Attorneys often specialize in certain areas of the law. Helping people through the legal process that results from being arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) is one such specialty for defense lawyers. Every state has a law against driving with a certain percentage blood alcohol concentration (BAC), typically 0.08% for drivers 21 and older. The limit is much lower for people who are not of legal drinking age—and they will likely face charges for underage drinking on top of the DUI or DWI. A DUI attorney can help from the time of an arrest through pretrial activity and during the trial if necessary.
Pretrial and post-trial services
In most states, DUIs with a blood alcohol level that exceeds the legal limit are a criminal offense, which means that legal proceedings may include an arrest by law enforcement, possible detention while arrested individuals await arraignment (during which they are charged with a crime by a government prosecuting agency, such as the district attorney or the city attorney’s office), and then trial, though not all DUI cases go to trial. As a result, DUI and defense attorneys in general, often charge a flat fee for legal assistance provide before the trial and an additional flat fee to defend individuals in court at trial. Nationwide, the average cost for attorney’s fees for DUI are $1,070–$2,410. Attorney’s fees for defense against misdemeanor DUI charges generally cost less than if the charge is a felony.
Beyond attorney’s fees, other expenses often associated with DUIs include the cost to post bail, court-ordered fines, increased auto insurance rates, department of motor vehicles (DMV) fees, the cost of traffic school or substance abuse education courses, towing and storage if a vehicle is impounded, and the cost of lost wages if the DUI recipient has to take time off work. Some people will also have to 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. Arizona, Georgia and Alaska are the top three toughest states (in terms of criminal penalties) in which to be charged with 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 costs more, but it is also a flat fee. If clients need defense against 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 a client in court. That way, says Weeks, “you only pay for a trial if your case goes to trial.” (This practice is pretty common among defense lawyers.) Most attorneys require a deposit, and they 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 lessen 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.