Representing yourself in a DUI case is always a bad idea. The only exception is if you yourself are an experienced DUI lawyer.
The desire to go it alone is understandable, but on your own, you just don’t have the legal knowledge necessary to navigate your case. You may miss important deadlines, overlook evidence, or fail to pursue opportunities to weaken the prosecution’s case. These are mistakes that can lead not just to conviction, but to a sentence that’s more severe than it had to be. They can affect you for years to come.
To understand why it’s so important to have a lawyer, we’ll look at some of the common reasons people want to represent themselves, the drawbacks, and some of the alternatives.
Reasons You May Want to Represent Yourself in a DUI Case
The most common reason a DUI defendant wants to represent themselves is that they do not qualify for a public defender (free lawyer), and are worried about the cost of hiring a private lawyer. This is a reasonable fear. However, you may end up saving a little money now to owe a lot more later.
DUI penalties are expensive. Even in the best case scenario—a first time DUI, with no injuries and no other charges—the minimum you will end up paying is about $1,800 to the court, $500 for DUI school, and hundreds more in DMV fees and other fees. Plus, your insurance rates will go up.
When you consider the full cost of a DUI conviction, hiring a lawyer begins to make sense. Even if they can just get the charges reduced to something less severe, or get the prosecutor to offer you a deal, they could save you a substantial amount of money.
The other reason people don’t want to hire a lawyer is they think it won’t make a difference. You may believe your DUI case is unwinnable, but this is exactly where a lawyer helps most—they will know the strategies and arguments that could open up a hole in the case against you.
Problems with Representing Yourself
DUI law is extremely complex. California has multiple driving under the influence laws, with complicated penalties for each one. Without legal training it can be hard to determine even what possible penalties you face, let alone how to fight them.
A DUI defendant without a lawyer faces several problems:
- No familiarity with the evidence. You’re probably not familiar with breath test machines, blood lab procedures, arrest procedures, or what kind of testimony is most effective in court.
- Difficulty filing motions. Every step of the legal procedure, from subpoenaing the arresting officer to requesting breathalyzer data, requires filing formal requests or motions. If done wrong, they will be rejected.
- Bias in the system. Judges try to be fair to everyone, but may view you as a nuisance if you insist on representing yourself. Prosecutors will view you as easy pickings.
- No knowledge of DUI defense arguments. You may have what sounds like a great argument in your defense, and not know that this 98 out of 100 times this argument fails. Or you may never think of the one defense that could have actually worked.
- No previous case knowledge. Most of the law is based on precedent, or what happened in previous cases. If you don’t know how things went in other cases like yours, you cannot draw on those cases to make a defense of your own.
- Lack of reliable information. You may find yourself relying on a mixture of Wikipedia, opinions from friends, and online forums. It can be hard to get good, reliable sources on legal information—or even know the difference.
- Overwhelming work load. An attorney typically has an assistant, a paralegal, a reference library at their fingertips, and memberships to law websites where they can find information quickly. They need all of these resources on top of their experience and knowledge, because fighting a DUI charge is hard and exacting work. It can take you days to do what they would do in just half an hour.
- Unlikely to secure an offer. Prosecutors rightly assume you will not do a good job representing yourself in court. Accordingly, they have no incentive to offer you a plea deal to settle the case early.
Instead of going it alone, one option—if you’re eligible—is to ask for a public defender. These attorneys are provided free of cost to defendants who have a low income. They’re good lawyers. However, you should be aware that they tend to have little time for any individual case, and may have no special training on DUI defense. It’s possible that they will simply advise you to plead guilty.
The best option is to hire a DUI defense attorney. Our site exists to help DUI defendants like you find the most qualified and experienced attorneys. Every lawyer we work with offers a 100% FREE consultation.
To get your consultation, simply fill out the form to the right. The sooner you do, the sooner a professional can help you.