What Is a DWI Lawyer (and Why Do I Need One?)
In the average year, roughly 1.5 million people are arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The consequences of driving drunk can be severe and even fatal. That is why there is a law against operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content over a specific limit.
If you’ve been charged with a DWI, you might be wondering whether or not it’s worth it to hire a lawyer.
Let’s take a look at what a DWI lawyer is and why you might just need one.
What Is a DWI?
DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated.” You might have heard the acronyms DUI, OUI, OWI, and more. While there are some subtle differences between these different terms, they ultimately all refer to operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or other substances.
If you have been drinking alcohol or are under the influence of other drugs to an extent that you are unable to operate a motor vehicle safely, you can be arrested and charged with a DWI. The federal legal limit in the United States in order to safely drive is a BAC or blood alcohol content of .08% or less.
In most states, the legal limit is the same as the federal limit, .08% blood-alcohol content or less. However, some states might have their own limits for blood-alcohol content. For example, Utah lowered the legal limit for blood-alcohol content from .08% to .05% for drivers over the age of 21 in 2018.
Understanding the laws in your state is important so that you can ensure that you are never breaking the law while driving.
Will I Lose My License If I Get a DWI?
In 48 states, the Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the District of Columbia, it is legal for law enforcement officials to confiscate and suspend your driver’s license on the spot if your BAC level is over the legal limit or if you fail a field sobriety test. In the two states where law enforcement does not have this ability, you will have to go to court and it is there that your license might be suspended.
While the laws differ in each state, it is relatively common for your license to be immediately confiscated and suspended if you refuse to take a breath test.
The state that is considered to have the strictest DWI laws in the United States is Arizona. Rounding out the top five of the states with the strictest DWI laws are Georgia, Alaska, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
After a first DUI conviction, the minimum jail time in Arizona is 10 days. If you are found guilty of a second conviction, you will spend at least 90 days in jail.
Depending on which state you’re in, your license might only be suspended for 30 days or it could be suspended for nearly a full year. For example, in Georgia, the administrative license suspension length is 360 days.
On the flip side, the state that is known to have the most lenient DWI laws is South Dakota. After this, Washington DC, Ohio, North Dakota, and Idaho are considered the next most lenient states and (in the case of DC) municipalities.
In South Dakota, there is no minimum sentence for either your first or second DWI offense. However, it does become a felony after the third offense.
As you can see, just because some states have more lenient laws does not mean that getting a DWI won’t seriously impact your life. You can avoid losing your license, spending time in jail, and potentially impacting your ability to get employment in the future by never driving when you have been drinking or using drugs.
Do I Need a Lawyer For a DWI?
Getting a DWI or a DUI is a very serious situation. This could potentially affect the future outcomes of your life in terms of employment and otherwise.
Hiring a DWI lawyer can potentially help you preserve your driving privileges or reduce your charges. However, nothing is guaranteed.
How Much Does a DWI Lawyer Cost?
How much is a DWI lawyer? Well, the answer is going to depend on where you are in the country and the specific lawyer that you hire.
That being said, they will typically charge you a flat fee in order for them to assist you with pretrial legal assistance. When it comes time for them to defend you in court as a child, there will be an additional flat fee. The average cost for attorneys fees for a DWI nationally is between $1500 and $3000.
How much a DWI lawyer cost is also going to depend on the severity of the charges against you. If your DWI is a misdemeanor charge, it will likely cost less than if it is a felony charge. DWI charges can become felonies if you have had a certain number of DWIs within a certain time period, if you have already received a felony DWI conviction in the past, or if someone was killed or injured due to to your driving intoxicated.
Hiring a DWI lawyer is not the only cost associated with getting a DWI. Some of the costs you might have to pay are the price of posting bail, DMV fees, increased auto insurance rates, court-ordered signs, substance abuse education courses, fees for traffic school, and the fees for towing and storage if your vehicle was impounded.
If you have never before had a DWI, you will likely receive more lenient consequences and lower cost than someone who is a repeat offender. However, in almost all states, receiving a DWI will suspend your license for a period of time. It’s possible, also, that as a first-time offender you also spent a short period of time in jail.
How Can a DWI Lawyer Help You?
In general, an attorney will be able to ensure that you are prepared to go to court. They will be able to help you understand what will be expected of you and what will occur. They can also help you to complete certain requirements that you will need for your court date such as paperwork and forms.
If there are other factors that are involved in your case that could result in you getting an enhanced sentence, then an attorney also can help you. Enhanced sentences might be caused by things like property damages, repeat offenses, endangerment of a child, or “aggravating circumstances.”
It’s important that you understand that many states have mandatory penalties for enhanced sentences. Basically, there are certain outcomes that are practically certain if you are found guilty of any of these reasons that lead to enhanced sentences.
That being said, having an attorney could help to reduce the severity of your sentence.
Occasions When You Should Definitely Hire a Lawyer
There are certain times when you should absolutely hire a lawyer, no question. For example, if you are truly innocent and you had not been drinking but somehow managed to fill the breath test or the field sobriety test, you should deftly hire an attorney. It is not a good idea to try and represent yourself in court and you should instead find experience legal counsel.
Why Is a DWI Lawyer Better Than a Public Defender?
While being a public defender can be a noble role, you might not necessarily want the public defender to be your legal counsel during a DWI case.
The reality is, that public defenders often have many cases going on at once and are unable to devote a sufficient amount of time to each case. The outcome of your DWI case can have a major impact on your future. You don’t want to be leaving that in the hands of someone who doesn’t have the time to even understand your case with any depth.
Similarly, public defenders will have so many cases going on at once typically, that they likely won’t be putting all of their resources toward your defense. A DWI lawyer, on the other hand, will likely have a much smaller caseload than the public defender so that they can focus more of their energy on you and your defense.
The other reason to hire a DWI lawyer rather than accept the public defender is that you will have a choice in who is defending you. You might end up getting a great public defender by chance, but you also might not win the lottery. You can shop around for your own DWI lawyer find somebody who you feel like will be best able to represent you.
A DWI Lawyer Can Help You Navigate the Legal Process and Potentially Lessen the Severity of the Consequences
Did you find this article about whether or not you need a DWI lawyer helpful? If so, be sure to check out the rest of our blog for more fascinating and informative content!