What Happens if I Can’t Afford to Hire a California DUI Attorney?
Many people believe they cannot afford to hire a private lawyer when arrested for driving under the influence in California. However, before you give up the idea of having a private lawyer represent you in a DUI case, schedule a free consultation with one of our expert California DUI attorneys here.
Most DUI lawyers offer free case evaluations. Therefore, your starting point should be seeking legal advice from a qualified criminal defense attorney who handles DUI cases by asking for a free consultation. You might be surprised at how affordable it can be to hire a DUI lawyer in California.
If I Can’t Afford a DUI Lawyer, How Do I Follow the Arraignment Paperwork Stating I Need to Bring an Attorney?
The arraignment is one of the first steps in the criminal process. At the arraignment, the judge formally states the criminal charges against you. Then, they will inform you of your rights, including the right to be represented by legal counsel. The judge will also tell you that if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the court can appoint an attorney for you.
Unfortunately, that second statement can be misleading. First, you must meet the qualifications to have the court appoint a public defender to handle your DUI case. We discuss those qualifications in another section of this article.
Lastly, the judge asks you to enter a plea. You have three choices. You can plead guilty to the DUI charges. If so, the judge may sentence you or set a sentencing hearing. If you plead not guilty, your case is placed on the trial docket. Your third option is a plea of “no contest.” That means you do not admit to driving under the influence, but you are not fighting the DUI charges. Again, the judge could sentence you then or set a sentencing hearing.
If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer or find a private attorney before the arraignment, you can plead not guilty. Pleading not guilty gives you time to seek legal advice to learn about your options for fighting drunk driving charges. You can also enter a guilty plea at a later time if you determine that is your best option for resolving the DUI case.
Getting a Lawyer’s Opinion About Your Case
The punishments for driving under the influence in California can be severe. If you face felony California DUI charges, your prison sentence could be more than 10 years, depending on the facts of your case. Even if you are facing misdemeanor California DUI charges, you could spend up to a year in jail, pay high fines, and have your driver’s license suspended.
Therefore, getting the opinion of an experienced California DUI lawyer is crucial. Most DUI attorneys offer free consultations for individuals facing drunk driving charges. Even if you must pay a small fee for the initial consultation, the legal advice you receive could significantly affect how you handle your case. At the very least, you may receive answers to legal questions that can help you decide how to proceed.
When Do You Need a Lawyer for a DUI/DWI Charge in Criminal Court?
It is always wise to have legal representation whenever you face criminal charges, including DUI offenses. Prosecutors have training, experience, and resources that you do not possess. Therefore, you are disadvantaged if you try to negotiate a DUI plea agreement on your own or represent yourself in court.
Prosecutors want guilty verdicts. Therefore, most of them have standard DUI plea deals they offer first-time misdemeanor DUI offenders with no aggravating factors and a clean criminal record. A standard offer is likely to be the same whether you have legal counsel or represent yourself.
However, the prosecution might not consider any mitigating factors or weaknesses in the case that could result in a lower sentence for you.
Experienced DUI defense attorneys investigate the circumstances of your DUI arrest. They analyze the reason the police officers made the traffic stop to determine if there could have been a violation of your Constitutional rights. Officers must have reasonable suspicion or belief that you committed a crime or are committing a crime to pull you over. Otherwise, it could result in an unlawful arrest.
Likewise, your lawyer analyzes whether the arresting officer had probate cause for a DUI arrest. If not, the evidence against you could be inadmissible in court.
DUI attorneys also review all evidence the prosecution has against you to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the case. Then, based on the attorney’s evaluation of the evidence and the case against you, the lawyer advises you whether accepting a standard plea deal is advisable in your situation.
A skilled DUI lawyer might be able to use the evidence in the case to negotiate a better plea deal. Likewise, if you have one or more viable DUI defenses, it might not be wise to accept a plea bargain. Therefore, contacting a lawyer to discuss misdemeanor DUI charges and DUI felony offenses is in your best interest before you make any decisions regarding your case.
How Much Does a Private Attorney Charge for a DUI?
Most DUI private attorneys charge an hourly rate for their time. They generally ask for a retainer fee when you hire them, which could be anywhere between $1,000 to $5,000. A few attorneys might charge a flat fee for a simple misdemeanor DUI case.
