Do You Really Need to Retain an Attorney to Defend a DUI Charge?
Interviewer: What would you tell an individual that has skepticism about hiring an attorney in the first place? What are some of the stigmas that you have to dispel with them?
Paul Geller: I do encounter that quite often. People will say, “Well, why can’t I just go handle it myself?” And what I typically tell people is this: first of all they are not going to know how to deal with the Department of Motor Vehicles. It’s a different proceeding. It’s an administrative proceeding, not a criminal proceeding so the burden of proof is different than that in a criminal case.
Public Defenders Cannot Represent You at the DMV Hearings, the Outcome of Which Affects Your Ability to Continue Driving While the DUI Case Is Pending
The request for discovery and the rules for evidence are very different. Public defenders don’t handle the administrative side of these DMV hearings so if you do have a public defender, they don’t handle anything on the administrative side. So really the client is flying solo and that aspect of a DUI case is handled typically long before the court appearance or prior to court adjudication being completed.
It Is Not Advisable to Plead Guilty without Trying to Fight the Charge
So that’s one thing. The other is, and I’ve seen this all too often, they go to court and like you said, they plead guilty just because they handle it themselves. They don’t know what to look for. So I’ve had people come up to me when I’ve been in court before and they’ve seen me talk to the judge, talk to the prosecutors and work a case and I’ve been out in the hallway and ask me questions.
Do You Know How Your Blood Alcohol Levels Influence the Case?
One in particular, very recently, which bothered me was a woman came up to me and asked me about submitting proof of her alcohol program. She provided me with the blood alcohol level records that she had and her police report she was a .07 which is just under the legal limit. Now, yes she could still be prosecuted and charged for a DUI in what we call the A count, but that’s a very weak driving under the influence of alcohol case. There was nothing else aggravated about it.
DUI Defense Is Not a DYI Project
And she simply went in and pled guilty to a DUI and now is on probation for it with all the same problems that anyone else who was at a .08 or higher blood alcohol level would be. That is a good illustration of someone not having a full understanding of the law and not knowing what kind of things to look at in the negotiating process. She really might have had a much more favorable resolution if she had considered hiring a lawyer.
Unfortunately too many people feel that way, I’ve had people come to me and say well my friend got a DUI and they said all I’ll have to do is do this program and pay a fine. That’s not necessarily true for them. As I explained earlier, a person who may be a .15% blood alcohol level is very different than another person who’s a .15% blood alcohol level, for various reasons whether it’s the stop, the detention, the breath machine, the field sobriety test, or the officer.
Perhaps it’s even something more involved that has to do with the court process itself regarding the judge or the prosecutors or the transfers within those departments that are taking place. There are many factors that can be helpful to a person being charged with this type of crime.
Do You Want a DUI Conviction Appearing on a Background Check Routinely Performed by Prospective Employers?
The consequences of a DUI can be so severe, not necessarily right now, although they can be depending on a person’s circumstance. Let’s take a student, for instance, who may think well it’s not that big of a deal right now, I’m a sophomore in college. That person is going to be applying for jobs at some point.
They’re going to have to notate on job applications whether they have criminal conviction including DUIs. Perhaps it involves some kind of commercial driving issue which this would have a very serious effect upon. My advice is if you have the money to hire a lawyer, do so, but don’t just hire anyone, hire the right lawyer.
Look for attorneys that are educated in this area and continue to educate in this area, and that are certified in field sobriety tests, Breathalyzer devices, and blood testing. And understand that you are going to have to pay for it, but in the long run it’s going to be worth it.