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Private Attorney, Legal Aid Attorney or Self-Representation: Which Option Is Best to Defend Your DWI Charge?


Interviewer: What is the difference between hiring a private attorney, being appointed a public defender from legal aid or trying to defend yourself? What are the pros and cons of those options?

The Judge Has the Discretion to Decide Whether or Not You Qualify for a Legal Aid Attorney

Ben: In regards to getting a legal aid attorney, you have to qualify before that would occur and it is based on your income. You have to make under a certain amount of money per year. Also, it’s discretionary with the judge, whether they’re going to appoint it or not. That’s how you get a legal aid attorney. If you can’t afford a private attorney, it’s obviously the best way to go. You’re entitled to representation under the Constitution.

Interviewer: Do people just assume, “I’ll just go get legal aid,” or is it really hard to get?

Ben: No, it’s not hard to get if you qualify. If you don’t make enough money, you’ll be appointed. It’s not hard at all. You should definitely go that route and not consider representing yourself if you can’t afford a private attorney.

If You Are Considering Self-Representation to Defend Your DWI Charge, Can You Expect Mercy from the Court?

Interviewer: In terms of representing yourself, is there a mercy of the court? Is it just so difficult and complicated to do so that you’re a fool? What do you think?

Ben: I would say so. It’s not just a wise decision to do, especially because you’ll be appointed an attorney if you can’t afford one. There’s no reason to go it alone. If you were a doctor, it wouldn’t be smart to treat yourself. It’s the same premise.

A DWI Case Can Take up to Eight Months to Resolve

Interviewer: In the DWI process, on average, how long do cases take if they don’t go to trial or if they do go to trial?

Ben: They take quite a while to resolve. I’d say the typical DWI case could take six to eight months to come to some kind of conclusion.

Interviewer: Is that with a trial or without?

Ben: Trial towards the eight month period, and if you’re going to accept a plea, I would estimate the process will take four or five months. They take a long time.

The Year-Long License Suspension Includes the Time It Takes to Resolve Your DWI Case either through Trial or a Plea Bargain

Interviewer: If your license is already suspended and it takes, let’s say, six months, what would happen if you were convicted and found guilty? Will they add on another year, or you’ve already served quote, unquote part of the time?

Ben: Usually it goes back to the original time. You’re not going to have to serve 18 months if it took six months to have your case disposed of.

For a First Offense DWI Charge, How Likely Is It That You Will Be Sentenced to a Jail Term?

Interviewer: You spoke about jail being one of the penalties. How often is jail given on a first time DWI?

Ben: Jail is not part of the sentence that frequently. On a first time DWI charge, usually it’s only given if you lose a trial. If you plead out, usually you’re not going to go to jail. You’re just going to either be on probation or pay some kind of fines and have to perform community service.

If You Lose at Your DWI Trial, the Judge Has the Option to Sentence You to Jail

Interviewer: You said if you go to trial you may get jail?

Ben: You may because then the jail sentence is discretionary, it is up to the judge. The judge may send you to jail.

Interviewer: Isn’t that seen as being punished for going to trial?

Ben: In some ways, but that’s the only time. Usually people aren’t going to plead out and take any jail time in their first offense. I have seen people sent to jail after trial. Usually you don’t go.

People get out of it and it is just the way it is. For a first offense, after your trial, usually a judge isn’t going to send you to jail for very much time anyway. Either way, you’re not going to see much jail time on a first offense.