Generally yes. It’s a fair question, as plea offers are more reasonable and standardized on first DUI/DWAI charges than on subsequent DUI/DWAI charges. (On a second or subsequent, it’s not a close call—hire a lawyer). Even without a lawyer, you have a good chance of avoiding jail on a first DUI if there aren’t any aggravating factors in your case. But there are a number of scenarios where a lawyer will make a critical difference in your case result, and it can be hard or impossible for a non-lawyer to know if his or her case is one where a lawyer will be critical. Further below are some of the scenarios where advice of an experienced DUI defense lawyer can make a difference.
Even aside from the scenarios where a lawyer can get a case dismissed, win a trial, save your driver’s license, or improve a plea offer, a good lawyer can provide peace of mind and streamline your experience in the justice system. A DUI lawyer can adjust the terms of bond, pretrial supervision, get permission to travel out of state while the case is pending, obtain a stay of execution on sentencing conditions, help you find treatment resources, and much more. When you use an experienced lawyer, you will be surprised how much more smoothly the process goes.
Here are some scenarios where representation by an experienced DUI lawyer is critical:
- You weren’t drunk. The legal threshold for impairment is very low, and many people who are borderline or not impaired at all are charged with DUI/DWAI, for a variety of reasons. In borderline situations, too many cops simply decide to charge the suspect and “let the lawyers sort it out.” If you feel you were wrongly arrested, you will need a lawyer to develop your defense and argue for dismissal, but be ready that you may have to go to trial to vindicate yourself.
- You weren’t driving. The law on what constitutes driving is not intuitive, so you’ll need a lawyer to assess your case and work with you on pursuing a dismissal, trial, or a dramatically improved resolution.
- The police made mistakes. Police make mistakes all the time. Sometimes they don’t investigate well, or they don’t investigate fairly. Often they make mistakes, innocent or not, that violate people’s constitutional rights. To defend your constitutional rights, talk with a good lawyer. If your rights were violated, the court might suppress some or all of the evidence in your case, or even dismiss it. Non-lawyers (and many inexperienced lawyers) simply don’t know how to evaluate whether there was a rights violation, and what the remedy might be.
- You were accused of a marijuana DUID. The science is on the side of the defendants in many of these cases, but the police and DA’s often don’t get it. These cases are scientifically complex but often winnable, whether or not you took a chemical test.
- Other drugs, prescription or recreational, were involved. The legal and scientific issues become more uncertain when dealing with drugs that have not been researched as much as alcohol, or drugs that are less detectable in the blood. Some cops receive special training to detect the influence of different drugs in drivers, even without a chemical test, but their methods are suspect. And while you can be found guilty of DUID related to prescription drugs, there are additional legal issues. In any non-alcohol case, from ambien to cocaine, representation by a lawyer will help you determine whether the District Attorney can even prove the case.
- Health issues. If you have health issues that might have affected your driving, your balance, or any other officer perception of your impairment, it is important to discuss this with a lawyer.
- You live out of state. There are special sentencing issues when a non-Colorado driver is convicted of DUI in Colorado, as a standard sentencing condition is probation in Colorado. An attorney will help obtain a sentence that does not require you to stay in Colorado, and provide insight into your driver’s license impacts.
- There are other charges, in addition to DUI or DWAI. Child abuse is often charged if you had a child passenger with you at the time of the driving. Protection order violations, driving under suspension, reckless driving, and hit and run often accompany DUI charges, and must be addressed by an attorney. In these cases, there is much to lose by accepting a plea without representation. Additional penalties and collateral consequence can result.
- Other aggravating factors. Even without additional charges against you, the presence of some aggravating factors can lead to harsher sentences, including jail. Aggravating factors are in the eye of the beholder (every judge is different), but can include a car accident, a bad attitude with police, a high BAC, and more.
- You have recent points or major offenses on your driving record. In these scenarios, a lawyer may be able to structure the plea to better preserve your driving privilege.
- You may lose your job. If you think your current job, or future career opportunities, may be limited or foreclosed by a DUI conviction, talk with a lawyer. Sometimes you have to fight a case simply because the consequences of conviction would be devastating, even if it is your nature to want to take responsibility.
- You are a non-citizen. Non-citizens should always consult with an attorney to discuss any criminal charges, as there can be serious immigration consequences.
- You have an alcohol or drug addiction. What might sound like a reasonable plea offer of probation can easily lead to many months in jail, even on a first offense, if it will be hard for you to completely abstain while on probation. Probation, while rehabilitative or easy for many, essentially criminalizes small lapses in your battle for your health, your battle for sobriety. Talk with a lawyer about how to manage the interaction between your healthcare and your DUI case.
- Other. If you took a chemical test, there are a variety of scientific issues regarding the administration and reliability of the test. In some cases, the District Attorney will have unique issues in proving your case due to witness unavailability or officer credibility. There may be additional witnesses or video evidence that your lawyer’s investigator can help obtain. Every case is different, and it’s impossible to list all the situations that a lawyer can help with, so feel free to call to find out more about your case.
Lastly, remember that people who are guilty need lawyers as much as people who are innocent. There’s only one way to be sure that you’re being treated fairly by the prosecutor and court. There’s only one way to make sure that no stone was left unturned in your defense. There’s only one way to make sure you understand your rights and options at every step of the process, and that you received the best possible resolution.
Call an experienced DUI lawyer, call Matthew Hand at (303) 900-8480.