The US Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to an attorney. In theory, this means you can get a lawyer for free in a criminal case. But in the reality of the Los Angeles criminal justice system, many drivers charged with DUI do not qualify for a free lawyer.
No matter what your circumstances, if you’ve been charged with a DUI in California, it’s in your best interest to speak to a private DUI attorney. This may be a better option than seeking a free attorney for three reasons:
- You may not qualify for a free lawyer
- You never know if it’s free until it’s over
- A private DUI attorney may get you better results
Let’s look at each of these factors and how they might apply to your case.
#1 You May Not Qualify for a Free Lawyer
The “free” lawyer you have a right to is known as a public defender. They are managed by the Office of the Los Angeles County Public Defender. Officially, this office’s job is:
“To provide superior legal representation of all persons… who have been accused of criminal misconduct, but are currently unable to afford to hire private defense counsel.”
Unfortunately, the Public Defender’s Office has a very narrow definition of what it means to be “unable to afford” a lawyer. There are single moms, unemployed individuals, and people struggling to work two or three jobs who wouldn’t qualify for a free lawyer. To make matters worse, there is no set income level that determines whether you qualify or not. You don’t really know unless you apply.
In general, the Public Defender’s office looks at several factors when deciding if you qualify:
- Your income
- Your debt, if any
- Whether you are responsible for feeding a family
- Your assets on paper
Often, the decision of whether you can qualify comes down to a simpler criterion: could you afford to pay bail? If you paid bail, you may be assumed to have enough money to hire your own attorney. That leaves many low-income defendants with a difficult decision: do you want to spend months in jail just to get a free attorney?
Of course, this isn’t always the case. Public Defenders do represent individuals who are out in the community, not in custody, as well. But whether you paid bail is a very real factor in their decision.
#2 You Never Know If It’s Free Until It’s Over
Let’s say you request the help of the Public Defender’s office, and they review your income and tell you they will represent you. Does that mean it will be free? Not necessarily.
After your case is over, whether you win or lose, the judge may conduct a hearing to see if you can pay for the legal services you were given. They might decide you can pay for the entire bill or just a part of it. In other words, you could end up paying for your “free” lawyer after all.
#3 A Private DUI Attorney Can Do More to Help Your Case
There are two main factors that determine how much a lawyer can do to help you:
- How much time they can spend on your case
- How much experience they have
Public defenders are at a disadvantage in both of these areas.
Legal work takes time. It involves careful research, not only on the evidence in your case, but on case law and previous court decisions. This research is what successful DUI defenses are made of. But public defenders typically don’t have the time to put this level of effort into your case. They are capable lawyers, but they’re hobbled by a lack of resources. Most public defenders are rarely at their desks because they have so many clients to talk to.
Experience is also an issue for public defenders. By necessity, a public defender has to be a generalist. They might work on a DUI case one day and a domestic abuse case the next day. They simply do not have the focused experience of working one DUI case after another and learning all the strategies that work. This limits how well they can defend you.
The bottom line is: the best thing you can do for your case is to speak to a dedicated, private DUI lawyer.
You Can Speak to a Private DUI Attorney for Free
Private lawyers have to charge something. But some DUI attorneys, even some of the best in Los Angeles, will offer you an initial discussion of your case for free. They will meet with you, review all the factors in your case, and give you their professional opinion on how you should proceed and what your chances are. When a DUI lawyer gives you this first consultation for free, it means you can get real legal advice without spending a penny. And you can decide for yourself whether hiring a lawyer will make a difference.
Our site exists to help you get your free consultation. We work only with top Los Angeles DUI lawyers who give free consultations. Don’t face a DUI charge without professional help. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 862-0199 and get your FREE consultation today.