Should You Hire a DUI/DWI Lawyer?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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You should definitely consider hiring a DUI/DWI attorney if you already have more than one DUI/DWI in the past, if the charge occurred as the result of an accident, if anyone was either seriously injured or killed, if you drive for a living and rely on keeping your license in order to make a living, and/or if you are facing jail time or a hefty fine. Even if none of these situations applies to you, a DUI/DWI lawyer can help you understand the laws in your state and the penalties associated with a drunk driving conviction. Consulting with an attorney can also keep you out of hot water if a conviction could jeopardize opportunities for you down the road.

Drunk driving is a serious crime in every state, however,  the DUI laws don’t require that you be drunk or intoxicated to be found guilty of DUI charges. Instead, laws measure your ability to operate a vehicle by determining whether you are impaired based on whether your blood alcohol level exceeds the state limit. The blood alcohol limit is now .08% in all states. 

The consequences of a DUI differ drastically from state to state and are influenced by your age, blood alcohol content (BAC), whether you have been arrested for DUI in the past, and whether you caused injury or death during the DUI.

Deciding whether or not to hire an attorney is a personal choice. Here’s what you should consider before doing so.

What a DUI Lawyer Does

In general, a DUI lawyer looks at the range of possible consequences for each client and determines how to minimize the damage to the lives and livelihoods of those clients. Very often, a lawyer will assess a clients situation and determine that it is likely that the client may be offered probation or may be facing very minor penalties. In those situations, a person facing DUI charges may decide the potential penalties are minor enough to represent themselves or to quickly take a plea bargain with the prosecutor. However, every DUI charge is different, and it makes sense to be sure your situation isn’t such that you couldn’t live with the penalties or long term consequences. This is one important role DUI attorneys play in their clients’ cases.

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A DUI Lawyer Will Assess Your Case

Due to the different circumstances in every DUI case, and to the varying laws in different states, the possible conseqeuences of a DUI are dependent on many different factors. An experienced lawyer can help you understand the potential fines or jail time that may be a consequence in your state should your case go to trial. Many DUI lawyers only deal with DUI matters and know the process inside and out, including hidden options that a public defender may not tell you. In addition, many offer a free consultation – which may be worthwhile if you don’t understand the process, and may prevent you from spending money if you don’t need a lawyer.

The consequences of a DUI vary greatly from state to state and a DUI lawyer will be able to explain how those consequences apply to you. For example, there are harsher punishments for those arrested with BAC limits over .08%. In addition, there are special laws for underage drivers arrested for DUI. A DUI attorney will also tell you whether you may be eligible for possible community service or plea bargaining, will understand the overlapping jurisdiction of courts and the state’s motor vehicle licensing department to suspend or revoke your license, and may be able to help you with contingent license programs that allow you to use your vehicle to get to and from work. A lawyer will also explain the impact of any consequences that come with subsequent drunk driving convictions.

A Lawyer Will Make the Process Manageable

Dealing with a state’s motor vehicle department can be frustrating and time consuming. A lawyer can manage the process for you by completing the required forms, making phone calls, scheduling and/or representing you at a motor vehicle department suspension hearing, and making other necessary arrangements. In addition, an experienced DUI lawyer knows the ins and outs of the courtroom and may be able to obtain a lesser sentence for you if your situation and state laws allow for it. Attorneys who are DUI specialists often know the prosecutors and know which arguments work best with the local authorities in your situation.

How to Know Whether You Need a DUI Attorney

The answer to this depends on your personal and financial situation, the state in which you live and your ability to represent yourself and handle the process on your own. However, most DUI lawyers offer free consultations, simplifying the initial process of speaking with an attorney.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Definitely – Definitely hire a DUI lawyer if you have already have several DUI’s and receive another, if your DUI arrest was the result of an accident, or if anyone was injured killed. Also, definitely hire a lawyer if you are a professional driver whose livelihood depends on keeping your license. If you are facing jail time, or a hefty fine, handling your case on your own does not make sense.
  • Seriously Consider – Seriously consider hiring a DUI lawyer if you’ve been arrested for a second DUI (in the same or another state) or were arrested with a BAC limit over double your state’s legal limit as harsher penalties may apply.
  • Good Idea – You should most likely hire a DUI lawyer if you don’t understand your rights or your state’s DUI laws, or if you are uneasy about the outcome, what you need to do, or the impact of the consequences you face. You also might want legal representation if you are in a profession (or plan to be) that requires bonding or in which any criminal conviction might prevent you from getting or keeping a professional license. If you don’t know the requirements, then you need expert advice before handling the case yourself.

If this is your first DUI, it wasn’t the cause of an accident, and you had a low BAC and you aren’t concerned about a misdemeanor conviction and the effect it would have on your record, you may decide to represent yourself. However, since most DUI attorneys do not charge anything for an initial consultation to discuss your case, it makes sense to contact one and find out whether your case is one in which representing yourself might be a reasonable option.

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