Nearly 1.5 million people are arrested in the United States each year for driving under the influence, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Division. In addition, 30 people die each day in drunk driving crashes. Drunk driving or driving while in a state of inebriation is dangerous and illegal. Being arrested for DUI, DWI or OVI is a critical legal situation for the driver. If you have been pulled over for drunk driving and charged with driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated, finding the right DUI attorney is essential. Your lawyer can help you understand the law, represent you in court, and minimize ramifications from your arrest. Since DUI laws vary significantly from one state to another, consulting with a DUI attorney who knows the potential consequences you may face is crucial. Follow these steps to find and hire the right attorney for your case.
Recognize that there are significant consequences of a DUI arrest—even if it's your first one.
Act quickly after your DUI arrest.
Schedule consultations, and prepare what you'll need to bring to appointments.
Understand the ramifications of license suspension.
Help your DUI lawyer win your case.
Don't trust a charge as important as DUI or DWI to a generalist.
Recognize that there are significant consequences of a DUI arrest—even if it's your first one.Some states or cities see DUIs (driving under the influence), or DWIs (driving while intoxicated), as a zero-tolerance crime, resulting in harsh penalties, including jail time, steep fines, or license suspensions. In some areas, these penalties are carried out on a blanket level, affecting everyone equally. In others, the severity of punishment may depend on conditions such as blood alcohol content and vehicle speed.
Proceeding within the court system without an attorney can be very challenging and bring about devastating results. An attorney can argue the facts of a case in your favor, demand further testing, or negotiate with the prosecution for a more favorable outcome. This is particularly true in areas where the severity of a penalty depends on circumstantial aspects of the case.
If this is your first DUI arrest, don't assume that you'll walk away without consequence. Partner with an attorney to ensure you understand the worst-case scenario and are in a better position to fight for reduced charges.
Act quickly after your DUI arrest.Many DUI cases move quickly in the court system due to the streamlined nature of processing these crimes. Failing to immediately hire an attorney can compromise the quality of your defense.
As soon as you've been arrested, get to work finding a good lawyer. When hired promptly, a DUI attorney has time to review the circumstances in your case, including:
- Where and when you were pulled over
- The nature of your arrest
- Any sobriety tests performed when you were pulled over, including breathalyzer tests or field sobriety tests
- Any time spent in jail or bail paid
- The results of your test, including Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
- How your results factor into the law
Schedule consultations, and prepare what you'll need to bring to appointments.Most attorneys offer free consultations to prospective clients, which offers a valuable opportunity to evaluate different attorneys, so don't make a hiring decision before scheduling a meeting. This consultation gives you a better idea of the legal options for your case, potential strategies to reduce penalties, and what kind of time and energy an attorney can devote to your lawsuit. Questions to ask a DUI attorney during this consultation include:
- Do you specialize in DUI cases? If not, what percentage of your practice do DUI cases account for?
- How many DUI cases have you defended in the past three years, and how many did you beat? How many did you get reduced to a lesser offense?
- What are my chances of winning my case?
- What is your planned strategy with my case?
- Will you bring in a blood alcohol toxicologist as a witness?
- What is your fee and retainer structure and how much should I expect to pay for my case?
- Do you offer a payment plan?
- Can I speak to several of your past clients?
ExperTip: Get your documents in order prior to your consultation. Paperwork you bring to your first consultation should include your arrest record, medical records (showing any conditions or prescribed medications that may factor into your alcohol test results), driving record, and criminal record, if any. Being fully prepared for your consultation will help your attorney to evaluate your case more quickly and accurately, so that you can move forward with your defense.
Understand the ramifications of license suspension.Driver's license suspension can be one of the most serious ramifications of a DUI charge. While most states don't resort to this for a first offense, some do. Other states may take away a license on a first offense only if the circumstances surrounding an arrest are especially serious, such as a BAC over double the legal limit. A suspended driver's license can be a significant detriment to a person's way of life, especially in areas with limited public transportation.
There may be no way to avoid minor punishments, such as fines, but a successful lawyer may be able to prevent full license suspension. When evaluating attorneys, be sure to discuss driver's license suspension specifically to make sure this is an area in which your attorney is experienced.
If possible, ask for details regarding prior cases, particularly those similar to your circumstances, and learn how the suspension was avoided. You can also ask about the kinds of strategies available that may allow for the circumvention of license suspension under the law.
Help your DUI lawyer win your case.Your lawyer handles the challenging aspects of your case, including negotiating with the prosecution, but this doesn't mean you won't have any involvement in the process. There are many things you can do to aid in your own defense, and the more compliant and helpful you are, the more likely it is that you'll see a satisfying end result.
To help your DUI lawyer mount a good defense on your behalf, you should:
- Always answer questions truthfully.
- If your lawyer needs information, provide it as quickly as possible.
- Stay in communication with your lawyer, including checking in about filed motions or court dates.
- Show up to meetings or court appearances on time and dressed professionally.
- Follow your attorney's instructions at all times; if you're told, for example, to let your attorney do all of the talking in court, do so without argument.
ExperTip: Never lie to your attorney about the circumstances surrounding a criminal charge, including DUI or DWI. The more information a lawyer has about the charge in question, the better defense they're able to provide. Lawyers have heard it all, so there's no need to hide facts out of fear of judgment. Lying almost always negatively affects the outcome in a court case.
Don't trust a charge as important as DUI or DWI to a generalist.Not all DUI cases are made equal. In many states, the circumstances of a DUI, such as blood alcohol levels, vehicle speed, or accidents related to intoxication, can play a significant role in sentencing. If you live in a state with different laws based on the specific elements related to a case, general attorney success rates may not paint a clear enough picture.
If your case is more complex than a simple positive breathalyzer, you need to focus on DUI lawyers with substantial experience in the specifics of your situation. This can mean the success of arguing for a lower BAC percentage or calling into question an arresting officer's ability to perform a field sobriety test properly.
When meeting with an attorney, don't be afraid to ask for specific case history related to similar cases. A lawyer who doesn't provide evidence of successful outcomes won't meet your needs.
Ready to speak to a lawyer? Here is our list of the best DUI attorneys near you.