When drinking alcohol, we all know that it is important to “drink responsibly.” Drinking responsibly can mean many things, such as pacing ourselves, knowing our limits, not mixing alcohol types, and making sure not to drink on an empty stomach. It also means never driving under the influence of alcohol. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) refers to the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. In every state, the legal BAC limit is 0.08%, with steeper fines in many cases for a higher BAC level and a lower “zero tolerance” limit for drivers under the age of 21.
Driving under the influence, or driving while intoxicated, as it is sometimes called, is a criminal offense. According to the CDC, 32 people are killed every day in traffic accidents tied to alcohol-impaired drivers. This accounts for roughly 30% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. If you’ve been caught driving while under the influence, it may be time to contact a qualified DUI lawyer.
Do I Need a DUI Lawyer?
If you have been charged with a DUI, you can opt to have a court-appointed public defender represent you for little to no cost. (There is sometimes an application fee. Otherwise, they are typically free.) Or, if you can afford it, you may elect to hire a DUI attorney. Charges for a DUI can range from misdemeanors to felonies. Consequences include revocation of your driver’s license, hefty fines, and even jail time. Also, the offense will remain on your criminal record. A qualified lawyer may be able to help you get a lighter sentence, depending on the details of your offense.
DUI Defense Costs: What to Expect
How much does it cost for a good criminal defense lawyer? The cost of building a good defense against a DUI charge is not cut and dry, but a first-time DUI offender may expect to spend anywhere between $1,500 and $10,000 on attorney fees alone. In addition to the standard hourly rate your attorney receives for general duties such as research, discovery, and deposition, your attorney fees will cover things like:
Flat Fee Rate
Before entering into any contract with a lawyer, you may want to meet with them first to make sure they are the right lawyer for you. In such cases, you are likely to pay a consultation fee to compensate them for their time. On average, depending on their level of expertise, you can expect to pay anywhere between $150-$350 an hour just for the consultation.
A retainer fee is a downpayment to your lawyer to reserve their services. Typically a retainer agreement will encompass either a specific case or a predetermined time frame. As your lawyer does work on your case, they will bill you for that work. Then they will collect their payment from the retainer fee you paid upfront. Whether or not you are reimbursed for any unused portions of your retainer fee will depend on your retainer agreement. If a case takes a long time or costs more than originally expected, you may be asked to pay more than one retainer fee.
Flat Fee Rate
Though not as common, occasionally, for a simple criminal defense case, a lawyer may charge a one-time, flat fee for their services, instead of billing by the hour or using a retainer. The cost of such an arrangement will vary from lawyer to lawyer. A flat rate can be beneficial to someone who cannot afford to pay a lawyer’s high hourly rates. However, if a case takes only a little time to resolve, you may find that you paid more than you would have if you had paid by the hour.
Court costs are fees collected to cover payment for things like jurors and court employees who may be needed throughout your case, such as a court reporter (stenographer). *Note: These are not the same as court-ordered fines, which are penalties for your DUI.
Administrative fees are just what they sound like. Every bit of paper your lawyer prints details about your case on, every postage stamp used to mail important court documents, every time their gas tank is refilled to travel to and from the courthouse, all of these things add up, and you can expect to be billed for them. Administrative fees can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the amount of time litigation takes.
A disbursement is money spent on behalf of another person that will need to be repaid at some point in the future. Lawyers often have cause to pay fees on behalf of their clients for such
things as filing, courier services, expert testimony, collecting medical reports, paying researchers, etc. Again, these things can add up depending on how long litigation lasts.
In some cases, a defendant may have cause to appeal their DUI conviction. In such circumstances, they would ask a higher court to review their case for legal error, either in regard to their conviction or their sentence. Your lawyer would, of course, bill any further time and effort spent on the appeal process.
Legal and Other Resources for DUI Defendants
If you have been charged with a DUI, the road ahead may seem long, stressful, and expensive. Whether you choose to have a public defender represent you, or elect to go with an experienced criminal defense attorney, the total amount of money you will spend on your DUI is considerable. The table below outlines just a few of the other expenses you may be faced with after your DUI. The amount you will pay for each of the items listed below will vary from state to state and may also be dependent on whether or not this is your first offense.
Item Potential Cost
Towing & Impound $100-$1,200
Court Ordered Fines $150- $5,000
Elevated Insurance Rates $1,400-$1,500
Alternative Transportation $100-$1,000
License Reinstatement Fee $1,00-$1,000
Drug & Alcohol Treatment Course $150-$550
When considering all of the above, the following are some resources that you may find helpful in the aftermath of a DUI.
Substance Abuse Assistance
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is the leading provider of addiction treatment in the U.S. They specialize in evidence-based treatment and mental health care services. You can reach them by phone at (866) 488-2704.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) was established by Congress in 1992 in order to provide easier access to substance use and mental disorder information, research, and services. You can call their free and confidential national hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year at 1-800-662-4357.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of people working together to achieve sobriety. Meetings are free, and there is no age requirement. Membership is open to anyone who wants to stop drinking. You can find contact information for their general service office and member services department here.
The American Bar Association Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic that provides an online version of the walk-in clinic model. Users may request brief advice and counsel about a specific civil legal issue from a volunteer lawyer by posting their civil legal questions to their state’s website. Lawyers will follow up with basic legal advice and information, without the expectation of long-term representation. This is a great resource for people who are seeking advice and information about non-criminal legal matters but cannot afford a lawyer.
You can contact the ABA through the ABA Service Center Hotline at (800) 285-2221 or email them at Service@americanbar.org, Monday - Friday, 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM ET.
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