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Should I hire a lawyer or get a public defender for DUI case?

San Jose, CA |

So my question is, should I hire a DUI attorney vs. a public defender?

I recently got pulled over for DUI in Redwood City. I dozed off while driving on the freeway and drove into some bushes. When I woke up I immediately turned my wheels and spun out. Got pulled over and blew a 0.089 and my blood tested for 0.08.

Money is extremely tight for me right now and it's very difficult to come up with the funds to hire a DUI attorney. I don't want to spend money on a DUI attorney vs. a public defender if I should dismiss my case or try to get a wet and reckless anyways. Any advice would help.

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Attorney answers 10


Public defenders are great but are usually overworked; they have a lot of cases. If you hire a private attorney, you will be able to meet with and talk to him/her when you need to. Also, they will have more time to work on your case.

Your case might not be a slam dunk either; most states have laws of 0.08 or greater, so you may have a fight ahead of you. Many attorneys offer free consultations over the phone; call some.

Attorney Gregory Spink is licensed in North Carolina, with a focused practice in Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties. Nothing is intended in this post to serve as legal advice. It is my opinion based on studying the law and passing the Bar Exam and should not be construed as legal advice. You should always contact a local attorney, who is familiar with local rules. Each case must be judged on a case by case basis with all evidence being reviewed by a licensed attorney. Nothing in this post should be construed as creating an attorney and client relationship.


If you want to go with a Public Defender, by all means go ahead. You are definitely free to make that decision, especially if money is tight. However, keep in mind that, while there are many excellent public defenders, their time is usually tight and that is the primary complaint most people have. With the BAC readings you indicate, your chances of a reduction are great, but not a certainty.

Keep in mind that a public defender cannot help with the DMV hearing, and a suspension at the DMV hearing stage could remain, regardless of whether the case is reduced or dismissed in court. It's going to come down to preparation and how well your attorney investigates your case. Many skilled DUI attorneys use the DMV hearing as a tool to obtain all of the evidence in your case as part of the plantation for the DMV hearing. Sometimes, this includes a subpoena for the officer if necessary. It is always the investigation that makes or breaks a case.

At the very least, consult with a few attorneys and see what their fees are and whether payments are accepted. Then you can ask them what they can do and what they think about your case after you have provided more details.

Any information provided through in response to a question is not, and cannot be considered a formation of any Attorney-Client relationship. Questioner understands that the nature of this system allows only for a cursory review of case information, and more detailed information should not be divulged in this public forum. As such, Questioner is recommended to contact an Attorney in order to discuss the full details of their case and a more specific advisement of potential rights and liabilities.


It has always been my experience that people who retain private attorneys increase their odds of winning their cases. I'm not knocking the public defenders - they provide a service and do the best they can with limited time and resources. However, it’s best to spend the money and hire the best DUI lawyer you can afford.

This answer is for informational purposes only. DO NOT rely on it as legal advice. Many times there are not sufficient facts to properly respond to a question. Nothing in this answer should be construed as creating an Attorney-Client relationship. If you need legal advice, you should contact a licensed attorney.


There is some reason why you fell asleep. The .08 may only represent alcohol in your system. If you had drugs in addition to alcohol, then your quest for a dismissal is much more difficult.

If you are not prepared to go to trial and you want to settle for a wet, then a PD or private attorney should be able to broker that. A private attorney affords you the opportunity to (1) fight the DMV suspension - which you must request within 10 days of being pulled over and (2) skip out of most of the court hearings. An attorney can usually appear for you on most cases.

It would be nice to get a "Hellmandollar Waiver" which could save your license. All DUI attorneys know what this is, and many (but not all) public defenders do too.

The above information does not establish an attorney client relationship nor is it meant to provide legal advice.


Seeing what the public defender can do for you does not commit you to stay there, so check them out first if money is tight. A BAC of .08/.089 is not worth a wet and reckless, and one of the many good DUI lawyers up there can get you a much better deal than that, so don't fall for any claim that such is a "good deal"; it is not.


