What If My Blood Alcohol Is Substantially Over The Legal Limit – Do I Still Need A lawyer?
If this is your first DUI and there are no aggravating circumstances or special allegations charged in your case, you might be better off pleading to the court without the help of a lawyer.
The probability that a lawyer can obtain a better deal for you outside the standard first time DUI terms and penalties is fairly low. Alternatively, if it is not a financial hardship to retain a lawyer, it may be worth the “peace of mind” that comes with knowing that your lawyer explored every legal option before having you plead to the drunk driving charge.
Negotiating Legal Fees
In most states, clients are free to negotiate the terms of representation with their attorney, including the amount of the fees to be paid. In criminal defense matters, legal fees are normally collected in advance of the attorney appearing in court. This is because once the lawyer makes a first court appearance it is very difficult for the attorney to withdraw from your case on the basis of nonpayment of fees.
By collecting the entire fee up front, usually at the time of being retained, most lawyers feel comfortable that they will be paid for their work. This is why few lawyers will agree to receiving installment payments, unless the first installment covers most, if not all, of the anticipated attorney fees,
Fees vary depending on the experience and qualifications of the lawyer. It also depends on how much legal work your case will likely require. Unfortunately, there are a small number of unscrupulous lawyers who view DUI defense as an opportunity to earn fast money. Some of these lawyers make a living at hand holding clients through the plea process, but fail to offer any appreciable value to the defense of the case. In these cases, clients often get little more than what the client would have been able to obtain on their own. These lawyers regularly plea to the standard terms at the time of arraignment.
Here is what you can expect in fees from most criminal defense lawyers. Fee estimates do not include aggravating circumstances such as additional allegations for driving on a suspended license, violating probation, speeding, causing injury, having a minor in your vehicle, causing property damage, resisting arrest, carrying a weapon, or having an open container in the vehicle. These and other aggravating circumstances often require additional work on behalf of the attorney.
The following fee ranges should include your lawyer attending the DMV hearing as well.
Customary Pre-Trial Fees – 2016
1st Offense: $1,500 – $2,500
2nd Offense: $2,500 – $5,500
3rd Offense: $5,000 – $10,000 (if charged as a felony)
Trial Fee Arrangements
Many lawyers require a non-refundable, lump-sum fee for representing you through trial. Be very careful here. Less than 5% of all DUI arrests go to trial, which means you may be paying for legal services that you will never need!
It is usually better to insist that the trial retainer be divided into phases (arraignment, pretrial, trial) and that the lawyer keep the trial retainer in a trust account pending resolution of the matter. If the matter goes to trial, the lawyer can draw upon the fees from the trust account but not before. If not, the trial fee should be returned to you without delay, once the criminal matter has been resolved without the need trial. It is highly recommended that you request that your attorney track his time for all work performed on your case.
Most first offense DUI trials take on average three-court days to complete and the average range of attorney fees for trial is between: $1,000 to $2,000 a day depending on experience.
There is some controversy surrounding this issue. Most fee disputes can be resolved by your local bar association. Most fee arbitrators do not favor “non-refundable” attorney fees. That’s because such fee arrangements can result in a unfair windfall for the lawyer at the expense of the client. This is especially true if the lawyer pleads your case out early in the court process, without having to make many court appearances or performing much motion work. Most bar associations will resolve the fee dispute equitably, based on the experience of the lawyer and how many actual attorney hours were peformed in your case.
QuestionsTo Ask Your DUI Lawyer “Before” Signing The Fee Agreement
Will you represent me at my DMV Hearing?
Will you work on an hourly fee basis and put my money in your trust account?
Will you subpoena the chemical test results and/or calibration records?
Will you make a motion to strike my prior convictions? (assuming priors)
Will you make a motion to dismiss if you determine the police acted illegally?
How many DUI trials have you had in the past five years? What is your win record? (This will include a hung jury since actual acquittals are rare)
In the past twelve months how many cases have you personally tried to verdict?
Will you be the one trying my case and handling the appearances?