Drunk driving can flip your life upside down. If you get caught drunk driving, do you have to hire a criminal defense lawyer? Here’s what you have to know.
Being charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) has the potential to alter the course of your life for the worse for months or even years.
That said, some people hope to save costs or time when charged by deciding to represent themselves, rather than use a lawyer. It is our hope to dissuade any and all readers of that course of action.
You should always use a lawyer when charged with a serious crime — and drunk driving is very serious. You will be facing an expert in cases like yours in a system that takes years of study to understand. If you don’t have an expert helping your case, your prospects of winning (or reducing your sentence) is grim.
Without further delay, let’s review why.
It is technically true that you do not need to hire a lawyer when charged with a DWI. A defendant (meaning the person defending against a criminal charge) has the right to self-representation if they choose to receive it.
However, you also have the right to a public defender should you want a lawyer and be unable to afford one. While this system is not without problems and controversies, you should remember you always have a right to a lawyer in the United States. That right is more complicated when it comes to more minor charges, but DWI charges are significant enough that that point is irrelevant.
It should be emphasized that neither of the above options is ideal. Even expert lawyers do not represent themselves, as it complicates an already complex process. Meanwhile, public defenders are overworked, underpaid, and aren’t always free.
Hiring your own lawyer is almost always the best choice. You can choose an expert in the kind of charges you’re facing. Additionally, they will have the time and energy to devote to working on your case in a way a public defender cannot.
The Legal System Is Not Intuitive
The first point and one we touched on briefly is that the legal system in the United States is not intuitive. A legal argument is not the philosophy debate portrayed in many movies and TV shows.
There are strict rules in the courtroom about how arguments and evidence are presented. While some leniency is granted to most people representing themselves, you are guaranteed to make a mistake and/or be caught blindsided by your opposition.
Prosecutors are trained in legal argument. Moreover, courts are not sympathetic towards drunk drivers. Appeals to empathy, rather than law, almost always fall on deaf ears. You need a legal expert to present sound legal arguments in your defense.
To put things further into perspective, many DWI cases don’t even go to trial. Often the prosecution will negotiate what is called a plea bargain. This is where you (the defendant) can admit your guilt in exchange for penalties that are less steep compared to if you were to go to trial and be convicted.
A layperson is not equipped to know the difference between a good or bad plea bargain, nor to negotiate one with any kind of expertise.
Critical Mistakes Are Easy to Make
Related to the above, our legal system is complicated enough that it’s easy for a layperson to say or do something that almost guarantees a guilty verdict.
Police and prosecutors are masters of convincing people with gentle tones or sudden conversational swerves to say things they should not. A lawyer can make sure you are not caught off-guard.
There is a trope in fiction where lawyers advise clients who are being interrogated by police not to answer questions. There’s a reason for this; it is your legal right and it is a lawyer’s job to remind you of those rights.
There is almost never a reason to speak with police when accused of a serious crime unless your lawyer advises otherwise.
A lawyer will talk to you about your case and the best way to approach it. They will explain common pitfalls and mistakes people in your situation make and how to avoid them. They’ll make sure you’re as prepared as possible for the challenges ahead, especially the challenges of your trial (if your case even goes to trial).
The Penalties For Drunk Driving Are Steep
While the specifics of the penalties a DWI charge carries vary by state, there is nowhere in the United States where a DWI charge is not a serious matter.
In Texas, a conviction is going to an administrative license suspension of at least 90 days (180 days if you refused to be tested). During this time, your driving privileges will be highly limited. In some states, you may not even be able to drive for part or all of your suspension.
While not always required for first-time offenders, repeated DWIs almost always require a driver to have an ignition interlock device installed into their car. These devices are designed to prevent driving if you have too much alcohol in your system. They use technology very similar to the breathalyzer tests police administer to DWI suspects.
These devices cost about $2.50-$3.50 a day, according to LifeSafer, a professional ignition interlock service. Combined with a fine of up to $2000 (far more for repeat offenders) and the fact going to work may be harder after your conviction, costs can quickly overwhelm people who are convicted of DWI infractions.
Things can get even worse for people whose jobs require a commercial driver’s license. Alcohol-related offenses can cause commercial driver licenses (CDLs) or commercial learner permits (CLPs) to be disqualified. For first time offenders, this will usually be for a period of one year, but your license could be disqualified for a lifetime on repeat offenses.
On top of all the above, repeat DWI offenses can be considered felonies. Normally, this occurs on a third DWI conviction but, in extreme cases, it can occur on a second or even first offense.
Your Lawyer Has Done This Before
So long as you hire a legitimate legal professional who specializes in cases like yours, you will have enlisted the help of someone who knows far more than you ever will about dealing with the types of charges you face.
Scott M. Brown & Associates’ legal team contains a number of experts on criminal law, including experts on DWI/DUIs specifically. Serving clients in the Angleton, Pearland, and League City areas of Texas, the members of our team have proven themselves again and again.
A lawyer isn’t going to be intimidated by the legal process in the way that you are. For one, they don’t have the overwhelming stress many feel about the case’s outcome. They also have done this hundreds of times, whereas most people will only face a DWI charge once or twice, if ever.
While your lawyer obviously cares about your case, they have the luxury of being able to focus on it with a professional eye, rather than being distracted by any penalties you are facing as the accused. This isn’t a downside; you don’t want your lawyer to be anxious and potentially miss key details. You want them to approach your case with a calm but dedicated mindset.
The more successes under your lawyer’s belt, the more equipped they are to handle your case. This is why you should read up on the case results of whatever practice you choose to hire from. If a practice has a history of successful DWI case results, you know you’re in good hands.
Case Outcomes Are Not Black and White
To the layperson, the outcome of a case may seem binary: guilty or not guilty.
However, the reality of criminal law is quite different. A good lawyer may be able to reduce your sentence, often avoiding trial, even if there is enough evidence against you that completely getting the charges dropped isn’t possible.
A lawyer knows how to maneuver the legal system in a way that takes experience and training. They can often leverage this experience to protect you from the worst outcomes your case could have, even if it won’t be possible to achieve an acquittal.
Hiring a Lawyer Is the Smart Move
There is some argument about whether a legal professional, facing charges in their field, can justify representing themself. However, if you’re not a legal professional experienced in DWI cases, there is no excuse.
Do not try and represent yourself in a drunk driving case. There are almost no advantages and a laundry list of downsides.
If you’re concerned about saving money, you must consider just how steep the penalties of a conviction can be. Charges were brought against you for a reason. Guilty or innocent, law enforcement officials are confident they have a case against you.
If you’re facing a drunk driving charge and live in Angleton, Pearland, or League City, we hope you’ll contact Scott M. Brown & Associates to discuss legal counsel. We can also help answer any questions and concerns you have about the process, allowing you to make an informed decision before you commit to our services.