The Law Dictionary

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Should I Get a Public Defender for My First DUI?

Regardless of where you live, you need to take your DUI charge seriously. If you're convicted of a DUI, you're likely to lose your license for a period of up to a year and face a slew of fines and fees that may end up costing you thousands of dollars. Although your prison sentence is likely to be suspended, you'll still need to serve a term of unsupervised probation that may last as long as five years. You'll have to take driver-retraining classes and may even need to enroll in an alcohol treatment program.

Once your conviction is a matter of public record, the cost of your car insurance will skyrocket and remain elevated for as long as the charge remains on your driving record. In most states, this means that you'll be paying through the nose for insurance for at least three years. Since a DUI is a criminal offense as well as a civil infraction, your conviction will appear on your "permanent record" unless it's expunged by a judge. Law enforcement agencies, government bodies, creditors and potential employers that conduct background screenings on your name will learn of the incident. This could have serious implications for your ability to obtain a mortgage, purchase a firearm, and get certain kinds of jobs.

In other words, even a first-offense DUI conviction can cause serious long-term headaches. While some DUI defendants choose to save on legal costs by self-representing or using a public defender, this course of action often produces sub-optimal results. Public defenders tend to be overworked. The public defender with whom you're provided may be working on several cases at once and may seem harried during your one-on-one meetings.

Worse, he or she may not appear interested in the specifics of your case. This ambivalence is a natural consequence of the fact that public defenders must defend large numbers of clients who can't afford private representation. Your public defender may be more interested in moving your case along than in securing a favorable outcome.

On the other hand, a private attorney is likely to be fully invested in your case. You'll be paying them a significant premium over the typical public defender's salary. Depending upon where you live, the total cost of a top-notch lawyer in a typical DUI case may range from $1,000 to $3,000. If you can beat the charges entirely, this may be worthwhile.