Monday, August 17, 2009

Do you have to perform field sobriety exercises?

If you're stopped in Florida and the officer believes that you may be intoxicated then he will likely request that you perform field sobriety exercises in order to "confirm or dispel" his belief that you should not be driving.

The key word in the above paragraph is REQUEST. The officer cannot force you to perform these field sobriety exercises. The roadside tests are not mandatory and it is always a bad idea to agree to perform them.

Why refuse?

These tests are nearly impossible to pass - whether or not you have had something to drink. How often do you stand on one leg, count to 30, and keep your balance without lifting your arms from your side while a policeman shines a flashlight in your face? Yep, never. You cannot practice for these things and you're going to fail. The officer makes a subjective judgment call as to your success and you had best believe that if he thinks you're drunk enough to take the roadside test then he is going to arrest you regardless of how well you believe you performed.

Need another reason to refuse? The officer does not have an interest in whether or not you are truly intoxicated - he already believes you are. His goal is to BUILD EVIDENCE TO USE AGAINST YOU AT TRIAL! Yep, all of this work that you are doing to attempt to help yourself will be held against you when your trial rolls around.

So, what should you do if an officer requests field sobriety exercises? My advice is always the same: if the officer is requesting these tests then he believes you are intoxicated and you are going to be arrested whether you agree to perform the tests or not. Why supply him with evidence of "lack of balance" or "inability to follow directions" to use against you at trial? Just say no....and then call your DUI attorney.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

You need an attorney - even for "small" offenses

One common misconception held by the majority of the public is that a person will not benefit from the assistance of an attorney for what the person considers a "small" or insignificant criminal charge. Let's look at just one example of how this flawed reasoning can result in severe damages.

When a person is cited in Florida for possession of Cannabis (Marijuana) the officer will often simply write a ticket and require the person to show up for court in 30 days or so. Often, the individual is under the assumption that since he was not put in handcuffs and taken to jail that he need not worry much about this situation. He might even be told by the officer "look, I have bigger fish to fry than messing with you so I'm only going to write you a ticket for this small offense."

Later, the person (let's call him a Defendant because that's what he is now) arrives for his court date and the prosecutor hands him a plea offer that includes a monetary fine and no jail time since this is a first offense. So far, so good right?

The Defendant takes the offer, pays a fine of around 500 dollars and goes on his merry way. Unfortunately, two weeks later he receives a letter from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles informing him that due to his drug conviction his driver's license is suspended for 2 years!!

Now, the Defendant could have likely avoided paying the fine, or could have payed a smaller fine, and he could have certainly avoided the license suspension if he had retained the services of a qualified defense attorney.

The defense attorney would know how to avoid the license suspension and might very well have discovered that there were great defenses to the charge and perhaps gotten the case dismissed.

So, even in "small" cases that seem trivial to the judge, prosecutor, and even the Defendant there can be very serious consequences that are best handled by a defense attorney. After all, the judge and the prosecutor are not looking out for your best interest - but your defense attorney is.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Driving on a suspended license?

In Florida, three convictions for the offense of driving with a suspended license, with knowledge that you were doing so, can become quite costly. Upon the third conviction the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will suspend your driving privileges administratively - for 5 years!

Criminally, after three convictions for DWLSR (Driving While License Suspended or Revoked) you are eligible for Felony court if arrested for DWLSR again. In fact, you could potentially face up to 5 years in prison for a 4th DWLSR conviction.

This is heady stuff. It is very, very important to contact an attorney who handles criminal traffic matters if you're cited for DWLSR. Most Floridians fail to recognize the seriousness of this charge and simply believe that they have been issued a regular traffic ticket by the officer.

The most important and valuable service that a knowledgeable attorney can provide for a person cited for DWLSR is preventing her from being adjudicated guilty of the offense. If you were cited for driving in Florida with a suspended license then call my office so that we can help you with this problem.

How much should you pay for a DUI attorney?

