The last thing anyone wants to think about when they get on the road is a DUI arrest. But the truth is, as soon as you get behind the wheel while intoxicated, you put others at risk.
And with 29 people per day dying in alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes, law enforcement isn’t messing around.
However, you may not need a DUI attorney in every instance. Here are seven cases where you definitely need to talk to an attorney.
1. Getting an Opinion
If you have some information about your case but you’re not sure how it will shape up, it’s a good idea to speak with an attorney to get an educated, impartial opinion.
The good news is that many law firms offer free initial consultations. This is a great opportunity for you to ask questions and get a sense of how a public defender is likely to proceed with your case, so come prepared with all the information you have and a list of questions.
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2. Determining Your BAC
It doesn’t matter if you could walk in a straight line, correctly count fingers, and recite the alphabet backward.
In every state in the US, if your blood alcohol content was above the legal limit, then you can be found guilty of a DUI. In most states, the legal BAC limit is 0.08.
Regardless of whether you have an attorney or not, if your BAC is above the legal limit, you will be fined and lose your license.
As such, it’s vital to know what your BAC was at the time of arrest. If it was above 0.08, you’ll still get fined and lose your license whether you have an attorney or not. The only way they might help is by mitigating additional charges.
3. If There are Aggravating Circumstances
This brings us to our next point.
Some states have what’s called an aggravated DUI, also called a felony DUI. This happens when there are aggravating circumstances around the DUI. Most first-time DUIs are treated as misdemeanors, but aggravated DUIs are charged as a felony.
Aggravating circumstances include:
- An extremely high BAC
- A BAC of 0.08 or higher with a minor in the vehicle
- Drunk driving in a school zone
- Driving a school bus while intoxicated
- Someone is seriously injured or killed
- Extensive property damage
- Drunk driving on an invalid or expired license
- Multiple drunk driving convictions, especially within a specific timeframe
If any of these aggravating circumstances apply, you’ll want to get in touch with a lawyer right away so that they can help you figure out what to do next.
4. When You’re Negotiating a Plea Bargain
If your next step involves negotiating a plea bargain, you definitely need to talk to an attorney.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of criminal cases in the US end in plea bargains, not trials, regardless of whether or not the defendant is guilty. This is done to help public prosecutors focus their resources and limit the number of trials a judge has to oversee.
A plea bargain in an agreement between the defendants and the public prosecutors that the defendant will plead guilty to some or all of the charges against them in exchange for concessions from the prosecutors.
Usually, prosecutors will agree to reduce the defendant’s punishment by reducing the number or severity of charges. They may also agree to recommend a reduced sentence for the defendant.
If you do decide to plead guilty or negotiate a plea bargain with a prosecutor, you need a DUI attorney in the room. It might seem counterintuitive–after all, you’re pleading guilty–but it’s actually more important to have an attorney to ensure you get a fair bargain.
For example, if your DUI is a minor offense, an attorney might be able to get a prosecutor to reduce the charge to reckless driving. If you don’t know the law, you may not have even known that was an option.
5. If This Isn’t Your First Offense
There are two circumstances where you should always have a lawyer argue on your behalf. The first is if this DUI isn’t your first offense.
If you recall, a previous record of offenses is considered an aggravating circumstance which will make a prosecutor more inclined to come down hard on your case.
As such, second offenses and up usually involve harsher punishments. Because of this, you should have a lawyer to represent your best interests.
6. If You Plan to Go to Trial
We said earlier that there are two circumstances where you should always have a lawyer. The second is if you plan on going to trial.
As we said, most criminal cases in the US don’t go to trial. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should never even consider going to trial if you have a good case.
It does mean that you need a lawyer to represent you.
Specifically, you need a trial lawyer.
Not all lawyers go to trial–in fact, there are some lawyers who never go to trial at all. If you are going to trial, you need a lawyer who knows their way around a courtroom.
The truth is that if two lawyers have exactly the same qualifications but only one is a trial lawyer, the trial lawyer is the one who will win.
A good trial lawyer has skill and confidence. They’re highly competent in their field and they know it, but more importantly, they have the interpersonal skills to communicate it in a courtroom. They should also be excellent negotiators, both in writing and orally, and they should be great at dissecting issues.
If you’re speaking with a lawyer, ask them how often they go to trial, and what their close rate is when they do go to trial. You want a trial lawyer with extensive DUI experience and a high close rate.
7. If You’re Innocent
Finally, if you believe that you’re innocent, you need a lawyer to fight for you.
Simply saying that you didn’t do it isn’t enough in the criminal justice system. You need to be able to prove that you’re not guilty.
A lawyer can be tremendously helpful in this regard. They’re well-versed in the law and in their local legal ecosystem, which means they know how to look at your case and figure out how to prove innocence.
Life Hacks When You Don’t Need a DUI Attorney
If you read this article and it turns out that you do need a DUI attorney, don’t waste time. Take the initiative and find a lawyer that will help you.
And if you need other life hacks, legal or otherwise, check out our blog for more tips and tricks, like this post on how to avoid getting arrested or this post on how to choose a good divorce attorney.