Immediately! You should immediately, upon arrest for DUI or Physical Control, invoke your right to an attorney. You should politely decline to answer any questions. The officer must provide you with number to a public defender on call, or a phone book and telephone for your use. Once you request an attorney, the officer should not ask any questions of you, but if you voluntarily make statements without being questioned, these statements can be used against you.
If you did not request an attorney at the time of arrest or before the breath or blood test, you still need the advice of an attorney right away. You have only 20 days from the date of your arrest to contest the suspension or revocation of your license. An experienced DUI attorney can explain the process to you.
In addition, there may be critical defenses, witnesses or evidence that will be lost if not immediately investigated by a well-seasoned DUI attorney. It is in your best interest to start looking for one now.
The best sources for references
A good starting point is friends or family who have strong references for a particular DUI attorney. A reference from a lawyer who practices other kinds of law is also a good starting point. If you have friends in the court system or law enforcement you trust, they may be willing to give you a few names of attorneys they know of who are successful with their DUI cases.
Certainly, once you have a few names, or even if you don't, check the Avvo.com website for the lawyer's ranking, reviews and endorsements. Check out the lawyers' websites as well. Are the sites professional, informative, and do they give you a feeling for the firm's culture and philosophy, e.g. are they client-oriented? What credentials does the lawyer have in DUI defense? A lawyer that practices in multiple areas other than DUI may not have the time to keep up with the latest science, law and technology in this rapidly changing area of law. Check the Bar Association for complaints or discipline as well.
What to look for
An excellent DUI attorney has earned that reputation, and courts, law enforcement and the legal community know who these lawyers are. If such persons are reluctant to give you a name, ask them who they would hire if they, or a family member were arrested for a DUI.
You can watch DUI attorneys in court. Do they have a court presence that shows they are respected by the judges, prosecutors and court staff? Are they professional and do they easily take control of the courtroom? Do other attorneys stop what they are doing just to listen to the attorney? This is an indication that they know the reputation of the attorney and are listening to learn something that will help them improve their own practice.
You should carefully examine their training and professional memberships. Are they leaders in the field, authoring DUI treatises, teaching at DUI seminars?
Once you have a list of attorneys who are qualified, meet or call them. See below for what you need to know from the lawyer.
The lawyer's reputation, experience and caseload
Whether you meet in person or over the phone, you can get a good idea of the level of experience of the attorney by obtaining some important information.
What percentage of their DUI cases are reduced to lesser charges, or dismissed?
How many DUI trials have they defended? If not many, ask why. If the lawyer's reputation is so great that he or she gets reductions on the vast majority of cases, this may be a legitimate reason. However, if a significant number of the lawyer's clients plead guilty as charged, the attorney probably does not have the seasoning, training or reputation to resolve your case to your satisfaction. You need real representation, not a warm body who will take a fee and do nothing but walk you up to the judge to plead you guilty.
What is the lawyer's caseload? Low-fee lawyers often take more cases than they can handle to meet expenses, but have no time to really "work" the case . Attorneys with fewer cases will have more time to spend on your case.
Training, memberships and resources
What specialized training does the attorney have? What DUI specific courses were attended and when? A minimum of one DUI or trial skills seminar per year is necessary unless the attorney teaches at DUI seminars. You can be confident of his or her respect in the DUI defense legal community if the attorney frequently speaks locally or nationally.
Is the attorney a member of the National College for DUI Defense? They should be if they are to be well-seasoned in the DUI field.
What books are in their library? Here are a few respected treatises: The Washington DUI Practice Manual, Callahan, (Thomson-West); Defending Drinking Drivers, Barone & Tarantino, (James Publ.); Drunk Driving Litigation Criminal and Civil, and Trial Notebook, Nichols & Whited, (Thomson-West); Intoxication Test Evidence, Fitzgerald, (Thomson-West); Medical-Legal Aspects of Alcohol, Garriott, Ed. (Lawyers & Judges Publ. Co., Inc.).
Support staff and attorney contact
During the course of your DUI case, typically, you will have more frequent contact with the lawyer's support staff than the lawyer. Are they courteous, helpful and do they convey a sincere interest in you and your case? A DUI can result in extreme stress and anxiety, particularly if you face consequences at home or at work. You need an attorney who is, and who has staff, who are compassionate and caring and who will go the extra mile for you.
If the support staff cannot answer your question, you should receive a call back from your lawyer within 24 hours. Will the attorney commit to that? Will the attorney commit to keeping you informed such that prior to your court or DOL hearing, you have discussed what will happen at the hearing?
Certainly, you cannot expect a daily or even weekly call from the attorney, but you should expect a call before hearings to give you an update of what to expect, and a call if there is anything new in your case.
Ethics and personal compatibilty
Run from attorneys with discipline problems, or who think it's OK to lie or otherwise act dishonestly in your case. Run from any attorney who is not scrupulous about the attorney/client privilege who divulges your secrets to persons outside the firm or hired experts. Run from attorneys who do not provide you with a written fee agreement (other than public defenders) that you have time to review before signing. An attorney has a duty to investigate your case and to interview witnesses. Run from an attorney who does not take this duty seriously.
Besides experience and competency, is he/she concerned and eager to help, or bored, distracted, overworked.or stressed-out? Are you inspired with confidence in the attorney? No lawyer may promise you a particular outcome, but do you have a good feeling this lawyer will do his/her best for you? Did he/she really listen to you? After checking all the above, do you have a good intuition about the lawyer? If so, you're on the right track.