One of the more interesting, albeit confounding, aspects of the business side of practicing law involves the setting of fees. Some attorneys follow a strict adherence to the contingency fee agreement. While this type of agreement is prohibited in Florida criminal cases it is extremely popular in the personal injury world.

Some attorneys believe that an hourly fee agreement best suits the needs of the practice and the client. This form of fee agreement is usually commenced when the client provides the attorney with some lump sum of money, which is held in trust and from which the hourly fees are extracted.

At the end of the day, the client often finds herself nonplussed when the attorney comes back for another chunk of money because the case has taken an unexpected turn. Or, in the alternative, the attorney is embarrassed by her miscalculation of the amount of time involved and ultimately does not ask for additional funds and simply "works the case" past the point of being compensated. Neither scenario is optimal.

In criminal law, the hard and fast rule seems to be that criminal cases are accepted under a "flat fee" sort of agreement. In other words, Attorney Joe will charge one thousand dollars to represent Mr. Smith on his criminal traffic charge. If Attorney Joe gets the case thrown out of court in two weeks he is paid his one thousand dollar fee. Conversely, if Attorney Joe has to fight the case for months, file motions, and ultimately go to trial on behalf of his client he is paid - you got it, one thousand dollars.

There are several reasons why the majority of criminal attorneys operate under a flat fee agreement. First, criminal law is a bit more predictable than civil law. That is not to say that there is not room for wide variances from case to case, there is. But by and large a criminal case follows a procedural schedule that is at least partially, if not wholly dictated by the Speedy Trial rules.

Usually, the proverbial "end is in sight" from the very beginning. In a misdemeanor case the chips will fall on the table at the 90 day mark should the defense attorney and the defendant choose to force the issue and push a trial. In a felony the same can be said after the 175 day point.

Therefore, the chances that your average criminal case will languish in the court for years is very slight. In a civil action the end of the case is often a dream unrealized for both the attorney and the client. Especially the client.

The advantage to the client of a flat fee agreement should be obvious. He will know exactly what his legal fees are from the very beginning of the case. Being arrested and charged with a crime is stressful enough without having to revisit legal fees when an hourly retainer runs out of money. The client in a criminal case wants to pay what is owed and rest assured that the attorney will handle all contingencies that might arise in the case.

So, after all of that you are probably ready to get around to the answer of the question in the post title. We're almost there.

First, you should add up all of the costs associated with being convicted of a DUI. These costs will vary from person to person but should include:

1. The amount of money you will lose if you do not have a fully functioning driver's license for 30 or 90 days.

2. The amount of extra money you will spend on auto insurance with your new SR-22 designation as a person convicted of DUI.

3. The amount of money you will lose when your job and career prospects become limited with a DUI conviction.

4. The almost immeasurable amount of grief you will encounter for the rest of your life when attempting to acquire health insurance, life insurance, auto insurance, and any type of security clearance or professional license.

When you come up with a number you should next consider the fact that the ramifications of the conviction will stay with you forever (there is no 7 year record clearance like in a bankruptcy case).

Now, I assure you that even the priciest DUI attorney will charge a one time representation fee that is much, much, much less than the number you came up with.

The lesson? Choosing a DUI attorney involves a decision in which the legal fee is only a relatively small part of the equation. You need an attorney who knows what they're doing and who has your best interest in mind at all times. Then, whether the fee is 500 dollars or 5,000 dollars you will ultimately rest assured that you did everything you could to help yourself minimize the damages after your arrest.

You will be able to find attorneys who charge up to 10 thousand dollars for a single DUI case. You will also be able to locate attorneys (usually newly minted) who charge as little as 500 dollars for a single DUI case. The variance is staggering.

Ultimately though, taking into account local market variables, you should expect to pay anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 to secure the services of a criminal attorney in your DUI case. Anything more or less than that range should raise some sort of red flag.

Of course this post was made in 2009 and if you staggered upon it in 2015 these numbers will likely no longer represent an accurate range.