First, you have to get out of jail. Upon your arrival at the County Jail, bail will be set and you will be processed into custody. The County Jail can hold an arrestee for 72 hours without officially filing charges. If you don't want to wait that long, you need to call someone to bail you out. Most but not all California counties will release a first time DUI arrestee after a night in jail but some will keep you in- and if this is your second or third DUI- watch out. After you get out of jail you are going to want to locate and obtain your cars- any lot will charge daily impound fees.
When you are back at home and have figured out how to get your car back, spend a little time thinking about what, if any, impact a DUI conviction or drivers license suspension will have on your job. This is different for each individual, but any lawyer you talk to will ask you what you know about your own situation, so it's worth it to think this out early on.
The First Week
The most important thing for people arrested for a DUI in California to know is that they only have ten days to call the California Department of Motor Vehicles Driver Safety Office to request a hearing on their license suspension. Even if you don't intend to fight your DUI, you'll want the hearing so that you can drive in the intervening two months. The hearings are set so far out that any lawyer you talk to will be able to schedule the hearing. Driver Safety Office's are regional within the state of California- you can find the phone numbers at the website for the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and when you call make sure you know the date of the arrest and the arresting agency in addition to your name, birth date and California Drivers License number.
Once you have scheduled your Driver's Safety Office license suspension hearing, you need to think about hiring a lawyer.
The Second Week
By the second week you should have an understanding of how a DUI conviction and/or driver's license suspension will impact your job (anywhere from "doesn't matter" to "end of my job.") You've scheduled your DMV hearing- you are ready to interview lawyers.
The most important thing to understand about hiring a lawyer is figuring out what you, as the client, want to do about the DUI arrest. Most people either want to "get it over with" i.e. plead guilty and discharge their obligations in a timely fashion or they want to "fight"- challenge the case aggressively- and aren't worried about getting their drivers license back in a time.
Any lawyer will (rightly) quote a higher price to a client who wants to fight tooth and nail to preserve his or her rights then to a client who wants to settle the case quickly. 99% of the time you will be interviewing lawyers before anyone has read the police reports filed by the arresting officer in your case.
The First Month
30 days is a good answer to the question "How long should I wait to hire a DUI lawyer?" As long as you've called the DMV, you don't have to rush the actual hire. Deciding how many lawyers to interview is up to you. Every geographic area has a mix of lawyers practicing DUI defense, from media savvy "Law Centers" to niche hustlers like "Mr. DUI" to normal criminal defense lawyers who know a lot of people in the community. DUI specialists do exist, but you should expect them to be aggressive and charge for it.
Not every DUI is going to result in a conviction, but you don't want to pay deluxe rates when your case doesn't call for the extra work. Specific geographic areas have a standard rate for a first time DUI that can be learned through multiple consultations.
You want to hire a DUI lawyer who can succinctly explain his or her approach to your case and answer any questions you might have. Be wary of over selling and high pressure sales tactics.
The Second Month
This is the month where you'll have your DMV driver's license hearing and you initial court appearance- called an arraignment. You aren't actually officially charged with the DUI in criminal court until the date of the arraignment. Any driver's license suspension will typically end up starting in the same week or slightly after. As the second month ends you should have heard from you lawyer about the DMV hearing, the arraignment and what he or she thinks is the "next step."
As you head towards month three, you should know what is going to happen with your DUI, you should be able to communicate with your lawyer, and you should have an idea of the time line for obtaining you license.
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