Florida Criminal Defense and DUI Defense Blog

23Mar, 11

Immediately contact an attorney that specializes in drunk driving defense

The situation you face when arrested and charged with a DUI-DWI crime is one of the most tangled legal webs in the entire criminal justice system, and gets literally more tangled with every passing day.

In addition, the police and the prosecutor already have almost all the evidence they are going to get to prosecute you for DUI-DWI before you are even allowed out of jail.

From the first minutes after your arrest, you are fighting an uphill battle to assert your best defense to these charges.

Because of this, it is vital to your defense that you obtain the best possible DUI-DWI defense attorney as soon as possible so he or she can start working for you.

This area of the law is complicated. As you will learn, the factual, legal, constitutional and scientific issues arising in drinking and driving cases do not arise in many other areas of the law, even other areas of criminal litigation.

Even if you are a lawyer, because of the constant changes and the hidden secrets that surround DUI-DWI law, as well as the on-going scientific research in areas that affect the outcomes of these cases, you might not get the justice you feel you deserve unless you locate and secure a top DUI-DWI lawyer to take charge of your defense.

These offenses carry too much public scrutiny for you to hire just any lawyer, hoping he or she will ask the prosecutor to “give you a break” and drop the charges.

How do you find the best DUI-DWI lawyer for you?  With more than 50,000 so-called criminal defense lawyers practicing law in the USA, the process of selecting the right lawyer for you might appear daunting. Do not fear this.

Only about 500 lawyers in the United States are “the best” in their  geographic regions in defending drunk driving cases.

Hence, you need to weed out most of the self-proclaimed criminal lawyers to find the right attorney for your case.

The following list of factors  may prove helpful in narrowing the candidates to two or three specialists:

A. References from friends or any lawyer you might know personally. A strong reference from a friend or colleague who has successfully referred or used the potential DUI- DWI attorney is often the best indicator of whether a lawyer is worthy of hiring.

B. Community and Courthouse    Reputation Checking the attorney’s COURTHOUSE reputation is the most direct and accurate litmus test of the GREAT drunk driving defense attorneys. Go to the courthouse in the county in which you were arrested, not necessarily the county in which you live. Very politely, ask a bailiff, the court reporter, the calendar clerk or the  deputy overseeing the courtroom WHICH one of the lawyers you are considering would he or she  hire if they were facing a DUI prosecution and HAD TO TAKE THEIR BEST SHOT AT WINNING.

C.  Advanced Training. After finding possible attorneys that may fit your needs, check on them out on-line with a Google or Yahoo search.    The most highly trained D.U.I. lawyers will have  attended several of the following specialized courses which will be listed on their websites: the NHTSA Standardized Field Sobriety Test (Student or “Practitioner” Course); the NHTSA  Standardized Field Sobriety Test (Instructor Course); the Breath Instrument Training Courses; the Drug Recognition Expert (or Drug Recognition Technician) Overview Course; and Blood and Urine Training.

D. Specialized Membership or Professional Affiliations – Once you have these names and have checked out their websites, before you call any one attorney, consider their “involvement” and “commitment” to the field of drunk driving defense once you have any names. In the DUI-DWI defense field, here are some places to examine to determine “proficiency”: a. National College for DUI Defense, Inc.;   b. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), (many states and even a few large metropolitan cities have formed local affiliate branches of the NACDL ); and Martindale-Hubbell.

E. Disciplinary Actions – Has the attorney ever been disciplined by the Board of Professional Responsibility of the State bar of his/her practice location?  Contact the American Bar Association on line to the find link to the Florida Bar association and others.

Choosing between qualified DUI lawyers

Once you have the name of your top choices, it is now time to interview them, to see if they fit YOUR needs.

The supposed “best” DUI-DWI lawyer may not be the best one for you if your personalities clash.

Write your questions down before you even go in and ask them about the following:

A.  Seminar Speaker – The top attorneys in Florida are asked to speak for DUI-DWI- OUI-OWI seminars in Florida and other states.  Ask to see a brochure from the lawyer’s most recent teaching engagement. See whether the lawyer you are considering taught other lawyers how to handle a case like yours.

B. Fees and Fee Structure – How does the attorney set his or her fees? Criminal matters cannot be handled on a “contingency” basis, due to Bar rules prohibiting this practice. As  you  might  expect,  highly  experienced  attorneys  often  charge  much higher  fees  than younger, less  experienced lawyers.       Don’t be accusatory—just ask what distinguishes this lawyer from the other candidates you are considering who charge less. The late Judge E. P. “Fast Eddie” DeFriest, the last non-lawyer judge to sit on the criminal court bench in Florida, was fond of telling people in his court, “The most expensive thing you will ever pay for is a cheap lawyer.”  All of that said, for many persons facing the extreme penalties of a DUI-DWI conviction, price is secondary to an excellent track record for results.

C. Focus of practice – Most truly great DUI-DWI attorneys either restrict their cases to drunk driving (and drugged driving) or stay entirely within the field of criminal law. If you pay premium dollars,  this should be for the cost of retaining the best DUI-DWI lawyer available. Beware of the lawyer who is a general practitioner.  Some lawyers refer to this as practicing “door law,” meaning “whatever kind of case just came in the door.”  Remember the words of wisdom, “jack of all trades, master of none.”   If you truly need to be defended, stick with a lawyer who spends his or her entire time defending people like you in cases like yours.

D. Years in Practice – There is no substitute for experience. This is not a knock against young lawyers.  Some, though certainly not all of them, are bright and hard-working. But the last thing you want when it is your name, reputation, driver’s license and even freedom on the line is some lawyer who is getting on-the-job training at your expense.

