You are facing a criminal case for DUI. It seems simple enough and you are thinking about handling it yourself without the help of a DUI lawyer? Can you?
You can usually represent yourself in a DUI case. You are considered a “pro se” defendant when you are not represented by a DUI defense attorney.
Oftentimes, a particular court will have standard penalties for a first-time DUI without aggravating circumstances. If you simply want to plead guilty and take the standard penalties, then there may be no need to spend money on a lawyer.
But before you decide not to consult with a lawyer, please consider the following:
there may be defenses in your case that could get the charges reduced or dismissed,
an attorney can often get penalties lowered and even get the case dropped,
you will also have an APS hearing at the DMV where an attorney may be able to help you avoid a license suspension,
you may need help and guidance in completing the terms of your probation, and
hiring a DUI attorney or law firm might not be that expensive relative to the benefits of having one.
1. How harsh are the penalties for a DUI?
Depending on the facts of your case, a DUI/DWI conviction can lead to serious consequences.
For example, most states say that you can face the following if you are found guilty of DUI:
Keep in mind that these penalties will grow even more severe if you have any prior DUIs on your record.
Also, all of the above penalties have the very real possibility of negatively affecting your:
Given this, it is usually not worth the risk to represent yourself after a DUI arrest. You might want to rely on a professional lawyer to make sure you can minimize your DUI consequences.
2. Are there deadlines to meet in a DUI case?
Most often, yes. DUI cases often involve specific action items that have to be addressed by certain dates.
For example, you usually have to request a DMV hearing within 10 days following a DUI arrest to try and prevent the DMV from suspending your driver’s license.2
Further, if you wish to file motions with the court, you must do so within a specific time frame.
Criminal defense attorneys are most often more knowledgeable about these time constraints and court dates than non-lawyers.
3. Will a lawyer have an idea on how a judge will rule?
A DUI attorney will usually have an idea on how a judge will rule in your DUI case.
Experienced DUI lawyers typically appear before many of the same judges within a given county. This means they get to know how each judge views DUI cases and their tendencies when ruling on a given:
conviction or acquittal,
It is usually helpful to tap into this knowledge because it might dictate whether or not you should:
agree to a plea bargain/plea deal (for example, where you plead guilty to a reckless driving charge as opposed to a DUI charge),
file a certain legal motion,
challenge a breath test result, or
proceed with a jury trial.
4. Is the science involved in a DUI case complex?
It can be, yes. There is often some basic science to understand in a DUI case.
For example, you may have to understand and know how:
your body metabolizes alcohol,
errors can occur with a breath or blood test,
certain factors can affect your blood alcohol content (BAC).
Further, keep in mind that the science that pertains to these issues is constantly evolving. This means you will have to be familiar with:
the science in your case, and
any recent developments with that science.
Since DUI lawyers often handle a high volume of cases, they often stay abreast of any relevant science. A result is that they are usually better positioned to deal with scientific issues than non-lawyers.
5. Will you be expected to know the laws and procedures in a case?
Yes. Judges and prosecutors generally expect pro se defendants to understand the laws and procedures with their cases.
You also must be able to clearly communicate with a judge or prosecutor. This means you should be able to speak their language or know and understand basic legal terms.
It usually benefits you to get legal help from a lawyer since he/she is often more knowledgeable as to:
court procedures, and
6. Are DUI lawyers extremely expensive?
Depending on the facts of a DUI case, legal representation from a lawyer is probably more affordable than most people think.
Note as well that some defense attorneys offer payment plans and discounts.
A DUI attorney may also work to:
lower a particular fine,
prevent you from attending DUI school, and
avoid you having to install an IID.
Such actions will actually save you money in the long term.
Keep in mind too that if you have financial difficulties in paying for an attorney, you may qualify to receive legal advice and help from a public defender.
See, for example, California Vehicle Code sections 23536, 23540, 23646, and 23566 VC.
See, for example, Florida Statutes 322.2615(3) (2022).
About the Author
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.