Choosing Your Best DWI Attorney
If you have been charged with DWI in New Jersey, one of the most important decisions you will make is choosing an attorney to represent you. There are a number of factors to consider when making this critical decision, and you should do research and ask your potential attorney questions about his or her qualifications. On this page, I will discuss how to find the best lawyer for your situation, as well as how your case will proceed once you choose a lawyer.
What to Look for in an Attorney
There are a lot of DWI lawyers in New Jersey. If you search through any legal directory (Avvo.com has the best legal directory and information) you will find hundreds of options. Choosing the right lawyer is the single most important decision you will make that has the greatest effect on the outcome of your case. There is certainly a huge difference between professional DWI attorneys and inexperienced ones. So how can an average citizen, with little legal experience, choose between all the options?
Here are 8 tips you can use to help you make the right choice.
Larger Case Loads
For a lawyer to excel in a practice area, he/she has to have in-depth knowledge about related cases and laws. DWI is no different. Some lawyers spread their time out between multiple practice areas. So, you might find one who spend 10% of their time in wills and trusts, 20% in contract law, 25% in personal injury, and 25% in criminal law. This means that this lawyer only spends 20% of their time on DWI cases. These attorneys never really master DWI defense and become the proverbial jack-of-all-trades master of none. This is why you are better off choosing someone who focuses 100% of their practice on DWI and has the in-depth knowledge needed to defend your case.
DWI Trial Experience
A good DWI lawyer is ready and willing to take cases to trial. Most lawyers try to quickly process DWI cases and avoid time taking steps like filing motions or fighting a trial. This is not a sound legal strategy. In many cases the best option you have is to take the matter to trial.
When searching for a DWI attorney, you should ask questions to ensure that they are properly equipped to defend your rights. Some of these questions could include:
- Does your potential attorney have trial experience in defending New Jersey DWI charges?
- Is the attorney Certified by the Supreme Court as a Municipal Court Trial Attorney, or Certified DUI Attorney by the National College for DWI Defense?
Advanced DWI Training
DWI training is important. DWI lawyers MUST attend training seminars on a regular basis to in order to know how to fight DWI, DUI, and Refusal charges. This is why I am an active member of the prestigious National College for DUI Defense and regularly attend their advanced, rigorous DWI training conferences throughout the country.
Field sobriety testing makes the majority of the evidence in many DWI cases. Having an attorney who has been trained in field sobriety testing is essential. An attorney who has been trained in field sobriety testing has also been trained in DWI detection, the clues of impaired driving and impairment, such as slurred speech and watery, bloodshot eyes. They know what driving conduct is indicative of drunk driving and what is not. An attorney with proper training and experience is going to know the common signs of drunk driving, the common clues of impairment and how field sobriety tests are supposed to work. If you have an attorney who is an Instructor in Field Sobriety DUI Detection & Standardized Field Sobriety Testing, you know he or she has the most advanced training available in this area.
A true DWI defense attorney should have, at the bare minimum, the same amount of training as the Alcotest (breathalyzer) operator who took the breath test and the lab technician who ran and analyzed the results. There is special training that attorneys can take in certain laboratories around the country in forensic chromatography, the process by which blood and urine samples are analyzed. This training is available, at a cost, which is why most lawyers have availed themselves of this training. If your attorney has taken these courses, he or she will be better equipped to find errors with the results of your test and to develop the most effective defense in your case.
A properly trained lawyer will have DWI-specific training to better understand subjects such as BAC testing, field sobriety testing, and drug recognition? Don’t hire one without!
Forensic Results Challenged
DWI cases are very complex. This is because most of the evidence is based on various DWI tests which can only be challenged by someone who knows the science behind them. If an attorney is not knowledgeable in these areas, you will have very little chance of getting a favorable verdict. Steven Hernandez has successfully passed the ACS Lawyer-Scientist test.
Dedicated To Your Defense
At many law firms, you may be attracted by the experience and name of one of the senior lawyers in the firm, only to find out that most of the case work and research is done by junior attorneys. Details make all the difference in a DWI case and junior lawyers may overlook some important points. I personally handle every single aspect of every single case I take on. This allows me to get intimate insight into the important details of your case.
Choosing an Attorney from the National College of DUI Defense
The NCDD is the premier organization for DUI/DWI defense attorneys. Every year they host several intensive DWI seminars presented by the very best DUI attorneys in the country. The pinnacle of their training calendar is the NCDD Summer Session which is held at the facility of Harvard Law School. I am a proud seven-time attendee of this course!
Ask Important Questions
Another thing you should do is give the attorney a call to discuss your case. The attorney should be knowledgeable, confident, and have a clear plan when you consult with them. They should also be attentive and care about you as a person. If they are hurried and can’t give you time, maybe you should look elsewhere. For those in New Jersey, you can call my Toms River Office at (732) 286-2700.
Meeting with an Attorney
Even though the details may vary from case to case, there are a few things that must happen when you meet with your DWI attorney for an initial consultation.
