A DUI charge is defensible, but involves complex legal and scientific principles. You need to have confidence that your attorney is up to the challenge. This guide will offer some suggestions when deciding who will champion your DUI case in court.
Don’t rely solely on reading someone’s website
Internet marketing has gotten more and more competitive and every attorney lists their best outcomes and how much they care about you and your case. While that is all well and good, if your attorney cares alot about you but doesn't have specific DUI training and experience, you're likely selling yourself short. When you are looking at websites, look for experience specifically in DUI defense, including membership in organizations and training in DUI defense. Look for recent success in DUI cases. Look for specific knowledge about the DUI process and laws. If the website talks about civil cases and general criminal defense, but doesn't have much about DUIs, that should tell you something.
Does the attorney practice primarily in DUI defense or other areas of the law?
A good DUI defense can be one of the most complex defense cases around and your attorney needs to understand the physiological effects of alcohol on the human body, absorption and elimination rates, as well as potential effects of various strains of marijuana and other drugs. Your attorney will need to know the workings and application of scientific principles upon which the instruments used to measure blood and breath alcohol concentrations work, as well as therapeutic levels of drugs and medications. It is also important for your attorney to know the most up-to-date caselaw and sentencing guidelines of the county in which you were arrested. While many attorneys say they practice in DUI defense, only attorneys who specialize in this area will have the best knowledge base from which to defend you and your case.
Is the attorney belong to specific DUI defense groups and does he/she have DUI trial experience?
Any DUI attorney worth their salt will belong to the National College for DUI Defense, or one of the other organizations, such as the DUI Defense Lawyers Association. These are specialized groups that offer DUI attorneys support networks with databases of the latest knowledge, caselaw, expert witnesses, as well as trial tactics. Look to see if the attorney belongs to one of these associations. Also, see if the attorney has actual DUI trial experience. Unfortunately, many attorneys who claim to be DUI attorneys rarely if ever take a DUI case to trial – they simply try to get “the best deal” they can, which really isn’t a deal at all. In order to truly assess a plea bargain, your attorney needs to understand how the issues in your case might appear at a motions hearing or in front of a jury and that only comes with trial experience in DUI cases. And, of course, prior trial experience is crucial if you decide a trial is necessary in your case.
Is the attorney local and what do prior client reviews or peer reviews say?
A local DUI attorney has the distinct advantage of knowing not only the judges and local court procedures, but also the DAs who will be handling your case. This allows the local attorney the advantage of knowing what arguments the DA may find sympathetic and what arguments are not. Also, what do the attorney's prior clients say about their experience in their DUI case? A client review in a civil matter doesn't give you any information about the attorney's ability in a DUI case. Also, make sure to see what other attorneys and colleagues say about the attorney. While prior clients will know how the attorney handled their specific case, reviews from other attorneys should give you an idea of the attorney's reputation amongst his or her peers, which can be valuable insight.
Trust and confidence is essential and that 'gut feeling' really does matter!
I have always said your relationship with your attorney should be something similar to the relationship with your doctor. Do you feel comfortable talking to the attorney? Do they make you feel you are a priority or just a number? Does the attorney instill a sense of confidence and a measure of comfort in you knowing that you have someone who will champion your case from beginning to end? When you speak to the attorney, does he or she sound confident in speaking with you? Do they try and sell you immediately on a trial or on taking a plea bargain? An attorney can’t possibly give you that advice without conducting a thorough investigation and such advice may indicate the attorney is simply looking to make money either in the short term or charge you for an unnecessary trial. Is the attorney able to answer all your questions or do they seem unsure or eager to get off the phone? These can again be signs that the attorney may not have the time or expertise your case needs. The time an attorney spends with you in that initial free consultation is usually a reflection of how he or she will interact with you throughout your case.
Of course, money matters, so you need to understand the attorney’s fees.
A DUI defense can be quite expensive - upwards of the $15,000 to $20,000 range for a trial with retained expert witnesses. However, the fees for pre-trial representation are much less expensive, but should still reflect the expertise, experience, and time that your attorney will bring to your defense. Make sure your attorney can explain to you how they calculate their fee and whether that includes a trial or if there is an additional fee if you decide to take your case to trial. If the fee includes a trial, ask if a portion of the fee is refunded if your case settles before trial. You don’t want to pay a trial fee up front if your case doesn’t go to trial! And you will need to be realistic. A good, experienced DUI trial attorney that has spent countless hours in training and court experience will likely charge a fee that is commensurate with that experience.
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