If you've been arrested or charged with drinking and driving, it may be time to call a DUI lawyer. DUI stands for driving under the influence. And although your state may refer to the act of intoxicated driving by a different set of acronyms, it is no less illegal when it goes by the name driving while intoxicated (DWI), operating under the influence (OUI) or operating while intoxicated (OWI). Each state counts a DUI charge as a criminal offense, so it's best to get legal representation. You do have the right to be your own attorney, or the court will appoint you a public defender if you request one, but do you want to take chances with your criminal record? If there is a chance that you were wrongly charged, or that you could qualify for a lighter sentence, you would be wise to invest in a seasoned DUI lawyer instead of representing yourself or working with a public defender who is working on too many other cases to give yours full attention.
An experienced DUI lawyer will know what your options are and can walk you through what is certainly a stressful period of life. A DUI attorney can help from the time of arrest through pretrial activity and during the trial if necessary. A DUI lawyer keeps track of all the relevant paperwork on your behalf, files the appropriate information as needed, and can attend court dates for you — meaning you don't have to make multiple trips to the courthouse just to bring in paperwork. If your case goes to trial, your DUI lawyer will represent you, arguing your position. DUI lawyers can also help you navigate the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) process for regaining your license. In many states, when you are arrested for a DUI, your driver's license is immediately suspended. Getting back your driving privileges requires updates to your driver's insurance, filing paperwork, and other important steps.
DUI doesn't only apply to drinking and driving. Driving under the influence of prescription and street drugs can also lead to arrest, as can driving while high on marijuana — even in states where pot is legal. As with alcohol, if you are over a safe limit with any substance, you are subject to criminal charges. Every state has a law against driving with a certain percentage blood alcohol concentration (BAC), typically 0.08% for drivers 21 and older. Minors under the legal drinking age can face DUI charges no matter how little alcohol they have had to drink.
Here are the factors that affect the national average cost for a DUI lawyer.
Pretrial and post-trial services
In most states, driving with a blood alcohol level that exceeds the legal limit is a criminal offense; a driver may be arrested, held in jail while awaiting arraignment (the process of being charged with a crime by a government prosecuting agency, such as the district attorney or the city attorney's office), and then tried in court, though a majority of DUI cases do not go to trial. Like other defense attorneys, DUI attorneys often charge a flat fee to provide pre-trial legal assistance and an additional flat fee to defend individuals in court at trial. Nationwide, the average cost for attorney's fees for DUI is $1,500-$3,000. Attorney's fees for defense against misdemeanor DUI charges generally cost less than for felony charges. You could be charged with felony DUI if you have multiple DUIs within a set amount of time, someone is injured or killed as a result of your DUI, or you already have another felony DUI conviction.
Beyond your DUI attorney's fees, other expenses often associated with DUIs include the cost to post bail, court-ordered fines, increased auto insurance rates, DMV fees, fees for traffic school or substance abuse education courses, fees for towing and storage if a vehicle is impounded, and the cost of lost wages if the DUI recipient must take time off work. Some people also must pay for installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on their car to prevent them from driving. A 2015 Martindale-Nolo study put the average total cost of a first-time DUI conviction, including these hidden costs, at about $6,500.
Each state has its own laws and penalties for DUI, so people should hire a lawyer in the state where they were arrested. Even if you live in Oklahoma, if you were arrested in Mississippi, you'll need a Mississippi lawyer to represent you. Arizona, Georgia and Alaska are three of the states that impose the toughest criminal penalties for DUI.
First offense or previous DUIs
First-time DUI offenders typically face the lowest costs and most lenient consequences, but in all but seven states, a DUI arrest will result in automatic suspension of the driver's license. First-time offenders also face shorter mandatory jail time. The cost of a lawyer generally increases for repeat offenses.
Many DUI and other types of defense lawyers charge a flat fee that is determined after they consult with potential clients to learn the details of their case. Lain Lawrence, who owns Lawrence Law Firm in Aurora, Colorado, typically charges $2,000-$4,000 for misdemeanor DUI representation. Felony representation brings a higher flat fee. To defend clients in trial on criminal DUI charges, Ashelee Weeks of Weeks Law charges a flat fee that is "bifurcated" — meaning a client pays one flat fee for her to handle the case up to trial, then a second flat fee for her to defend them in court. That way, says Weeks, "You only pay for a trial if your case goes to trial." This practice is common among defense lawyers. Most attorneys require a deposit, and also typically offer payment plans.
In addition to lawyer's fees, many DUI offenses come with steep fines — often in addition to jail time — which is another reason to hire an attorney to represent you during the proceedings and work within the system to reduce or eliminate fines and jail time. Fines differ widely among states, ranging from a few hundred dollars for first-time misdemeanor convictions to up to $10,000 or more for a felony conviction.
Hiring a DUI lawyer
If you're stressed out by getting charged with a DUI, hiring a DUI lawyer shouldn't add to your stress; it should relieve it. Follow these suggestions for finding the right pro to help. Before all else, make sure the lawyer is an experienced criminal defender who specializes in DUIs. You want someone who knows the changing details of DUI law to represent you. For many people, a DUI is the only time in their lives they may face criminal charges. It pays to work with an experienced pro. While hiring a DUI lawyer may be just one of many costs you'll be facing, working with a great DUI lawyer could save you money, reduce your criminal charges, and/or ease the process overall.
