Now that I’ve bared my soul about my personal experience getting a DUI, it’s time to hear from an expert on the legal side of the issue: Newport Beach attorney Walter Mitchell, whose firm, The Sterling Law Group, specializes in DUI cases.
Like me, Walter believes first and foremost that you should never get behind the wheel of a car if you have been drinking. Plan ahead! Take a cab. Call upon a designated driver. I’ve already said all this in my last post, but I don’t think you can say it enough.
However, if you should get yourself into trouble, Walter explains the potential consequences and the role a lawyer can play in finding the right solution to your particular situation. The goal of this piece is to help people in trouble get their act together so they can go on to lead good, clean lives—something that’s a lot harder to do if you’re behind bars.
1. I’m asking this question for all the naysayers out there: Is it really necessary to hire an attorney? (From my own personal experience, I can tell you that I wouldn’t have made it without my attorney. He navigated the complicated legal waters for me and kept me sane through the whole nerve-wracking process.)
I’m glad to hear you had a good experience with your attorney, Alison.
Obviously I recommend you hire an attorney, and I suggest you do it while you’re in jail so he/she can help locate the best bail bond firm available to post your bail if necessary.
2. How should I find an attorney? I’ve heard through my friends in AA that DUI defendants get flooded with marketing materials from DUI lawyers. Is it wise to choose a lawyer from a direct mail promotion or TV ad?
I would be more inclined to go witha referral from a colleague or friend or the Orange County Bar Association at 949.440.6700 or http://www.ocbar.org.
3. How much do DUI attorneys usually cost?
Most DUI lawyers will provide a free consultation in which they will tell you what your options are, what to expect down the road and what defenses are available for your case. Once hired, their fees can range from $1,000 or $2,000 up to $7,500 for a first-time DUI (with no injuries or prior convictions), depending on the attorney’s level of experience and how much time they put into the case. That sounds like a lot of money, I know (and keep in mind that the low-end fees won’t include any of the attorney’s expenses, which would be extra).
But if they are good at their jobs, you’ve got to look at how much they are going to save you on the other side, meaning your sentence. They can get bail and court fees reduced and jail time decreased—which means less time away from work where you could be losing wages—among other things that can save money in the long-run.
4. What exactly will a lawyer do?
Once hired, they will represent you at all court appearances, beginning with an arraignment, a California DMV hearing, and possibly even a trial before a jury.
You see, being arrested for a DUI in California automatically means you’re facing two separate cases: a criminal court case and a case in the Department of Motor Vehicles. You’d think the criminal court case would be the most urgent, but actually you have to deal with the DMV first: If you don’t request the DMV hearing within 10 days, you automatically lose the privilege to drive after 30 days. So you have to connect with a qualified California DUI attorney to file the necessary paperwork to get your hearing with the DMV.
Next comes your court case where you are determined guilty or not guilty for driving under the influence. Your attorney should investigate the circumstances of your arrest, question law enforcement and witnesses and provide the resources necessary to aggressively defend you and fight your DUI charges in court. (Note that “fighting” the case requires a lot more time and effort and therefore will cost significantly more in attorney’s fees—possibly $7,500 to $15,000 if it goes to a jury trial. To settle the case instead (in which you just try to get the best terms you can) will likely cost $1,500 to $5,000.
If the evidence is too overwhelming and you are found guilty, your attorney can negotiate a sentence that might be more appropriate for your situation.
5. What do you mean?
Most people just accept their fate and think to themselves: "I’m going to do jail time at the Orange County main jail where I will sit in a cell and eat bologna sandwiches and use a community toilet for X amount of days depending on my sentence and time served." There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this and yet there are perhaps more productive options available for certain people.
These won’t work in every case, but I’ve had situations where we’ve been able to negotiate the “pay to stay” program, for example, where my client checked into the Fullerton City Jail every night at 7 p.m. and then checked out at 7 a.m. so he could go to work. He is a major executive at a large corporation and employees depended on him to keep the company going so this was a win/win for everyone.
6. Do you have other examples?
Yes, there’s the community work program in which you work at an approved assigned job site (usually some type of county facility) in lieu of jail time. There’s also house arrest with electronic monitoring, AKA "the bracelet" you see on so many celebrities, like Lindsay Lohan—and sober living programs where you live in a recovery home and receive alcohol and drug counseling.
7. All of these alternatives involve fees don’t they?
Oh, yes! You are still going to pay fines and fees for the program you’re sentenced to.
8. What about AA meetings?
Sentencing on a first time offense almost always includes paying for and taking the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) classes as well as alcohol classes. And in many cases, yes, sentencing/probation will require attending at least ten AA meetings. I’ve even suggested in certain situations that a client start attending AA meetings before his court date to show his/her intent to sober up. The courts and the legal profession are all very pro-AA, as am I, because it has proven to be one of the most effective ways to change one’s lifestyle for good.
Of course, all of these penalties are for just “driving under the influence.” If
you cause an accident and injure or, God forbid, kill someone—which could all
too easily include someone you love—you are looking at a nightmare of far
I have to tell you that even though my DUI didn’t cause injury to anyone else,
the thought of the irreparable damage I could have caused still gives me nightmares to this day. Yet, I’m grateful for the priceless lesson it taught me—one that eventually led me onto the road to recovery.
In future posts, I want to share the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met
over my 19+ years in recovery. Stay tuned—and buckle up!