Written by Attorney Andrew Mishlove.

If you’ve been arrested for drunk driving, don’t even think about proceeding without a lawyer. A person who represents himself or herself in court has a fool for a client. You need a good lawyer, even if you’re guilty.

  • First, even if you believe that you’re guilty, you’re still legally presumed innocent. A good lawyer can evaluate the strength of the proof against you in ways that you cannot do yourself.
  • Second, a major issue in every case is whether the police overstepped their bounds and unlawfully stopped, arrested, tested, and charged you. A good lawyer will evaluate whether you were treated properly. If your rights were violated, there may be no case against you.
  • Finally, the help of a good lawyer is critical in limiting the damage that a DUI case or conviction can have on your family, your life, and your livelihood. A good lawyer will direct you to the help and counseling that you may need to rebuild and restore your life after the damage of alcohol and a DUI / DWI / OWI case. Of course, a good lawyer can minimize the penalties, such as jail and revocation.

Choose A Lawyer Experienced In Fighting DUI Cases.

There are various kinds of lawyers out there, and you will need to know how to choose. In general, you will find the following:

  • Public defenders.
  • Discount lawyers.
  • General Practitioners.
  • Expensive criminal and DUI lawyers.
  • Extremely expensive criminal and DUI lawyers.

Avoid the discount lawyer. You will get only what you pay for, and that won’t be much. Discount lawyers make their money by handling a high volume of cases or by maintaining unreasonably low office overhead (no secretary, etc). These lawyers are not skilled in analyzing and defending cases. Rather, they are skilled in quickly disposing of cases by guilty pleas to maintain their profit margin. Be skeptical of any lawyer who charges a retainer less than $1500.00 on a first offense, and $2000.00 on a second offense.

Avoid the general practitioner, that is, the lawyer who does some criminal work but also handles real estate, probate, divorce, wills, etc. Such a lawyer may be reasonably priced (with fees in the $1500-$2000 range), but will lack the specialized knowledge and skill necessary to defend a drunk driving case. This may be true even if the lawyer handles a significant number of drunk driving cases. Most likely, few of these cases are fought rather than plea-bargained. Further, a lawyer who has a reputation as a fighter tends to be able to negotiate better plea bargains, when necessary.

You are far better off with a public defender (if you qualify for such representation) than a discount lawyer or a general practitioner. Although public defenders are often overworked, they are skilled and dedicated specialists.

It is wise to choose a reasonably priced DUI / DWI / OWI specialist (still expensive compared to a general practitioner). Be careful, however, that your lawyer is experienced in fighting DUI / DWI / OWI cases. Many lawyers handle many DUI / DWI / OWI cases, but do not fight them and do not have the special training and experience necessary to evaluate and fight these types of cases. Attorneys who focus on fighting DUI / DWI / OWI cases will probably handle only criminal cases, although they may also handle other types of litigation such as personal injury. They will not handle non-litigation matters, such as wills, probate, real estate, incorporation, etc. These lawyers will have extensive experience in DUI / DWI / OWI law, and understand the special complexities of a drunk driving case. In fact, these lawyers will usually be far more experienced in DUI / DWI / OWI cases than the ultra-high priced pre-eminent criminal lawyers. In Wisconsin, these lawyers may charge retainers in the $5000.00 range, depending on the severity of the offense, with additional fees for trial. These lawyers should also be active and recognized in local and national criminal defense organizations such as their state bar, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), and the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. (NCDD). Again, get a lawyer who has extensive experience in trial by jury of drunk driving cases. Avoid the high-volume guilty plea specialist.

Looking For A Lawyer?

You may wish to hire the most pre-eminent criminal defense lawyer you can find. Look for a lawyer who has held prominent positions in the bar association. Look for a lawyer recommended by not one, but several other lawyers. Look for a lawyer who is active in the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). With a little research, you will be able to find the Johnny Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, or Barry Scheck of your city. If you live in a smaller community, which does not support criminal defense specialists, it makes sense to go to the nearest large city. Expect these kinds of lawyers to charge retainers in the range of $10,000.00 and up, with substantial additional fees for trial, and more if it is for a repeat offense with a substantially enhanced penalty. Be aware, however, that some of the more famous criminal lawyers may not be experienced in drunk driving cases, as these are seen as too minor. So, make sure that you get a lawyer who understands the intricacies of a drunk driving case.