Driving under the influence (DUI ) is a very serious criminal charge in most states, despite how common it may seem, since impaired driving puts the lives of so many people at risk. Depending on factors such as your blood-alcohol concentration (BAC); your criminal record; or whether anyone was killed or severely injured as a result, you could be facing a significant jail sentence and/or hefty fines. On top of that, you will probably lose your driving privileges for a certain period of time and may need to install an ignition interlock device (IID) after a period of suspension (depending on the DUI laws of your state).
So should you get an attorney for a DUI? Doing so is often in your best interests, especially if there are aggravating factors, but there are some instances where hiring an attorney won't make much of a difference in the final outcome of your case.
The following information will help you determine whether you need an attorney after being charged with a DUI.
When You Probably Don't Need a DUI Attorney
You probably won't need the help of a lawyer if it is your first offense; there were no injuries; and there is a very high probability that you will be convicted of a DUI. In these situations, chances are fairly high that you will plead guilty or no contest and then be subject to the standard sentence and administrative penalties. If your BAC was particularly high (0.08 percent is the limit in all states) and/or if the officer has additional, strong evidence of impairment (erratic driving, smell of alcohol on the breath, slurred speech, etc.), then the likelihood of a conviction is quite high.
But even if your case fits this general description, there may be factors in your case that necessitate legal assistance. If you're in doubt about the prospects of your case, an attorney may be willing to provide a free initial consultation.
Using an Attorney for a DUI Plea Bargain
If it's not a slam-dunk case for the prosecution, generally speaking, then there may be an opportunity for a plea bargain. Trials are expensive and take up space on the docket, so the state may rather accept a plea to a lesser charge rather than go through a trial it may eventually lose. Some plea bargains can be accomplished without legal assistance, but experienced DUI attorneys understand how to negotiate with the prosecution (and probably already have relationships with them). Also, a prosecutor with a weak case may try to bluff in order to induce a guilty plea in situations where a plea bargain would be more advantageous to the defendant.
So what, exactly, would you plead down to in such a case? Typically, reckless driving will be the lesser charge; but some states -- including California -- also have what is called "wet reckless," which acknowledges the impairment but carries a lighter sentence than DUI with no jail time. Also, your driver's license will not be suspended after a wet reckless unless your BAC is higher than .08 percent. But keep in mind that a wet reckless conviction may still be considered a "prior DUI offense" if you are charged with a second such offense.
Using an Attorney to Reduce Your Sentence
Courts in most states are willing to bargain down a DUI sentence in exchange for a guilty plea in certain instances. For example, you may be facing charges for a second or third DUI, which can land you in prison for a few months or years. Instead of taking it to trial, the prosecution may be willing to reduce the sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. And if it's a DUI charge involving drugs other than alcohol, an attorney may be able to negotiate away random drug testing or other conditions of probation.
But, as with plea bargaining, "sentence bargaining" goes much smoother when handled by an attorney. Keep in mind that it is very difficult to negotiate the sentence for a first-offense, non-injury DUI case.
Need Help with a DUI Charge? Contact an Attorney
It can be difficult deciding whether or not to hire a lawyer if you've been charged with a DUI. On one hand, an attorney can help defend you against less-than-solid charges or where the stakes are especially high. On the other hand, you don't want to spend all of that money for something you think you can do yourself with a little elbow grease and determination. But, considering the consequences of a DUI conviction, it's usually a good idea to at least consult with an local DUI attorney. After all, the attorney will be much more knowledgeable about your local DUI laws and how best to defend against the charges.