A charge of Driving Under the Influence or DUI can result in significant legal consequences. Every state outlaws driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you are pulled over by law enforcement and found to be high or inebriated, you could face steep fines and jail time.
Regardless of whether or not your DUI is charged as a misdemeanor or felony, you have the right to retain legal counsel to represent you in the case. However, the average cost for hiring a private DUI attorney ranges from $1000 to $2500 in most states. When you cannot afford to retain a lawyer of your own, you can have a legal aid DUI attorney appointed for you.
Legal Aid DUI Attorney Overview
State legal aid programs typically do not appoint lawyers to represent DUI clients. Instead, these attorneys come from one of the state’s public defenders office.
Public defenders can work exclusively for this office or be private practice attorneys who offer their time and services for public defense cases. Among other matters, they routinely take DUI cases where the defendant is facing substantial jail time or other criminal punishments.
Public defenders fulfill an important obligation of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees the right to legal representation to clients who cannot afford to hire attorneys of their own. When drivers are arrested for DUI, they are read their Miranda rights. These rights provide the opportunity for them to retain legal counsel and have an attorney appointed to them if they cannot afford one of their own.
There is no set of guidelines to qualify for a DUI public defender. Defendants will be screened for their income and assets to determine if they can partially pay for their legal services. However, DUI defendants will not be expected to reimburse their legal costs to the state if they use or qualify for government benefits like:
- SSI or SSDI
- Food stamps
- Cash welfare
- Reduced or free public school lunches
- Section 8 housing
Defendants who are minors likewise can likewise qualify for free DUI legal aid services if the income of their parents or guardians are at or below the federal poverty level.
Quality of Legal Aid DUI Attorney Services
People who are provided with a DUI public defender sometimes worry that they will not receive the same quality of services that paying clients receive from private attorneys or law firms. It is true that public defenders are typically overworked and understaffed. They sometimes do not have as much time to devote to a public defendant’s case as they would like.
Still, they are legally obligated to provide quality legal services to every client, private paying or not, that they represent. Despite their heavy workloads, they must provide clients with the legal counsel needed for defendants to be an active part of their own cases. Defendants actually have the right to fire their public defender and ask the court for a new one if they feel like they are not getting the representation that they need to avoid significant jail time.
Further, public defenders are typically well-acquainted with the local court system. Because they work so many cases, they are well-versed in what is expected of them and their clients in the courtroom.
They are familiar and many times on good grounds with the courtroom staff including the judge and bailiff. This courtroom experience can work in clients’ favor when they want the best outcome for their cases.
Public defenders also have a wrongful reputation for taking plea deals instead of taking cases to trial. In fact, many legal aid DUI attorneys prefer to take cases to trial rather than take a plea. They welcome the opportunity to investigate circumstances of DUI cases including:
- Whether or not the traffic stop was lawful
- If a client’s blood alcohol content was over the legal limit
- If the defendant was Mirandized at the time of the arrest
- If the client’s rights were violated
Legal aid DUI lawyers can present any evidence that they uncover in court and assist clients in escaping the severest criminal penalties.
It should be noted, however, that DUI public defenders can only represent clients in court. They cannot provide representation at DMV or administrative hearings that often precede a DUI trial. When clients want any evidence presented at these hearings to be reviewed before being used against them at trial, they need to hire an attorney to counsel them.
How Do Legal Aid DUI Attorneys Get Paid?
DUI clients who are appointed public defenders for their cases often worry that their attorneys will take a plea deal rather than argue a case in court. They believe that their lawyers will want to avoid getting on the wrong side of the entity that is responsible for paying them.
However, legal aid DUI lawyers are legally and ethically bound to represent their clients to the best of their ability. They can and will take a case to trial if it is in the best interests of the client. They will get paid the same amount of money for their time and services regardless of whether or not they take a plea deal or try a case in court.
Still, clients whose incomes are higher than the federal poverty level could be asked to partially reimburse the public defender’s office for their own legal services. Otherwise, public defenders are paid from state or municipal funds allocated to the public defender’s office.
They are paid either an hourly rate or a flat fee. Hourly rates typically come with a cap for legal fees. If an attorney’s fees exceed their allotted cap, they have to ask the court for permission to seek compensation for the excess costs.
Legal aid DUI attorneys represent clients who cannot afford to hire an attorney of their own after they are arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These lawyers provide legal services that can keep people out of jail and help them avoid other criminal penalties. They are reimbursed through state and city funds that are distributed to the local public defender’s office and rarely collect money from the clients that they represent.