap some waterproof paint over the spot. That may very well stop the leak for a while.
Yet a third contractor may show up, trace the leak, and know, right out of the gate, that the right repair is to pump an epoxy sealant into the crack, fixing and sealing it forever. His fix will cost about $350.
The cheapest “deal” turns out not to be any kind of “deal” at all. The most expensive is downright wasteful, while the middle ground approach turns out to be the best bang for the buck.
Hiring a Lawyer for a DUI, or any kind of case, for that matter, isn’t really much different. The primary question becomes how much work is necessary.
And that can vary from case to case. A good DUI Lawyer will always engage in a factual investigation once he or she takes on a case. A bargain Lawyer simply cannot afford to do that and expect to turn a profit, so they’ll simply sign the Client up for a quick plea deal.
The overpriced Lawyers will often spin a large story about all the things that “could” be wrong with the case. That’s kind of like someone listing all the things that “could” go wrong in an airplane, and cause it to crash. Listen to that long enough, and you’ll never set foot in a plane again. To be fair, the high-end Lawyers will rarely charge an exorbitant Fee and simply rush in and quickly take a plea. They’ll spend the time and effort and get enough Records to choke a horse. The problem is that, all too often, this is a complete waste of time and money.
Going back to the leaky basement wall, the most expensive contractor could tell the homeowner that they’ll inspect the entire foundation of the home and dig up all the soil around all the basement walls, but in the end, in most cases, they’ll wind up injecting the same epoxy into the crack that the middle guy would, except they’ll wind up doing that after they’ve done several other thousand dollars worth of unnecessary and wasted work.
So how do you know what to do in a DUI case?
First, avoid the low-bidders. They bring nothing to the table but a waste of money. No Lawyer with first rate legal skills markets them on a bargain basis. I certainly don’t. If some lawyer doesn’t think enough of him or herself as a skilled professional, it’s not likely that any Prosecutor or Judge will, either. Bargain lawyers build a practice upon moving cases in and out as quickly as possible, and their income is based on doing as little work in as many cases as possible. That’s no way to have something as important as your DUI handled.
Instead, a person should look for a Lawyer who will charge a Fee that will include doing the necessary background work and investigation to make sure the DUI charge is legally sound, and, if not, will then have a built-in structure to charge for the work necessary to intelligently challenge weak evidence. By weak evidence, I mean anything from questionable breath or blood test results to a case predicated on a questionable traffic stop. Believe it or not, I have seen cases where people have been Arrested for DUI even though they were never pulled over, or even not in the car at the time of Police contact. DUI cases stand or fall based upon facts, and those facts have to be provable to certain legal standards in order for the case to be considered legally sound.
Some cases are rather obviously solid. When a DUI driver crashes into another car, and the Police arrive at the scene to find one of the drivers behind the wheel and obviously under the influence, it is highly unlikely that any Judge will be tossing that case out. You can spend $10,000 in Legal Fees and subpoena everything right down to the Arresting Officer’s kindergarten school records, but such effort is not likely to result in the case being dismissed.
Other cases almost scream, “fight.” When a driver is pulled over for suspicion of DUI, and no breath or blood test is given, there is no actual evidence of intoxication. Taking a plea to an alcohol-related Offense in such a situation is, in many cases, simply selling out the Client.
Yet there’s far more to this than simply deciding to fight the case, or not. Even in a case that is obviously “rock solid,” there are necessary steps in the DUI process that will absolutely have a huge impact on what happens to the Client. And the bargain Lawyers simply cannot and do not address these issues. Worse yet, most of the high-end “we fight everything, every time, no-matter what” Lawyers are equally unable to properly prepare a Client for these critical steps, because their entire focus is on trying to beat the case, no matter what the facts and how remote the chances of actually doing that may be.
In some of my other DUI blog articles, I have discussed the ultra-important role of the Probation interview and the mandatory alcohol assessment test that is part of that larger process know as the PSI, or Pre-Sentence Investigation. By Law, prior to being Sentenced for a DUI, a person must first take a written alcohol assessment test. This test is scored, and that score determines if the person falls within the range to have a drinking problem (or not), or within the range to have the potential to develop a drinking problem. At least in 1st Offense cases, this score is the about the single most important factor in determining what happens to the person.
In addition to the alcohol assessment test, the person will be interviewed by a Probation Officer, who is legally required to make a written recommendation to the Court advising what kind of Sentence the person should receive. This is not nearly as arbitrary as it might sound. The Sentence recommended is mostly a product of the score a person gets on the alcohol assessment test. Test out showing an alcohol problem, and the person can expect counseling and/or some kind of rehab. Test out showing the potential to develop a drinking problem, and some classes or counseling will follow. Test out showing neither a problem, nor the potential to develop one, meaning the DUI appears to be an isolated incident, and the person can expect a much more lenient Sentence, instead of a Probationary term with too many conditions to handle.