First, the attorney will ask you a few questions to help determine whether or not you have a defense against your DWI. Most likely, these questions will be about the circumstances during and immediately surrounding your arrest. This interview needs to be conducted as soon as possible, while the details of your arrest are still fresh within your memory.
You will likely need to be able to tell the story of your arrest, beginning several hours before the arrest itself, and ending at your release from police custody. Details are very important here—tell your DWI attorney exactly what you ate and drank and when you did so.
In addition to this, your New Jersey DWI attorney needs to make sure you are aware of the legal realities of your situation. The attorney will discuss with you the specifics of the charges levied against you, describe the best and worst case scenarios for the outcome of your trial given those charges, and have a frank discussion with you as to your odds of success at trial.
Your DWI attorney will also need to know other details pertinent to the construction of your defense. One of the most important factors in this is your driving record, if you have one. A history of DWI convictions will have a direct impact on how your case is resolved.
However, it may well be the case that as a law-abiding citizen, your DWI charges are your first real exposure to the criminal justice system. Rest assured that your New Jersey DWI attorney will work to ease your anxieties and make sure that you are informed and prepared to appear in court.
Why You Should Avoid a Public Defender
Some people may think that using a public defender is the best way to handle pending DWI charges as it will be the least expensive option. However, public defenders are ill-equipped to handle DWI cases—and you may not even qualify to hire one of these anyway.
Larger Case Loads
In New Jersey, public defenders have extremely large case loads. As a result, they very rarely review the cases they are handling before the day of court. These attorneys are not familiar with their clients, the clients ’concerns or any personal issues.
No Time to Investigate
Public defenders are not going to conduct the type of investigation a private attorney would. While there is money available in certain jurisdictions to cover the expense of expert witnesses and other resources that could benefit a case, public defenders rarely avail themselves of these ancillary services.
Lack of Experience
Perhaps most troubling of all, most public defenders do not have the training and experience necessary to handle the complexity of DWI cases. Very few of these attorneys review a client’s medical background to use that information in building a solid defense.
One of the first things your New Jersey DWI attorney will do to prepare your case for trial is to help you secure any evidence that could be helpful to your case, including documenting the condition of the scene of your arrest.
Your attorney may ask you to return to the scene of your arrest, possibly accompanied by their investigator. While there, you or the investigator should take photographs to document the conditions under which you were asked to perform any field sobriety tests.
Testing protocol mandates that balancing tests (like the walk-and-turn test and the one-leg-stand test) be conducted on a flat, smooth surface. It is rare that the side of a road meets these requirements. Many streets are sloped toward the edges to allow water to run off into the gutters. If you allege that your poor performance on a field sobriety test was due to suboptimal testing conditions such as these, a picture can be invaluable.
If your arrest was at night, your New Jersey DWI attorney may ask you to return at about the same time to document how the lighting conditions were. If the area was too dark, your poor performance may have been due to some imperfection in the road surface that you didn’t even know about.
It’s important to revisit the scene as soon as possible after consulting with your New Jersey DWI attorney. Road surfaces are improved or re-paved periodically, and what matters to your case is how the road appeared at the time of your arrest, not how it appears at the time of trial.
Choosing to Testify
You have a constitutional right to testify in your DWI trial. You also have the right not to do so. After you and your New Jersey DWI lawyer consider all facets of your case, together with its strengths and weaknesses, the decision is ultimately yours.
It is useful to use the analogy of a basketball game in analyzing your case. In such a game, both sides inevitably score points. The ultimate victory goes to the team that scores highest. In a New Jersey DWI trial, both the defense and prosecution will score points. Your case, in other words, has strengths and weaknesses that can help either side.
The basketball analogy will help you determine whether to testify. If your case can score enough points to win without your testimony, it is better not to take the stand. If your DWI lawyer cannot score enough points on cross-examination of state witnesses to win your case, then you need to ask yourself if, by taking the stand, you can help your case. You place yourself in a vulnerable position by doing so. Regardless of how well you answer questions posed by your own lawyer, the state’s cross-examination of you can be very damaging.
If you do take the stand, the judge will expect you to say you were not driving while intoxicated. If you cannot convince the judge of this, then your testimony will not help your case. If, however, you are able to convince the judge, you may save your case. By thoroughly analyzing your case with your New Jersey DWI lawyer you should be able to determine whether taking the stand is advisable.
Taking Your Case Seriously
In New Jersey DWI is treated as a traffic offense not a criminal one. That doesn’t mean you should not take your case seriously. If are convicted:
- Your driving licensee will be suspended.
- A DUI conviction will cost you dearly in fines, court fees and increased insurance rates. This could end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars.
- A DUI will remain on your permanent record. Future employers can easily find out about it and may pass up your application in favor of someone else.
- There is mandatory jail for second and third offenders.
When you take into account all the penalties and costs, you will come to the conclusion that this is a very serious matter which can truly change your life for the worse if you are convicted.