For most people, a DUI arrest is an embarrassing and humiliating experience that can leave the arrested person with deep and often conflicting feelings that range from regret, fear, shame, anger, to desperation and self-loathing. Being ordered out of a car, forced to perform roadside tests in public, then enduring handcuffing, more tests, booking, and lock up, combined with the prospect of more jail time, huge fines, loss of driving privileges, and the scorn of co-workers and family members, can cause deep negative impacts on a person. Letting down family members only adds to the pain.
Squad cars and jails are not nice places to spend time, but they can be much easier to take than the confines of a mind unprepared to handle the situation.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
In any given week, hundreds of others have likely been arrested in your County for the same thing. DUI courts across the state overflow with countless individuals charged with the same offense. Your initial intense feelings may be justified, but will subside as soon as you act to make sure your situation doesn't go from bad to worse.
Act promptly. Don't fall into the trap that many do after a DUI arrest -- doing nothing. You will fail to protect your rights if you fail to act. You will also suffer greater stress by inaction. To put it positively, take control of your case by acting. The DUI arrest often triggers an action by the DMV against your license AND a criminal case against you in the court. Once you have taken steps to secure an attorney, you can feel your worry lessen to a manageable level.
YOUR CASE MAY LAST A LONG TIME
Knowing that it may take months to resolve your case and that consequences of conviction may have long-term effects is the first step to steeling yourself for the long haul. A DUI arrest happens quickly; sorting it out takes much longer. You should have ample time to understand the consequences before you have to face many of them.
Talk to a trusted friend or family member about your situation. Of the hundreds of individuals I have represented in DUIs, the ones who turn to support networks tend to keep the DUI in proper perspective. Those who try to hide their situation from family and friends can suffer a greater emotional toll than is necessary, while those clients who process their personal circumstances with a non-judgmental friend or family member tend to more quickly put the situation behind them.
AN HONEST SELF ASSESSMENT
Take a long look in the mirror (if you haven't already). Ask yourself if your alcohol/drug use is something that you need to address. Was your arrest an unusual, never-to-be-repeated event, or are you surprised it took the police that long to catch you?
If the latter, affordable treatment options are likely available in your area. It is important to do a self-assessment to help you avoid falling into the same situation again and to take a personal inventory to address possible lifestyle changes. Punishment for future DUIs escalates tremendously, so once again, actively moving toward a more positive life direction is preferable to denial.
DEALING WITH THE DMV
If you are not yet sure about hiring an attorney, be sure to protect your rights. You (or your attorney) must call the DMV within 10 days of the arrest to set up a hearing, or your license may be automatically suspended 30 days after your arrest. Don't bury your head in the sand.
Regardless of your court date (typically 4-6 weeks after the arrest), the DMV action is a separate proceeding. You have to address it. If you don't do anything, the DMV will. The number to call for the DMV Driver Safety Office is listed on the back of the pink temporary license form you were given by the arresting officer. Call it.
Here is what you should say after the Driver Safety Office finally answers the phone: (1) I want to request an APS hearing; (2) I want discovery (the police report); and (3) I request a stay on any action against my license. Don't let the DMV talk you out of a hearing (yes, sometimes they will actually do this). Be sure you have your Driver's license number handy.
SELECTING AN ATTORNEY
Pre-screen. Most criminal attorneys will handle DUI cases, but there is a wide range in the skill level among attorneys. For DUIs, you want an attorney with specialized training and experience with DUIs. Ask the attorney if they have taken any DUI cases to trial. What were the results? Look up the attorney's bar record at the California State Bar website to see where they studied law and how long they have practiced. Look at the company or firm's website. Are they a member of the California DUI Lawyer's Association or other similar group? Don't be fooled by sophisticated advertising or Internet search engines. Develop a short list of three to five attorneys, then call and set up in-person appointments with the ones who answer the phone and make themselves reasonably available. Don't listen to friends or family who say that you don't need an attorney. That could be true, but only if you don't care at all what happens to your case.
EXPERTISE MATTERS IN THE COURTROOM
Unless the friend or family member spent three years in law school, hours studying probable cause, evidence, Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, the science of alcohol absorption, jury instructions, Title 17 and DS-367 forms, don't listen to them. Be polite about it, but recognize that it is YOUR case, and you will have to deal with the consequences. The knowledge of a specialized DUI attorney is vastly superior to an attorney who only takes DUI cases to supplement another type of practice. You should take advantage of that and consult a few attorneys.
Don't hire an attorney over the phone. Set up an appointment, because you can learn a lot about how an attorney will handle the case by how they treat you and answer your questions. Remember, you are interviewing THEM. Never be pressured by a salesman or non-attorney investigator for a credit card number.
SECRETS ABOUT ATTORNEY FEES
Don't hire strictly by price. When selecting an attorney, know that fees are negotiable. Most DUI fees are of the "flat-fee" type. The cheapest attorney may not be the best one and the most expensive one may not be, either. You will want an attorney who cares about your case and that you feel comfortable with. Talk to the attorney directly and find out who is actually handling your case, and don't assume that just because someone has an Internet ad you like that they are the best choice. Ask how the attorney arrived at the fee amount they seek; many high-priced lawyers spend tons of money advertising and the fee bears little relation to the service that will actually be provided.
Some cases are unquestionably harder than others, but there are often weaknesses in police reports that can be exploited by an attorney for a better outcome. Although many DUIs resolve with similar outcomes, there may be facts that you do not yet know that may give you leverage.