January 2, 2017 • By Dennis Beaver
If arrested for DUI, will hiring a lawyer who specializes in drunk driving change the outcome? If it’s your first, do you need an attorney to obtain a favorable plea-bargain offer from the DA? Finally, if tempted to hire someone based on radio or TV ads, who pays for those expensive commercials?
Across the country, lawyers who focus on “drunk driving defense” spend millions of dollars in advertising, this catchy slogan often heard: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Plead Guilty.”
As you will see, this is a “buyer beware” area of the law. Or, as Richard, a reader and soon-to-be former DUI attorney who contacted us right before the New Year, said, “We sell hope to the damned, delivering little and are grossly overpaid for it!”
“Dennis, for the past two years I have worked at a well-known Orange County, California, DUI Defense law firm. Like most lawyers who concentrate on DUIs, I was a Deputy District Attorney in a small Northern California county, prosecuting these cases and very active with MADD. It was morally wonderful!
“Contacted by this high-profile firm, I was offered an incredible salary, more than anything I could ever expect where I lived. Money seduced me and I regret it deeply.
“As 2017 rings in, I am finding some other area of law, allowing me to look at myself in the mirror and where I will not see expressions on my wife’s face which cause me deep guilt feelings,” he added with a tone of voice that could not hide his sadness.
“We are newlyweds and soon expecting a son. Last night Becky asked, ‘Richard, do you want him to be a moral, responsible person, or to create excuses for bad behavior based on the message daddy sends by helping very dangerous people continue their anti-social, drinking and driving?”
Many DUI law firms have terrific advertising and excellent YouTube infomercials with a simple message: “Our lawyers know more than the prosecutor about field sobriety tests, Breathalyzers, blood tests, you name it and we can plant ‘reasonable doubt’ in the minds of a jury, so our clients almost always walk.”
Richard agreed, pointing out, “In reality there are very few ‘bad’ arrests for DUI, and are typically weeded out by the DA before being filed, or at arraignment an offer to plead to a reduced charge, such as ‘reckless’ might be made — something you do not need a lawyer for.”
But what about clients with a second or third DUI? Can a DUI attorney really help them?.
“Yes, our job is to find problems in the case—mistakes no matter how minor—which would give that one person on the jury lacking common sense the ability of saying no, ‘I can’t find this person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.’ Our goal is to deceive.
“To keep these cases from going to trial, we negotiate a plea bargain, pointing out ‘problems’ to the prosecutor: The stop itself, field sobriety tests, Breathalyzer, blood test, statements on the police report which differ from testimony at the DMV hearing — anything to plant the seeds of doubt about a prosecution victory. Occasionally it works.
“In trial, I made mountains out of molehills, highlighting errors masking the fact that our client was indeed a drunk driver! Some very dangerous people did get off, re-offending almost immediately. A few caused terrible auto accidents.
“I made it possible. My wife helped me see that.”
There is no standard, no special license, so lawyers without specialized training legally can call themselves DUI attorneys. They may not offer any better representation than a general practice lawyer, or the typical criminal defense attorney, but clients will likely pay thousands of dollars more.
“With a blood level far above .08, especially if you were in an accident — and no one was injured — or you were in your car along the side of the road sleeping it off, save your money for the fine and your family,” my reader strongly advises.
“If it is more serious than that — or your third DUI — this can mean prison — so a lawyer might be able to help after you pay a retainer that could exceed $10,000.
“If the attorney guarantees a certain result, run the other way! Lawyers cannot make guarantees! Nationwide, 98 percent of all DUI arrests do not go to trial and those that do almost always are won by the DA,” he concluded.
As in politics, money corrupts lawyers. Richard has seen this early enough to save his marriage and become a father for their son, showing him morality, ethics, and integrity, not by what he says, but what he does.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.