If you’ve never been arrested for a DUI before, you’re probably wondering whether or not you need to hire a DUI attorney. Oftentimes we get this question when a client comes to us with no prior record. Since prosecutors will typically offer a first-offense plea deal, it can be hard to know whether or not you really need an attorney – after all, if you’re going to take a deal, is hiring a DUI attorney worth it?
BAC and Probable Cause
In most DUI cases there are two main factors that lead to the arrest: BAC and Probable Cause.
- BAC, or blood alcohol concentration, is determined by a breath, blood, or urine test. A breath or blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher is enough to be charged with DUI. While you do have the option to refuse the test, you do not have the right to refuse. By signing up for a Florida driver’s license, you’ve already agreed to give consent to a breath test upon a lawful arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol.
- However, in order for the police to be able to test your BAC, they have to have a legal reason for pulling you over. This is what we call probable cause. Probable cause is based entirely on the officer’s judgement. The officer will look for a driving pattern indicative of impairment (failing to maintain a single lane, swerving, weaving, etc.), restlessness, body tremors, grinding teeth, droopy eyelids, odor of marijuana, slurred speech, fumbling of the driver’s license, difficulty getting out of the car, poor performance on field sobriety exercises and many other indicators of impairment to establish probable cause for the arrest.
A good DUI attorney will investigate the BAC Test and the Probable Cause involved in your case to see if it is possible to file a motion to suppress. A motion to suppress means that certain evidence can be thrown out of court. For example, if your lawyer successfully argues that the arresting officer didn’t have sufficient probable cause to pull you over, and the traffic stop is ruled to be invalid, then everything that happened after that invalid stop (such as the results of your breathalyzer test) will also be thrown out.
Plea Deal Negotiations
Prosecutors usually have a standard first-offense plea offer for DUI cases. They may offer this deal to anyone who has a “standard first DUI” charge – for instance, when the defendant has no prior DUIs and their arrest did not come with any additional factors such as accidents, injuries, or an extremely high BAC. A prosecutor’s standard first DUI plea deal is generally at the lower end of the sentencing guidelines, so many defendants will jump at the opportunity to take the deal and move on from their case.
Accepting a plea deal before speaking with a defense attorney is a huge mistake, and it’s one of the most frequent ones we see as Delray Beach DUI lawyers. Remember, the facts of every case are unique, so just because you blew above 0.08 does not mean you should give up and take a guilty plea without getting a second opinion first. In most states, a DUI conviction will stay on your criminal history forever and it cannot be expunged or sealed. A DUI conviction might also remain on your driver’s license, which can lead to higher insurance rates, employment restrictions, and more. You do not want a DUI charge on your record.
An experienced DUI attorney will be familiar with the courts, judges, and prosecutors, and oftentimes your lawyer can use this experience to your advantage, negotiating for an even better plea deal by pointing out weaknesses in the State’s case or bringing to light other mitigating factors in your situation. For example, one of the best reasons to hire a DUI lawyer for your first DUI is to try to reduce your DUI to reckless driving. We call this a “wet reckless” charge. There are pros and cons to this defense strategy, so it should be discussed with your lawyer to make sure it’s in your best interest, but in general pleading down to a reckless driving charge carries less severe penalties, lower fines, less points added to your driver’s license, and less potential jail time than a DUI conviction.
First Time DUI Driver’s License Suspension
Another reason to consider hiring a DUI attorney for your first DUI charge is the driver’s license suspension. In Florida, for instance, a person who is arrested for their first DUI must undergo an administrative driver’s license suspension for anywhere from 6 months to 1 year. It is possible, however, for first time offenders to obtain a waiver that allows them to drive for business purposes during the administrative suspension period. Business purpose is defined as: “a driving privilege limited to any driving necessary to maintain livelihood, including driving to and from work, necessary on-the-job driving, driving for educational purposes, and driving for church and for medical purposes.” In order to request a review with the Administrative Review Hearing Office, there are strict rules and procedures that must be followed, so it’s best to have a DUI attorney at your side who is experienced with helping first-time DUI offenders get their license reinstatement.
Should I use a public defender for my DUI case?
If you don’t already have a lawyer for your DUI case, the court will appoint one for you. These appointed attorneys are called public defenders. There are pros and cons to being represented by a public defender. A public defender handles many criminal cases, including DUIs, so they will be knowledgeable about the law and familiar with the district attorney’s office and judges. However, a public defender also has a large caseload, so oftentimes a defendant will feel like their case is not getting the maximum attention it deserves. Also, you can’t choose a public defender – you’re stuck with who you get. Finally, a public defender will not handle the administrative proceedings at the DMV for you, so you’ll have to do those on your own.
On the other hand, while hiring a private DUI lawyer costs money, some attorneys offer free consultations, which means you can get to know them first, have your questions answered, and get a good feeling for the type of legal representation they will offer you. In some cases, having your own dedicated DUI lawyer means that you may not have to appear in court at all, as they can handle everything for you. Additionally, a good DUI attorney will be available 24/7 to address your questions or concerns.
A DUI does not have to ruin your life. If you get a lawyer, fight your case, and negotiate a good deal, you may be able to go on with your life with relatively little change. If your attorney can win your case or get the charges dropped, you won’t even have a DUI on your record. Don’t take a risk on your future – if you’ve been arrested, speak to a criminal defense attorney to get started building a strong defense.