I would spend a great deal of money avoiding this kind of conviction and would hire a DUI lawyer vs. a public defender.

You have to understand the repercussions of getting a DUI. This is nothing to take lightly. It can prevent you from getting a wide variety of jobs, such as being a professional driver, working in law enforcement, etc. It is a criminal conviction which, to many employers, may indicate the existence of an alcohol problem.

As has been stated previously by the other lawyers, you don't want to get caught in the cattle call at the public defender table. They are fantastic attorneys, quite often, with a sea of cases...

Michael James Kennedy

Michael James Kennedy


I agree with all of that, but you just need to understand that nothing obligates you to stay with the PD just because you start there. If the PD says "Oh, wow, they have offered you two movers to get rid of it right away," then go for it. If he says "Well, I think I can get you a wet," then ask for a continuance and seek private counsel. These things are winnable with the right lawyer.


Your question is a good one with many different factors that can come into play. It would be ideal within the criminal justice system if one could know and research the specific public defender who would be assigned to your case. That way, you would be able to do research on the defense lawyer in order to aid your decision.

Unfortunately, one accused of DUI in America does not have the ability to pick and choose a public defender provided by the state. Some public defenders, usually those right out of law school, may have passion and enthusiasm for your defense but may be overworked with so many cases that yours may not receive the most proper attention possible. More common are complaints of ineffectual or non-caring public defenders assigned to these cases.

As a result, if money is tight, your prior criminal history can play a large role in your decision. If facing a felony and/or you appear with a prior conviction, it may be in your best interest to do whatever is possible to secure private defense counsel to represent you.

If ths is your first offense, for lack of a better term, you may "roll the dice" and be satisfied with the outcome if your desire is to accept responsibility. Good luck with your decision, as I know it can be an agonizing one for one in your position.


I believe all of the attorneys who have already answered would agree that the most important thing you must remember is that you have representation. Even if you need to go with a Public Defender at first, you may always hire a private attorney later.

Just do not make the mistake of telling the court you are going to hire your own and come back to court with no attorney because some money didn't come in. Even having a public defender at first is better than no attorney at all!

Any advice given does not enter the Attorney and person asking the question into any privileged relationship.


There are many capable public defenders. The issue is the amount of personal attention that you are going to receive from a public defender because of their voluminous caseload. A public defender may be able to get you the same result. However, a private attorney is likely to be more motivated to achieve your objective. A private attorney is likely to give you more personal attention. A DUI is a serious offense which carries significant ramifications for a long period of time. I suggest that it is in your best interest to retain a reputable private attorney to maximize your chances for the best possible result.


I practice in Redwood City, and do a lot of the court-appointed cases there because we don't have a public defender's office, but instead have a panel of private attorneys in what’s called the Private Defender Program who handle all of the court appointed cases in San Mateo County.

First, on a 0.08, you can go to court yourself and ask the DA to give you a wet reckless and they will do that. Besides, there is an attorney from the Private Defender Program at every arraignment calendar. You can talk to the attorney and see what they can do for you. I do those arraignments and often help people in your situation for free.

No matter who you hire or not hire, you can get a wet/reckless for a 0.08 no problem in Redwood City. If you want to fight the case, you just have to tell your court-appointed attorney that you want to go to trial or file motions to suppress evidence if that's warranted by the facts. The PDP has many excellent trial attorneys who will represent you much more effectively than many of the attorneys you could hire.

Any advice given is limited to the scope of the information that was provided in the question. Please do not take anything in the answer as a guarantee of a specific result in court. There is no way to be sure of an outcome until it happens.



do u know if there is something like the private defender in taft,ca or know of anything that nature

Naresh Arun Rajan

Naresh Arun Rajan


In every county there is a service for people who can't afford an attorney. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the Sixth Amendment guarantees the assistance of counsel in any case that has the potential of time in custody.

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