At the outset, I’ll admit that the tone of this article is sarcastic. My DUI Practice involves handling real-life cases for real-life people. From time to time, I hear about someone having spent a royal fortune in an attempt to “beat” a case, only to wind up “discovering” that the case against them was rock-solid. Then they cut a Plea deal, having spent thousands more than they otherwise would or should have if they had been told, up front, what the real chances were that some high-priced Lawyer could just get the whole thing “thrown out.” That makes me mad.
I find it frustrating, at times, to accept that people are far more willing to shell out money for what they want to hear, rather than for what they need to, or ought to, hear. In other words, the appeal of having a DUI case dismissed outright is so strong, that any number of people will plunk down a ton of cash just for the chance to buy into that hope.
So that got me wondering about all those Hollywood Celebrities who seem to get popped every week for DUI. Why is it that for every one I hear about getting arrested, I hear about another being placed on Probation for an earlier arrest?
From what I can tell, they certainly have the money to hire some big-time Lawyer who can challenge the evidence every which way under the sun in an effort to get the case dismissed. And if getting the case dismissed costs only what can be called “pocket change” to them, why would they do anything else?
Because, for a very good reason, the overwhelming majority of DUI cases are resolved by a Plea bargain. Most cases are “solid.” For almost every case where some aspect of the DUI process has been held to be unlawful, or legally unsound, there has been a corrective action on the part of the Police to eliminate the problem. The DUI process is designed to comply with the Law. When some aspect of that process is found to not be in compliance, and adjustment is made.
Why do you think we have Breathayzer tests in the first place? To provide evidence of a person’s Bodily Alcohol Content (BAC) at or near the time of their arrest. While there is a certain protocol that must be followed when administering these tests, and while there is a certain “margin of error” inherent in these tests (and every test I’ve ever heard of, for that matter), those cases which are so profoundly flawed in failing to follow that required protocol, or in which the margin of error, for some reason or another, renders the test results so unreliable, are the exception, and not the rule.
Otherwise, every single celebrity popped for a DUI would just “Lawyer up” and get the case dismissed. But that doesn’t happen.
This is not to say there can’t be fatal problems with a case. The reason for the Police Stop of a Driver is huge in determining whether a case can proceed or not. But, make no mistake about it, Judges are human, and when the Judge knows the person trying to get a case knocked out was almost certainly over the legal limit, but is in Court, with a sharp Lawyer, trying to prove the Police reason for the stop was not legally adequate, how inclined do you think that Judge is to dismiss the case if he or she can avoid doing so?
Imagine, for a moment, that you were made Judge for a day, and you’re sitting in Court when one of these challenges comes before you. You hear the evidence, and the right decision could really go one way, or the other. What would you do? Would you set a likely Drunk Driver free, or would you “give” the Police a little latitude in doing their job? Think about it.
There is a happy middle-ground in this landscape. If fighting every aspect of the case, and spending a fortune doing it, is like having “surgery,” then just settling to plead the case out might be compared to getting a “prescription” for the problem.
A good Doctor, will, however, examine the patient, and their tests, to determine the correct course of action. Most cases are solid, and, to continue our analogy, can be handled with a “prescription.” Some cases, however, are unusual, and require “surgery.” Finding out which path to follow requires analyzing the evidence, and being honest with the Client. Being honest means that you tell them the way it is, rather than the way it can, or should be, theoretically speaking.
Citing a million examples of what could be wrong with the case against someone, and then charging for the trial of the century in the blind hope of finding one of those exceptional problems, big enough to get the case knocked out, is more about telling people what they want to hear, more than anything else.
In other words, telling someone about all kinds things that can be wrong about the evidence, and providing a laundry list of potential problems with that evidence, or how it was gathered, does not make it any more likely that those problems do or do not exist in their particular case. A DUI case is either solid or not. And as we noted earlier, those cases which aren’t solid enough to legally proceed are the exception, rather than the rule.
That middle ground I mentioned earlier requires the Lawyer to carefully examine the facts of each case and make that determination. To imply that the overwhelming majority of DUI Lawyers just want a quick “in and out” for a Fee and a Plea Deal means implying that all but a small handful are misleading their Client’s or at least selling them short. Given Lawyer’s reputation for arguing about everything, that doesn’t make sense. Especially when Lawyers get PAID to argue. It’s just that they should be paid to argue about things that can benefit the Client, and not just eat up, or justify an exorbitant Fee.
Instead, I think it means the vast majority of Lawyers bring about the best outcome in the vast majority of DUI cases.
If “beating” a case was only a matter of hiring a certain Lawyer, then no rich and famous people, and no Hollywood celebrities, would ever wind up on Probation for a DUI. Yet when is the last time you heard of someone famous “beating” a DUI charge?
All of this reminds me of about the only bit of financial advice I have ever remembered or followed. Years ago, a very well respected Wealth Manager was taking calls on the radio, and told the caller the best thing he could do to manage his money was to “watch what the smart money does.”
In other words, see what the big Financial Institutions invest in, and what they avoid. The brainstorm idea that promises huge returns might not be as good as it first sounds. If it was, the “smart money” would be all over it. Instead, the “smart money” generally avoids things that sound to good to be true, opting instead for slow, steady, sure growth.
The same holds true for DUI cases. The “smart money” spent on a DUI embraces the facts of a particular case, rather than the hopes generated by a few, exceptional cases. Unless you get lucky, you might get very unlucky. And you’ll spend a King’s ransom in the process.