The fee depends on many factors, including the charges against you, the attorney’s legal experience, and whether the attorney specializes in DUI cases. The more time the attorney works on the case, the higher the fee. Also, the attorneys’ fees increase if the case goes to trial.
How Much Does a DUI Lawyer Cost in California?
How much you’ll spend on a California DUI attorney will vary depending on several things. Factors that determine the cost of hiring a DUI lawyer in California include:
- The complexity of the case;
- Whether the case is a felony or misdemeanor charge;
- Your criminal history (i.e., Is this offense a first-time DUI, or do you have multiple DUI convictions?);
- Whether the attorney has experience handling DUI cases or the attorney just starting to practice law and has minimal experience;
- The DUI attorney’s current caseload;
- The location of the DUI case;
- The lawyer’s experience and reputation;
- Whether the case is expected to go to trial; and
- Whether the primary attorney or an associate attorney handles does most of the work.
As discussed above, the cost of a DUI lawyer can range from $500 to a few thousand dollars. It all depends on the specific issues relevant to your case. Fees vary widely for a DUI attorney because each case is unique. The key is to take advantage of the free consultation offered by DUI lawyers to obtain basic legal advice to help you decide what you need to do about your case.
What Is Meant When Someone Says “Low-Cost” DUI Attorney?
Beware of “low-cost” DUI attorneys. These attorneys generally do not have very much experience. Therefore, they take cases for lower fees to gain experience. In other words, they will use your case as part of their learning curve.
Another problem with low-cost attorneys is that you generally receive poorer quality of legal services. For example, the lawyers may not work as hard on your case to develop a solid DUI defense that could win the case or result in a better plea deal.
Deciding Whether to Represent Yourself, Go with the Public Defender, or Retain a Private Attorney in a DUI Case
It can be challenging and frustrating to decide whether to hire a private DUI lawyer, get a public defender, or represent yourself. Any reputable attorney will advise you that you should always seek legal counsel for a DUI arrest. A reputable DUI lawyer will tell you if you do not need a lawyer for your case. Therefore, taking advantage of the free case evaluation or low-cost consultation with a highly respected and experienced DUI attorney with an excellent track record is generally the best first step.
However, if you cannot afford an attorney or to pay for a consultation, there are other options.
How to Get Legal Help if You Can’t Afford a Lawyer
If you can’t afford a lawyer, you may qualify to have a public defender handle your case, or you might be able to apply for legal aid or find a pro-bono attorney.
How Can I Get a Private Attorney for Free?
Some individuals might qualify for legal aid. Legal aid provides an attorney at a significantly reduced price or free of charge. Attorneys who offer their services free of charge are called pro-bono lawyers. You can contact The State Bar of California for a list of pro bono groups and court pro bono programs.
Do You Have Too Much Money to Get Legal Aid?
If you do not qualify for legal aid or a pro bono attorney, contact the court about having a public defender appointed to your case. You might be required to pay an application fee to request a public defender, but the court does not charge attorneys’ fees for their services.
What Is a Public Defender?
A public defender is an attorney who works for the state. Their job is to represent individuals who have been judged “legally indigent.” If you are labeled as legally indigent, it simply means you cannot afford to hire a lawyer to represent you in a criminal case.
It is important to note that public defenders are licensed attorneys who only handle criminal matters. However, many public defenders do not have a great deal of experience in DUI specific matters and have high caseloads. They also do not have the resources private lawyers have to investigate and pursue evidence that could help win your DUI case.
However, ask the court to appoint a public defender if you cannot afford an attorney. Having a public defender is better than having no legal advice.
Is There a Fixed Amount of Income for Public Defenders?
You must meet specific financial requirements to qualify for a public defender. Contact the public defender’s office in the county of your DUI case. Generally, the office provides the financial forms and applications you must complete to begin the process of qualifying for a public defender.
Talk to a DUI Defense Attorney in California
Regardless of your situation, if the police arrest you for DUI, you need to talk with a DUI defense attorney as soon as possible. Waiting to talk with a lawyer could result in driver’s license suspension and other penalties that could have been avoided had you been represented by a lawyer. Schedule a free consultation with one of our expert California DUI attorneys here.
Interested in this topic or want to learn more about DUIs in California? Check out our blog, which is updated regularly!