When people face a charge for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol, it’s only natural for them to wonder what the average cost for a DUI lawyer is.
There are two major considerations in looking at the cost of hiring a DUI lawyer. First, almost all lawyers offer a free initial consultation to discuss your case. Your attorney will listen to what happened, the circumstances surrounding the charge, and offer advice. It’s prudent to talk to a lawyer if you are charged with a DUI, because DUI cases are complex. Your lawyer knows the law surrounding DUI arrests, has experience litigating DUI cases, and can offer insight into both possible consequences and possible defenses against a charge. Some attorneys will defend against a DUI charge for a flat fee.
The Potential Costs of a DUI Conviction
Second, although hiring a DUI attorney will cost money, the cost of hiring a lawyer is always less than the consequences of not having one.
But DUI convictions can be extremely costly, for several reasons. A lawyer can help you reduce the potential costs in multiple ways.
How are DUIs costly? First, they can cost you in fines levied for being found guilty. Second, you may receive jail time that can impact your ability to hold a job, or to obtain one once you are released from jail. Third, your driver’s license can be suspended. Suspensions can last a year or 18 months, depending on your blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of arrest and whether you have received prior convictions (and how many).
Many people find it difficult to commute to work without a driver’s license. Fourth, you may be mandated to place an interlock ignition device (IID) on your car. If an IID senses you are impaired by alcohol, it will lock the ignition, meaning you can’t drive. This, too, could make a commute to work impossible.
Finally, if you have been in an accident while DUI, people injured in the accident can sue you for damages. If the incident caused a death, family members and representatives of the estate may be able to sue you for wrongful death. While Pennsylvania’s no-fault insurance may cover some damages, they may not cover all the damages for which you are judged liable. You may also lose insurance coverage or see your premium costs rise a great deal as a result of the accident.
Don’t rule out the reputational effects of a DUI conviction, either. Some employers may not want to hire, or continue to employ, a person convicted of drinking while drunk—or even thought to drive while drunk. This might be especially true if you’ve been in an accident causing injuries or death. Your loved ones might be deeply disappointed in you or frustrated with the situation, negatively impacting your relationships.
All in all, a DUI can affect both your economic livelihood and your personal life. A lawyer can help you minimize or avoid entirely the potential toll.
How a DUI Lawyer Can Help
Arguing Against a Conviction
A DUI lawyer can help you in several different ways. The first is arguing to have your charge thrown out or to find you not guilty if it goes to trial.
Police officers are required by law to do several things in a DUI arrest. First, they can never pull you over randomly and either search your car or compel you to walk under observation or take a breathalyzer or other chemical test. They can only do these things if they have probable cause. Probable cause can stem from your behavior or their observation (if you are driving erratically, for example, or they see liquor containers in the car). It can also stem from a traffic violation that causes them to pull you over, if they see indications of alcohol use or behavior that indicates it.
Second, they must follow certain rules in administering a test. They must observe you 20 minutes before giving a breathalyzer and cannot administer a test more than two hours after you’ve last driven.
Third, they must advise you of your Miranda rights (to remain silent and to have an attorney). If you invoke these rights, you cannot be questioned without an attorney present.
If any of these are violated, your attorney can argue that your arrest should be thrown out and evidence obtained against these rules and laws not heard.
There are also a number of possible defenses against a DUI charge. Breathalyzer and other chemical tests can be inaccurate for several reasons, including improper administration and laboratory errors. Some medical conditions, such as neurological impairment and even allergies, can make people look or act in ways that may make a police officer assume DUI as a cause, but have nothing to do with drinking at all.
You may also be able to plead to a lesser charge, such as reckless driving in which alcohol was involved (a wet reckless), which is not a DUI and involves lesser penalties.
The second way a DUI lawyer can help is by negotiating for the lowest possible penalty if you are convicted.
Pennsylvania has three levels of penalties, which are based on the blood alcohol content (BAC) you allegedly had. The three levels are:
- General impairment – A BAC of 0.08 percent to 0.099 percent
- High BAC – A BAC of 0.10 percent to 0.159 percent
- Highest BAC – A BAC of 0.16 percent or above
Penalties for a DUI conviction can include fines, probation or jail time, driver’s license suspension, mandated treatment, and the requirement that an ignition interlock device (IID) be placed in your vehicle. The penalties rise depending on the BAC. Separately, they can also rise for second or subsequent DUI convictions.
If you are charged with general impairment, for example, the fines range from $300 to $500. If you are charged with a high BAC, the fines range from $500 to $10,000. If you are charged with highest BAC, the fines range from $1,000 to $10,000.
Because these fines are a range, your attorney may be able to argue for a lower fine than you would receive without an attorney.
The same is true for all the other potential penalties. Jail time, for example, can range from six months of probation to five years, depending upon the BAC and whether you are been convicted of a DUI previously. License suspension ranges from nothing (for the first offense under general impairment) to 18 months. Your license can be revoked. An IID can be required for up to a year. Your attorney can craft an argument that these penalties should be the lowest possible.
A DUI attorney can also appeal a license suspension if being without a license makes it difficult or impossible to hold a job or go to school.
If you need further information or assistance about the cost of a DUI lawyer, contact a licensed attorney.