How to Find a Good DUI Lawyer
Driving under the influence is a serious offense. In the United States, drunk drivers cause approximately one out of every three traffic-related deaths. Every day, 29 people die in car crashes involving a drunk driver. In 2017, the Florida DMV reported there were 43,899 citations issued for DUI violations. Of these DUI violations, many, 3,104 to be exact, occurred in Broward County.
If you are facing DUI charges, you should seek the advice of a skilled DUI defense lawyer. For many, a DUI may be their first encounter with the legal system. It is important to understand that the outcome of a DUI case will impact your future. Where do you begin to find the right attorney for you? First, you need to understand the charge against you.
What Is a DUI Charge?
DUI stands for driving under the influence. Typically, DUI means driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, or a chemical or controlled substance. Less often, individuals who aren’t driving, but are in “actual physical control” of the vehicle may be charged with DUI. “Actual physical control” means having the apparent ability to immediately drive a car while intoxicated. In these cases, even if the police never saw the vehicle move, you may still be liable for DUI. For example, sitting behind the wheel of a car with the keys in the ignition, while intoxicated, may justify a DUI charge.
Under Florida law, if the driver’s faculties are impaired, whether due to alcohol, recreational drugs, or even prescription drugs, they may be charged with a DUI. As you likely know, a DUI charge is justified if the driver has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. For underage drivers, any BAC over 0.02 percent is a violation. For drivers of commercial vehicles, the legal limit is 0.04 percent.
In Florida, DUI charges are taken very seriously. A first-offense DUI is usually a misdemeanor. However, in some circumstances, a charge of driving under the influence may be considered a felony. Penalties may include jail time, license suspension, heavy fines, and court fees, among other negative consequences. The sooner you speak with an attorney, the sooner they can begin strengthening your defense.
Where to Start?
If you have ever been involved in the legal system, you know one thing to be true: it is complicated. Lawyers often focus their practice on certain types of offenses, such as violent crimes, property crimes, or financial crimes. Specializing in a specific practice area allows attorneys to become well-versed in the applicable laws, court rules, and trial techniques. Attorneys can focus on the evolution of their field of law and stay up-to-date on any changes.
Additionally advantageous, attorneys within a specific field become acquainted with local court procedures and other professionals in the legal community. Networking within the local criminal justice system and legal community is invaluable. For instance, the local prosecutor may have a plea bargaining policy that applies in your type of case. Attorneys who regularly appear in court will get to know the police officers and how they perform at trial. For your DUI case, you should find an experienced criminal defense attorney, who focuses on DUI defense.
To start, you can begin by asking family members, friends, or someone you trust for referrals. Ask an attorney you have used in the past, even if not for a criminal matter. They will likely be able to refer you to someone they trust within the legal community. If you are unable to identify a referral or feel uncomfortable discussing your charges with friends and family, try searching online. However, it is important to remember that not all information available online is credible.
There are a few sources you can trust. First, the American Bar Association offers lawyer referral information for every state. Second, you should search for professional associations, both national and local, that concentrate on criminal defense. Lastly, many state bar associations, including the Florida State Bar Association, offer certifications in criminal defense. Look lawyers who focus on criminal defense.
Narrowing the List
Once you have a shortlist of criminal defense attorneys, how do you choose the right person for you? Start by viewing each lawyer’s ratings online at Martindale.com. The site offers peer-reviewed assessments of an individual lawyer’s skill and ethics. You may also want to contact the Florida lawyer disciplinary organization. The disciplinary office can confirm that an attorney is a member in good standing. On the other hand, they have a duty to reveal whether the attorney was publicly disciplined.
When you have narrowed your list to one or two criminal defense lawyers, make appointments for consultations. Always inform the attorney of any upcoming court dates. After a DUI arrest, the offender’s driver’s license is suspended. The offender then only has ten days to apply for a DMV administrative review hearing. If you fail to timely apply for a hearing, your license may be automatically suspended for a longer period of time.
At your first appointment be sure to bring along a summary of your case. You want to provide your attorney with details of your arrest, charges levied against you, and others who were involved. A consultation is intended to help you and your attorney understand the circumstances of your case. Although your prospective lawyer may discuss possible outcomes, he or she can never promise a definite success.
If this is your first encounter with the criminal justice system, you may be upset or nervous. It is easy to become confused or forget to ask questions about your case. However, it is important that you completely understand all aspects of your case. It may be helpful to bring a written list of questions or take notes during the consultation. Some questions that may be helpful include:
- Experience. Make sure that your attorney is experienced in handling DUI cases. What percentage of your caseload is dedicated to handling criminal matters, in particular, DUI cases? What are your case results?
- The legal team. Some lawyers are solo practitioners, while others are part of a larger firm. Many work with paralegals and others may outsource some of the work to other lawyers. To understand the team and resources available to the attorney, ask, who else will be working on my case?
- Communication. How will the lawyer update you on developments in your case? If you have a question, how long does it generally take to receive a response? How does the lawyer usually communicate with clients? What is the best method for you to communicate with them?
- Potential costs. It is important to understand how your attorney will structure the fee agreement. What are the fees? What is the rate for non-legal services? Are there additional fees or costs? The attorney should provide a written fee agreement for your review.
Are You and the Attorney a Good Fit?
In addition to questions about your case, there is a personal factor in choosing a lawyer. Ask yourself:
- Does the lawyer explain things clearly and make sure I understand?
- Am I comfortable talking with this person?
- Does the lawyer seem concerned with my situation?
- Does the lawyer appear to be a person who interacts well with judges, prosecutors, and jurors?
If you were arrested or charged with a DUI, you need to select an experienced, dedicated lawyer as soon as possible. For further information, schedule a meeting with a DUI lawyer who offers a free consultation!