One of the biggest marketing lines for any lawyer who handles DUI (and other criminal) cases is “avoid jail.” Going to jail is everyone’s worst fear, and it seems like a huge mistake for a lawyer to fail to address it. I talk about it, although I also go out of my way, both on my website and in many of my DUI articles on this blog, to make clear that jail is NOT on the menu for just about anyone facing a 1st offense DUI, and even for many people who have had prior drinking and driving convictions. In this article, I want to examine how the fear of jail and the desire to stay out of it can actually skew a person’s thinking enough to lead him or her into making a rash decision when hiring a lawyer. The first and most important part of all this is to remember that, if you’re facing a 1st offense drunk driving charge, you are almost certainly NOT going to jail anyway, so paying to stay out of jail is as much a waste of money as is an insurance policy for a global nuclear apocalypse.
Although not for the exact same reasons, it’s also a bad idea to run headlong into some lawyer’s office and hand over your money in a 2nd offense DUI case, solely based on the idea of avoiding jail. First, in many of these cases, you’re not going to jail anyway, and second, in a few courts, you’re going to get locked up for a few days, no matter what. The key distinction here is that a skilled and especially tactful lawyer may be able to keep you out of jail in those cases where it does exist as a real possibility. In other words, in those courts where you’re not going to go, you’re not going to go, while in those courts where a few days is a certainty, you’re going to go no matter who you hire as a lawyer. Anyone who tells you differently is either outright lying or woefully inexperienced. No lawyer with the sophistication to carefully finesse the client through a case where jail is a possibility (as opposed to being either a certainty or a complete non-issue) will be heard barking “avoid jail!” louder than the next guy. And as much the right kind of lawyer will be ever so diplomatic in this regard, neither will he or she be hawking their services to those most likely to be taken in by the “stay out of jail!” crowd. People who know better tend to be drawn to people who know better. Whatever else, you won’t see Jaguar trying to appeal to buyers in the market for a Kia.
Our first lesson here is significant – the idea that you’re either not going to jail, or a short stint is pretty much unavoidable – and that efforts focused upon jail are only useful where it exists as a very real (and avoidable) possibility. Of course, even where jail is pretty much in the bag because a person has multiple DUI convictions, it needs to be minimized as much as possible. However, there is way more to this. When facing a DUI charge, other consequences, like what will happen to your driver’s license, are always a concern (because something will happen to it), as are the ramifications to your criminal record and your driving record, not to mention the kind of probation and other penalties you will face. Would you rather stay out of jail and simply pay fines and costs and be done with the whole thing, or would you prefer to stay out of jail and be put on reporting probation for 2 years, required to complete heavy-duty counseling, attend AA meetings 5 days a week, and show up for breath or urine testing 3 times per week on top of all that?