Hiring an attorney to help you navigate a driving under the influence (DUI ) charge can be highly beneficial, yet there are times when a lawyer may not be necessary. A DUI or DWI charge is a serious criminal charge in most states.
You may be facing a significant jail sentence or hefty fines depending on factors like your blood-alcohol concentration (BAC), your criminal record, or whether anyone was killed or severely injured. On top of that, you'll probably lose your driving privileges for a set period. You may even need to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle after a period of license suspension. This depends on the DUI laws of your state.
Whether to get an attorney for a DUI depends on many factors. If there are aggravating factors, a lawyer may be necessary. Still, there are instances when hiring an attorney will make little difference in the final outcome of your case.
This article addresses when you can probably safely proceed without an attorney after a DUI charge. The article also discusses using an attorney for a plea bargain and to reduce your sentence.
When You Probably Don't Need a DUI Attorney
You probably don't need the help of a criminal defense attorney if there weren't any injuries arising from your DUI or if there's a very high probability that you will be convicted of a DUI. In these situations, you'll likely plead guilty or no contest and then be subject to the standard sentence and administrative penalties.
If your blood alcohol content (BAC) was particularly high (0.08 percent is the legal limit in all states), or if the arresting police officer has additional, strong evidence of impairment, the likelihood of a conviction is relatively high. Additional evidence of impairment can include things like:
- Erratic driving
- The smell of alcohol on your breath
- Slurred speech
Even if your case fits this general description, there may be factors that necessitate legal representation. Suppose you need more clarification about the prospects of your case, or want to know how to appeal to the judge at sentencing for alternative punishment such as an alcohol treatment program. An experienced DUI lawyer may be willing to provide a free initial consultation and legal advice.
Using an Attorney for a DUI Plea Bargain
If your case isn't a slam-dunk case for the prosecution, there may be an opportunity for a plea bargain. Trials are expensive and take up space on the court's docket. The state may prefer to accept a plea to a lesser charge rather than proceed with a trial that might not result in a conviction.
Some plea bargains can be accomplished without legal assistance. However, experienced DUI attorneys understand how to negotiate with the prosecution. In addition, a prosecutor with a weak case may try to bluff to induce a guilty plea when a plea bargain would be more advantageous to you as the defendant.
You might be wondering what a lesser charge is in your case. In most instances, reckless driving will be the lesser charge. Some states, including California, also have what is called "wet reckless." This acknowledges the impairment but carries a lighter sentence than a DUI and doesn't require jail time.
Your driver's license will only be suspended after a wet reckless if your BAC is higher than .08 percent. Keep in mind that a wet reckless conviction may still be considered a prior DUI offense if you're charged with a second 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 under the right circumstances. For example, you may be facing charges for a second or third DUI. That could land you in prison for a few months or years. Instead of taking your case to trial, the prosecution may be willing to reduce your sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.
If your case is a DUI charge involving drugs other than alcohol, an attorney may be able to negotiate away random drug testing or other conditions of probation.
As with plea bargaining, sentence bargaining goes much smoother when handled by an attorney. Keep in mind, though, that it's difficult to negotiate the sentence for a first offense, non-injury DUI case.
Need Legal Help With a DUI Charge? Contact a DUI Defense Lawyer
Deciding whether to hire a lawyer can be challenging if you've been charged with drunk driving. This is true whether you're dealing with a first-time offense or navigating a plea deal for a second serious offense.
Considering the consequences of a DUI conviction, it's usually a good idea to at least consult with a local DUI attorney. A DUI lawyer is familiar with DUI laws and driving laws. A DUI defense attorney can help you challenge evidence, such as the test results of a Breathalyzer test.