Thus, this test and it’s results are the primary determinant of whether the person gets Probation and alcohol awareness classes, or is Ordered into counseling, or some kind of outpatient alcohol rehab (Intensive Outpatient Program, or IOP, for short) program. If the person is found not to have a problem, and not to display the potential to develop one, they will most likely only be Ordered to complete an afternoon or evening Victim’s Impact Panel, often put on by MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Whatever the outcome, it will hinge entirely on how well or poorly the person does on that alcohol assessment test, and how they perform in the PSI, including the mandatory interview with a Probation Officer from the Court. Here, I can help more than anyone. I am actively involved in the post graduate study of alcohol and addiction issues at the University level. This means that when I walk into a courtroom, I am the unequivocal expert on alcohol issues. I can protect you from being “seen” as having a problem that you don’t.
Anyone facing a 2nd Offense DUI already knows this. They’ve been through this before, and I can guarantee that whatever happened in their first case was exactly, or almost exactly, what was written in the PSI Recommendation provided to the Judge on the day of their Sentencing. Even in a 2nd Offense case, the kind of counseling a person is Ordered to complete will be the direct result of how well or poorly they do in the PSI process, and most particularly on the mandatory alcohol assessment test that is a part of that process.
In my Office, if I sense that the case seems to have the hallmarks of being sound enough not get tossed out, which really accounts for most cases, I’ll begin the PSI preparation process at my first meeting with the Client. I’ll introduce them to the alcohol assessment process, and we’ll get our first crack at learning how to perform as well as possible on it. This takes about 2 hours.
Let’s talk about a typical 1st Offense case for a moment. Beyond the several hours spent going to, from, and in Court the first time or two, there will be a few hours spent investigating the case. If the case doesn’t look like it will get tossed out on some technicality (and that’s true for most cases), I’ll spend another hour or two with the Client refreshing and preparing for the PSI again, if and after a plea has been worked out. Add another few hours returning to Court for Sentencing, and you can see that, even in a “quick” case, it will take about 10 to 12 hours of Lawyer’s time to wrap it up. Given the hourly Fees charged by “better” Lawyers, and the necessary overhead costs involved in maintaining an Office, this is nothing that can be done for less than the $3600 I charge.
On the flip side, if a case is ripe for challenge, and it seems likely that such a challenge will pay off, then more work is required. However, one should only consider paying for that work if the work needs to be done. Paying to have it done just for the sake of doing it makes the Lawyer rich, but if that money doesn’t buy a dismissal of the case, then it’s money wasted, pure and simple.
This requires an honest evaluation of the case, and requires honest communication between the Lawyer and the Client.
Recently, I leased a new car. When it came time to sign the papers, I was offered all kinds of warranties, and these included things like rim and tire warranties, interior and exterior protection, and pretty much anything you can think of. When I declined, the manager showed me sheet listing the average cost of a rim and a tire. I was given a crash course in all the things that could go wrong, and how I could protect myself.
In the analytical and concise words my dad would use, “bull$#!!.”
The same thing is at play when Lawyers hawk their overpriced services by listing all the things that could be wrong with a case. Sure, some of those things “could” be wrong, but the plain fact is that in most cases, they are not. A key missing statistic in all the “testimonials” this kind of Lawyer puts out is what percentage of the cases they accept are actually dismissed or tossed out on some technicality. If you think about that as you read their self-reports and testimonials, then you’d have to conclude that they don’t handle that many cases.
Finding the right Lawyer takes time. A person should read what they’ve written and see, in their various articles, how they explain their approach to resolving DUI cases. And by “explain,” I mean actually examining and explaining how they do things, and not just using tired old phrases describing themselves as “tough” and “aggressive.”
A person should pick up the phone and call the Office. How is your call greeted? Whoever answers the phone is, whether they think so or not, the “Director of First Impressions.” There’s an old saying that a dog is a reflection of the family that owns it. The same holds true for the person who answers the phone in a Lawyer’s Office. If the person on the other end is too cold or business-like, then you are not likely to find a warm and friendly voice if you get transferred down the line to the Lawyer. If the person answering the phone sounds like little more than the cheapest employee they could find to do the job, well….
In order to establish good and honest communication, and to form the basis for a good working relationship, the Client needs to like the Lawyer, and the Lawyer needs to like the Client. If you are not comfortable with the Lawyer you hire, or feel that you can’t voice all of your concerns or ask all of your questions, then you’ve hired the wrong person. If the Lawyer doesn’t see eye to eye with the Client, or simply doesn’t truly like the Client, then he or she will not be able to put in the required effort to produce the best outcome. The last thing you want to be is just another case that a Lawyer just wants to get rid of. And I can say, with absolute certainty, that if I like my Client (and that’s a requirement for me to accept a case), I feel a moral obligation to leave no stone unturned in my quest to bring about the very best outcome legally possible for them.
Hiring a Lawyer for a DUI means paying a Lawyer. Pay too little, and you’ll get too little. Pay too much, and you’ve just wasted your hard earned money. A good DUI Lawyer, or even a bargain DUI Lawyer, will cost more than a new refrigerator or TV set. Most people will spend some time and research such a purchase before handing over their money. It only makes sense to put in at least as much effort in finding the right Lawyer to handle a DUI as it does in buying a new appliance.
In the end, about the best advice a person can follow in this situation is to “spend wisely.” Who can argue with that?