E. Lawyer-Staff ratio – A busy, experienced DWI-DUI trial attorney will have 1 to 2 staff members assisting him/her. Trial preparation requires more time than processing guilty pleas. A knowledgeable legal assistant is worth his or her weight in gold. Also, a successful lawyer

can afford to maintain a sufficient number of staff personnel, secretaries, paralegals, investigators, etc., to get the job done well and promptly.  A lawyer who appears to be operating his or office “on a shoestring” is not likely to be accessible when you need information, and not likely to be taking the time away from the office to stay up-to-date on the many rapidly-changing laws and other developments in this often complicated area of the law.

F. Caseload – Is your lawyer taking on so much work that there is no way cases can properly be handled?   A responsible DUI-DWI attorney may limit his or her caseload at any given time.  No lawyer should ever agree to take your case unless the lawyer has time available to do a first class job of representing you.

G. Use of Technology – Technology has revolutionized the practice of DUI-DWI law probably as much as any other area in the legal profession.  Lawyers who master technology have put themselves in a position to deliver legal services with better.

H. Promising too much Be skeptical about lawyers who promise success. No lawyer is gifted with “the Midas touch.”  There is no such creature as the lawyer who has never lost a case.  If the lawyer you are considering sounds like he or she is making you a guarantee of winning your case, or having your charges dismissed, ask to see it in writing.  If the lawyer declines, you should recognize that lawyer for what he or she is, and move on to the next name on your list.

J. Educational Background – You can go to the ABA web site to look up your attorney’s law school.   Serious DUI-DWI lawyers do not stop their learning when they leave law school. Ask your prospective lawyer about his or her continuing legal education involvement.

Any lawyer who does not attend several DUI-DWI defense programs every year is not serious about becoming and remaining a top DUI-DWI defender.

J. Publications – Lawyers who write frequently about their area of law practice tend to keep themselves better informed about their area of specialty. The ability to get published in legal magazines or DUI-DWI trade journals is a good barometer of the lawyer’s expertise.

K. Promotional Materials – Cheesy written materials sometimes come from sloppy law firms.  Be sure to look behind the glossy brochure. Look for things that show serious legal work in progress.   You do not want your case to be the first, or the last, DUI-DWI case that your lawyer ever handles.

L. Conflicts of Interest – Some DUI-DWI defense lawyers may also act as part-time prosecutors in one or more inferior (entry-level courts of limited jurisdiction) or may even act as a part-time judge in an inferior court at the early part of the career.  An attorney cannot act as a defense attorney in the same court, however. Make sure right away that there can be no conflict of interest with your case.

M. Engagement Letters – Read any fine print that appears in your engagement letters or “fee agreements.”  Some lawyers load their agreements down with so much “legalese” and one-sided provisions that such agreements should raise suspicion. Consider using a lawyer who provides an agreement that is written in plain English that appears to be even-handed. Also make certain that you know what costs (beyond the fees) are your costs to pay and whether any appeals or potential re-trials (after a mistrial or “hung” jury) require additional fees.

N. Language Skills – Some clients who are not native English speakers may feel more comfortable working with a lawyer fluent in their language. A skilled DUI-DWI trial attorney who does not speak your language should have staff members available to translate for you or utilize telephone-based translation services. In trial, courts must make translation services available.

O. Ethics – Run as fast as you can from lawyers that tell you it is okay to lie or otherwise act dishonestly in your case. Run just as fast from any lawyer who agrees to lie for you.

P. Personality Compatibility – At the end of the day, a lawyer’s “bedside manner” can mean a lot to how the overall relationship goes. Find a lawyer who really cares about you and about winning, and be realistic about your level of need in being “nurtured” (or not being nurtured) by the attorney.  In the end, the question to ask yourself is, “Is this the attorney I want spearheading my defense?”

Q. Communication – You are paying a lot of money to hire a lawyer and it is your right to expect to be kept informed of developments and have your calls and e-mails returned in a timely manner. Please note that this does NOT mean that the client and attorney’s firm communicate daily.  Busy trial attorneys cannot do that.  Calling your lawyer every day to find out what is happening on your case is not “communication.”  It is a sign of extreme anxiety that may dictate a mental health evaluation and treatment for the stress that these difficult cases may cause.

With these parameters in mind, be cognizant of HOW the staff and the paralegals at prospective firms handle your calls and any personal visits.  Are they polite and patient?  Do they know what they are doing?

Can they answer simple questions about where you can get

information about DUI-DWI laws and penalties?

All firms are not created equal, so pay attention to how are you treated.

When an experienced criminal defense lawyer is unaffordable

Many lawyers who are excellent at fighting these difficult cases are partners or associates in the firm headed up by the top attorney in your market, and they usually charge less than the “top gun.”

Many of these attorneys have track records that are similar to the top DUI-DWI lawyer’s record, because the “top gun” has made sure that these attorneys have obtained advanced training, and share information about trial strategy with the senior partner.

If you are considering using a public defender, keep in mind that you may need to be screened by the court administrator or similar organization handling indigent cases, if your financial resources are low.

You may also be screened extensively by your judge or his/her staff to determine whether you truly are unable to pay a fee.

Unfortunately, this evaluation by the judge may not take place for months after your arrest, thereby losing you critical time for mounting your defense while evidence is still fresh.

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Attorney Mike Kessler
Written by: Attorney Mike Kessler

Attorney Kessler has been practicing criminal law in Florida for 30 years. He is recognized as is a leading authority on drunk-driving defense as well as a founding member of the Saint Lucie County Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and co-author of The DUI Book: Florida Edition, the definitive resource on DUI in Florida.

To speak with Mike, call 772-466-4900 or click here for a free consultation.

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