The next step is to read reviews online from former clients. Find someone who consistently has happy customers and successful outcomes with cases like yours. Be sure to confirm that your DUI attorney is in good legal standing in the community, and research how long they have practiced.
Ashelee Weeks of Weeks Law recommends you find someone that you can connect with on some level. Weeks says it's important to find an attorney with whom you can develop a relationship of trust, since you will be dealing with a very emotional and difficult situation. Your attorney should have experience and knowledge of the latest laws, of course, but should also be attentive and genuinely interested in helping you. You can determine this through your initial phone conversations or during a free consultation where they consider taking your case.
Many DUI lawyers offer a free consultation to learn about your case, which may take place via phone or in person. Be prepared with your police report and any additional information you believe is pertinent to your case. Be honest with the DUI lawyer during your consultation. If they know all the facts, they will be better able to give you a realistic idea of the costs you face and whether they can help you.
During the initial consultation, discuss payment. Many DUI lawyers have flat rates for DUI cases, especially for first-time offenders. Ask for a written document that outlines costs and what deliverables they will provide. Some DUI lawyers include assistance with administrative per se in their DUI case fees, while others may charge extra. In almost all cases, if your DUI charge goes to trial instead of being settled out of court, there will be additional costs to account for the lawyer's research, trial prep and litigation services. Above all else, don't hesitate to ask your DUI lawyer questions about how they can help you and to describe their experience.
Administrative per se
Administrative per se (APS), also referred to as administrative license suspension (ALS) or administrative license revocation (ALR), essentially means that you lose your driving privileges as soon as you are arrested for a DUI. Your driver's license is confiscated by the arresting officer and you are not legally eligible to drive until further notice. You may have your license taken if you test positive for over .08% BAC or you refuse a chemical urinalysis or other chemical test. The imposition of these punishments varies slightly by state. The length of the license suspension and the requirements to get your license back will depend on the severity of the situation (BAC level, injuries or accidents, etc.) or whether you have had prior DUI arrests. For example, here is how the state of California navigates license suspension for drinking and driving under the .08% APS:
- If a driver submits to and "fails" a BAC test and has no prior DUI convictions or APS actions (within 10 years), a 4-month license suspension is imposed. Following 30 days of "hard" or stringent suspension and providing they first demonstrate proof of insurance, show proof of enrollment in a DUI program, and pay all penalty fees, the law provides for such drivers to obtain a 5-month restricted license that allows driving to and from a DUI program, and to, from and during the course of employment (a COE restriction).
- A 1-year suspension is imposed on drivers who have one or more prior DUI convictions or APS actions within 10 years.
Depending on the state you live in, the APS can carry harsher punishments if you refuse to take a sobriety test. The state of California has this to say about refusal of a BAC test:
- For offenders refusing a BAC test, a 1-year license suspension is imposed for a first offense.
- A 2-year revocation is imposed for a second offense.
- A 3-year revocation is imposed for a third or subsequent offense (within 10 years).
- There are no provisions for issuance of a restricted license following a BAC test refusal.
A DUI lawyer can advise you on the best approach to take to reinstate your driver's license as soon as possible. They can also be relied on to submit the proper paperwork at the correct times to ensure you meet all the requirements of your state's DMV. They can guide you to get enrolled in "DUI school" at the appropriate time and coach you on what steps to take and when so you can get back (safely) on the road again.
Underage drinking and driving
If caught driving while drinking or under the influence of drugs, minors can face harsh penalties. Hiring a DUI lawyer for underage drinking and driving may help reduce your teen's sentence. Most states want to discourage underage drinking and underage drinking and driving as much as possible. This means that the BAC limit is much lower for people who are not of legal drinking age; in most states there is a zero tolerance law, which means _any _amount of alcohol detected in a minor's blood can lead to a DUI. Minors are also likely to face charges for underage drinking on top of the DUI or DWI. Here is an interactive map by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism about underage drinking and driving laws. It can be particularly helpful to have a knowledgeable DUI lawyer representing a minor who's been arrested for driving under the influence.
People who drive for a living, such as truckers, postal workers, delivery drivers and more, face tighter restrictions on drinking and driving. If your job depends on your commercial driver's license (CDL), it may be especially critical to hire a DUI attorney to help you deal with criminal charges. Each state has different regulations, so if you are a commercial driver it's important to know legal limits. For example, in California, the legal limit for a commercial driver who is operating a commercial vehicle is a BAC of .04%. If arrested, commercial drivers may lose their ability to drive commercially for varying lengths of time. In some states, such as California, you are guaranteed to lose your CDL for at least one year for DUI, regardless of whether this was your first DUI offense or you were driving in a noncommercial vehicle. Unlike standard driver's licenses, in California, restricted CDLs are not available to allow driving for work, so you will be unable to drive commercially for a year. A DUI when you have a CDL can also make it difficult to get future work. If you rely on driving commercially for a living, having knowledgeable legal counsel can potentially save your livelihood.
- When hiring a DUI lawyer, read client reviews and follow up with references to make sure you're choosing the right lawyer for your case. For more, check out our tips for smart hiring.