Hiring a DUI lawyer is worth it because you need somebody experienced to look at all facets of your case and listen not just to what you have to say about what happened, but to read the police reports and evaluate your entire case. For example, an attorney will know whether or not an expert witness is needed to rebut the State’s case against you. When you talk to DUI attorneys, listen carefully to what they say about what they will do for you and how they will handle your case.
Some attorneys will make promises, but that is unethical. There is no way to guarantee a result in any case. No lawyer can do that. Someone who does that is just telling you what you want to hear. They might tell you won’t lose your license or you’re not going to jail, but don’t fall for promises. Think critically when you are interviewing attorneys. Look for someone who is honest with you from that initial consultation. That’s what we do well here; we are honest and we really do look under every rock and make sure that we have evaluated every possible defense before we tell you how we can proceed with your case.
There is that old adage: “the attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client,” and it’s true. If you act as your own lawyer, then quite honestly, you are being foolish. You don’t know the law, that’s the first issue. You may not know to request discovery. If you get discovery, you won’t know if anything is missing from it. If you go to trial, the judge will hold you to the rules of evidence. If you aren’t an attorney, you probably don’t know the rules of evidence. You’re not going to be able to represent yourself in any meaningful way because you’re not an attorney. That’s okay, you’re not expected to be, but it’s a very dumb idea to represent yourself on a serious charge like a DWI because there’s so much at stake. With a competent attorney, if you do end up pleading guilty, or are found guilty after a trial, it’s because there wasn’t any reasonable doubt that you were guilty. Representing yourself, unless you’re charged with something very minor like a parking ticket, is just not a very good idea.
Public defenders are available on DUI cases if you meet certain financial requirements. But they have a very large caseload. They may not be able to devote the same amount of time to your case as a private attorney will, and if they need to hire an expert, that may not be able to. There is a way that public defenders can get money from the township to hire experts, but it doesn’t happen often. If you truly can’t afford a private attorney, have no family, have nobody than can help you pay for a private attorney, then of course you should apply for and get a public defender. A public defender is a lawyer too, and having one representing you is better than not having a lawyer at all. You will find that with a private attorney, you will get a lot more attention, you will be able to talk directly with your attorney and he or she is going to know your case inside and out.
In New Jersey, the answer to the question “To blow or not to blow” is “blow.” In some states, it might be advisable not to blow. In New Jersey, if you don’t blow, you will be charged with refusal, which is a separate offense. In many other states, refusal is just an administrative issue and is dealt with by the DMV. Not so in New Jersey. You can be convicted of refusing to give a breath test without even being convicted of the DWI. In order to ask you to provide a breath sample, the officer has to have probable cause to believe that you driving under the influence, but that’s it. They don’t have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were actually driving under the influence. You can be convicted of refusal, even when there is insufficient proof that you were driving drunk. The penalties for refusal are very similar to the penalties for DUI. Whether or not you are going to be over the legal limit, it is always better in New Jersey to blow and not refuse to take the breath test.
First of all, standardized field sobriety tests are not actually pass/fail tests. They are scored based on clues. Many police officers’ reports say that the subject failed the field sobriety tests. If you do “fail” them, or don’t do well on them, you may be arrested, but an arrest is not equivalent to a conviction. If you aren’t given the tests in the prescribed manner, the results are not valid. Even if the officer says you failed, maybe you didn’t perform well because the officer didn’t tell you what to do in the right way, and maybe the results of the test can be suppressed because of that. So, it’s certainly not the end of the world.
Many people say that they can’t perform the tests when they are sober. If you’ve got injuries to your knees, your legs, your back, any sort of vertigo, any sort of problem that might affect your performance, these tests end up getting thrown out, or the results found invalid. So, something that at the outset really looks pretty bad for you might not in the end turn out to be the end of the story.
There are a couple of things you can do. First, you can try to say the alphabet backwards. I don’t even think I could do it sober. It’s a pretty difficult task. That is not one of the standardized field sobriety tests, so it has no real evidential value. It is a difficult task for a sober person, let alone somebody who may have had something to drink or too much to drink. If a sober person can’t do this, then it’s a ridiculous task.
Again, it’s not really indicative of whether or not you’re drunk. The police officers are not taught in the academy, or in their DWI detection classes, that counting backwards has any evidential value, but that doesn’t seem to stop them from using these tests. In New Jersey, you do not have to do the walk-and-turn test, the one-leg stand test, the finger test, count backwards or recite the alphabet backwards. You have the right to remain silent and not do these tests. The police won’t tell you that, but in New Jersey, the fact is you do not have to take those tests, which may or may not hurt you.
Do not refuse the breath test. In New Jersey, refusals are a completely separate offense from DWIs. You’re going to be read a statement called the Standard Statement, which tells you all of your rights and that you’ve been charged with a DWI and that you do not have the right to refuse a breath test. In the context of the breath testing, you don’t have the right to talk to a lawyer before you take the breath test, but right afterwards you have the right to be independently tested as a check on the police breath testing machine. What you do not have the right to do in New Jersey is refuse to take the breath test altogether. If you don’t take it, there are severe consequences identical to a DWI – you can lose your license, and you can be convicted of both the DUI and the refusal and get double the penalties.
It is absolutely imperative that you understand that when you drive on New Jersey roads, you have given your implied consent to take breath tests. If you don’t take the breath tests when asked, you’re going to be convicted of refusal and you’re not going to be happy with the consequences.
Admitting you’ve had some alcohol is not the best idea when you’ve been pulled over, but that’s because it’s not a good idea to say anything to the police at all. Don’t answer any questions other than “What’s your name?” That’s it. Tell them your name and give them your driver’s license, registration and insurance. Get out of the car if they tell you to because you have to, but other than that, don’t answer their questions.
Every attorney is going to tell you that you shouldn’t have done that, and not to do it in the future. You don’t have to answer their questions and admission of alcohol consumption is certainly not proof of intoxication. Even the cops know it isn’t absolute proof of intoxication, they just use it as a way to confirm their suspicions that you’ve had something to drink. The vast majority of them will be able to smell, as they call it, the odor of an alcoholic beverage either on your breath or coming from inside of your car. So, they’re just using it to confirm their suspicion and advance their investigation by getting an admission out of you.
In order to hear “Not guilty, case dismissed,” you’re really going to have to hire a very competent, experienced attorney who specializes in DWI defense.
If you hire somebody who doesn’t specialize in DWI cases, they’re likely not going to know where to go with it. They’re not going to be educated on the most recent case law. They won’t know all the different defenses that are available in a DWI case. It’s very unlikely that you’re going to get the kind of representation you need in order to get an acquittal at trial, or have the prosecutor realize that your case needs to be dismissed.
There is no easy way out in a DWI case. These are very difficult cases; that’s why you need somebody who is very experienced in this area. It’s not an area of law where you can expect to win with just any lawyer. You have to really do your research, and you have to be really comfortable with the experienced lawyer that you choose.