People often ask themselves this question when they are arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI). Sometimes they rationalize, “well it is a misdemeanor, maybe I should just represent myself.” That's true, a first, second, or third conviction for DUI is a misdemeanor, not a felony, although that third conviction would be considered an aggravated misdemeanor which means the penalties upon conviction will be that much more serious and includes a mandatory four-month jail sentence.
However, the purpose of this blog post is not to delve into DUI sentencing guidelines but to answer the title question. And, with respect to that question, what people really should be asking is, how can I NOT afford to hire a DUI defense attorney?
First, I turn to the issue of a non-lawyer representing themself. DUI defense is basically a subset, and very specialized area, of criminal defense, and there are some criminal defense attorneys that don't do DUI defense. That's because, in addition to the normal criminal and constitutional issues that arise in a criminal prosecution, with DUI defense there are various scientific and technical minutiae that DUI attorneys constantly study in order to adequately prepare for DUI trials. So, it stands to reason that, if there are some criminal defense attorneys who steer clear of DUI cases, why on Earth would a nonlawyer decide to defend themself. DUI defense attorneys are better trained and prepared to successfully defend these types of cases.
Secondly, obviously, no attorney can offer any client a guarantee as to how her case will turn out, but, when considering the cost of a conviction, conducting a simple cost-benefit analysis will clearly illustrate for most people that they are far better off procuring the services of a DUI attorney than not. Consider the following typical numbers for a first offense conviction of DUI per se (0.08 BAC or above) in Georgia:
Fine - $300 to $1,000
40 hours of community service
Drug and alcohol risk reduction program $360
License suspension for 12 months
License reinstatement fee of $200 to $210
Surcharges in addition to the fine, which in some cases equals about another 30% of the fined amount
Increase in car insurance rate, that's if your carrier doesn't cancel your policy altogether
Monthly probation costs
The monthly cost of an interlock ignition device (IID) if by chance you're granted a restricted license
Some of the items above are hard to quantify but there certainly will be a cost associated with it. For example, 40 hours of community services are 40 hours of your time and time is money. Many people can't just give up 40 hours of their time without giving up something. Whether it be, taking time off from work, using annual or sick leave, etc. those 40 hours are going to come at a cost.
Finally, what could end up being by far the costliest consequence of a DUI conviction, is the effect it will have on your current job and or future job prospects. For starters, if you have a commercial drivers' license and thus drive for a living, just as with a regular, it's getting suspended upon conviction, if not sooner. Obviously, the financial ramifications could be devastating because now you've got to find another line of work. Most employers don't have a strict policy on employing someone with a DUI conviction however, if they become aware of it during the interview process, that just gives them all the more reason to put your application at the bottom of the pile, especially if there are a lot of other candidates who are fully qualified, and don't have a DUI conviction.
Then of course there are quite a few jobs that will render you unqualified due to the conviction. Many jobs in the medical field, the military, and any position that requires passing any sort of heightened background check or security clearance. Yeah, it looks like when you add up all the possible costs of a conviction, the money you pay for a DUI defense attorney would be well spent.