Driving under the influence is a crime in every state, but not all cases end in a conviction. Hiring a DUI lawyer is your first step toward avoiding jail time and exorbitant fines, and having a DUI on your permanent record.
Don't make the mistake of hiring anybody to defend your DUI case. If you were recently arrested for drinking and driving, we have five things to look for when hiring a lawyer.
Do You Need a DUI Lawyer?
DUI is a serious crime in South Carolina with serious consequences.
It's illegal to drive in South Carolina if your blood alcohol level (BAC) is .08% or higher. If you're underage, that level drops to .02% or higher. If you have a commercial driver's license, it's illegal to drive with a BAC of .04% or higher.
In some cases, you could receive a DUI or another alcohol-relation violation even if your BAC is under those legal limits.
The penalties include having your license suspended, installing a mandatory ignition interlock device, and attending a drug/alcohol safety course. The two biggest penalties are the hefty fines/fees and jail time.
The following are fines imposed by the State if convicted of a DUI with a BAC of .08% or less:
- First offense: $400
- Second offense: $2,000-$5,000
- Third offense: $3,800-$6,300
- Fourth or more: Set by the court to be no more than $10,000
These fines increase as the BAC percentage is higher or if you have a CDL.
South Carolina doesn't only hit your wallet if you're convicted of a DUI. If you're convicted of a second offense or more, you will serve jail time.
- First offense: Fine or 48 hours to 30 days imprisonment
- Second offense: Not less than 5 days up to a year
- Third offense: Not less than 60 days up to 3 years
- Fourth or more: Not less than 1 year up to 5 years
It's not only illegal to drive after you've been drinking, it's dangerous. South Carolina is well above the national average for DUI-related deaths.
From 2003-2012, the national average was 3.3 deaths per 100,000 people. In the Palmetto State, it was more than twice that at 7.6 per 100,000. That's one of the reasons the price to pay for a DUI in South Carolina is a hefty one.
With stakes this high, the reasons why you should hire a DUI lawyer are obvious. Finding a DUI attorney may have your DUI charges reduced or dismissed altogether.
These are the things to consider when hiring a DUI specialist:
1. Find a Local Attorney
Some lawyers advertise nationwide but don't understand the laws specific to your state. They also don't have relationships with the prosecutor or judge. This could lead them to convince you to plead guilty when your DUI case isn't open and shut.
If you insist on fighting the charges, will they be there to fight alongside you in court? Do they know what the prosecution is going to push for in penalties? Do they know the judge's DUI conviction rate?
A local attorney will have these answers. But it's imperative to hire a local DUI lawyer, not only a defense attorney. DUI laws change often and you need an attorney who understands the changes and prepares for them.
2. Who Will Handle Your Case?
Large law firms hire many paralegals, assistants, and other staff members to ease their heavy caseload. In other words, the DUI lawyer you meet with and hire may not be the same attorney who handles your case.
Ask in your initial consultation if they will be the lawyer representing you in court. You don't want a lawyer playing "pass the baton" when your future is at stake. If they can't answer in a definitive manner, you may want to reconsider hiring them.
Who will handle your case may play a part in how much they charge for their services.
3. How Much Do They Charge?
Ask them how much they charge and how it's billed. This is an awkward question, but it's better to get it out in the open from the start.
Before you meet the lawyer, have your finances in order. Know how much you can pay at once and in installments.
Hiring a lawyer is not cheap but there are attorneys who will agree to a payment plan. Some may have other options like a junior partner or other legal specialist handling the brunt of your case.
The lawyer can estimate a figure for your defense but it won't be set in stone. There will be many factors that determine their fee but ask if they have a ballpark figure. Explain your budget and ask if their fee includes the investigation, file review, and evidence collection.
4. What is their Track Record?
There are many lawyers that have a lot of experience preparing for DUI cases but they've never been to court. If you're facing a felony, you want an attorney who has presented cases in court.
Ask them about their DUI defense record. How many cases have they won? How many ended in a plea deal?
If you're facing jail time, you need an experienced lawyer who isn't intimidated in a courtroom.
5. Have They Ever Faced Discipline from the Bar Association?
If an attorney has faced discipline from the Bar Association, you want to know. It could be an indication of his or her ethics and level of professionalism.
You want a DUI lawyer who knows the rules, not one who breaks them. The last thing you need is to walk into court and be behind the curve because your attorney has a bad reputation.
The American Bar Association can help find local attorneys in good standing.
Your Future Deserves a Defense
At De Bruin Law Firm, we understanding hiring a DUI lawyer is a decision that you shouldn't take lightly. That's why we pride ourselves on being open and honest with our clients at the initial evaluation.
Our knowledgeable DUI attorney will seek to resolve your case with the most favorable outcome. We work to make sure you understand the options and prepare you for your day in court.
A DUI is on your record forever. We work to make sure it isn't. Contact us today and schedule your free evaluation.