A good attorney is expensive, but a DUI is much more expensive. We did the math to find out whether or not hiring a DUI lawyer is a good investment. Spoiler alert: it is.
Driving under the influence is a terrible decision that many Americans make every year. The FBI estimates that 1,117,852 Americans were arrested for driving under the influence in 2014. That's an incredibly high number.
If you're arrested for DUI, you will face a considerable emotional and financial burden. That's not to mention the potential for punishment like jail time and losing your license. A drunk driving charge will severely impact your life for years.
It's not just the thousands of dollars in court fees and fines that will cost you. Getting a DUI makes you a high-risk driver in the eyes of your insurer, and being a high risk driver leads to rising premiums or even policy cancellation. Your insurance rates are likely to raise for a minimum of three years in the wake of a DUI. Paying these higher rates will add up substantially over time.
QuoteWizard crunched the numbers and one thing is clear: if you get a DUI, you should spend the money to hire a DUI lawyer. If your attorney can get your first-time DUI charges reduced or dropped, you can save as much as $4,000 on car insurance alone.
Insurance companies base your rates on your driving record and other factors. Getting in a car accident or a traffic violation can make you a high-risk driver in your insurers eyes. Why? Because you have demonstrated to your insurer that you make mistakes while driving.
When you are convicted of driving under the influence, you demonstrate poor judgment to insurers. This makes you more likely to cost your insurance company money down the road in the form of other incidents. Insurers cover their bases and protect their interests, and the result is higher rates. Your insurance carrier might even deem you too much of a liability, and end your coverage altogether.
"I have had clients who were dropped immediately by their insurance company or had their insurance rates double or triple as a result of a DUI," says Jay Norton, a Kansas DUI Lawyer.
"Only a few companies will insure a driver with major violation, whether it is a DUI or Reckless," says Devin Engelmann, office manager at Secord Insurance Agency. "By getting one of these violations, you will likely have to shop for new insurance options."
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what kind of financial strain a DUI will have on your insurance for a variety of reasons. First, DUI laws vary greatly from state to state, and each case is different. Two, every insurance company has their own algorithms to determine their rates depending on a multitude of factors such as driver age, location, car model, and driving history. QuoteWizard conducted a study to paint a statistical picture of what happens to your insurance when you get a DUI.
To get a firm understanding of how much a DUI actually impacts your car insurance rates, we created a hypothetical driver profile. We compared quotes from top insurances companies in locations across the country for male and female versions of our driver.
Our driver profile:
We got three different quotes per company for female and male drivers in each location: one with a clean driving record, one with a negligent driving charge, and one with a DUI charge. All other factors remained the same except for the driver’s gender and their driving record.
Here are the results of our study:
The results indicate that a drunk driving charge will significantly impact your insurance rates. Drivers with DUIs can expect to pay an average of $830 more per year for car insurance than drivers with clean records. Your rates will be higher for a minimum of three years, meaning that you'll spend at least $2500 more on insurance during that time than drivers with clean records.
These numbers also highlight the potential benefit of successfully negotiating a negligent driving charge in lieu of a DUI. Drivers with negligent driving incidents on their records will spend $1460 less on insurance over a three-year period than drivers with DUIs.
If you have any other incidents on your record, like speeding tickets or accidents, expect the DUI to exponentially raise your insurance. Multiple stains on your record also puts you at greater risk of having your coverage cancelled altogether. That's why it's vital to do everything in your power to lessen the impact of a DUI charge. "The insurance savings over a multi-year period will be in the thousands and more than pay the costs of my services," says Norton.
There are considerable long term insurance savings for drivers who can get their DUI dropped or reduced to negligent driving charge. And it's not just higher premiums that will cost you.
Numbers vary depending on your state's laws and the specifics of your DUI. But these averages will give you a good idea of what kind of expenses you will face besides rising insurance premiums when you're charged with your first DUI:
If you're facing a second DUI, be aware that these numbers are likely to rise exponentially. Prosecutors and judges are considerably harsher on repeat offenders.
One additional expenditure that is easy to overlook is an SR-22 requirement. Drivers with DUIs may need to get an SR-22, a liability document that many state DMVs require for high-risk policies. SR-22s aren't cheap on their own, and they often carry a stigma that leads to higher rates. Think of it as a badge of shame given to drivers who have broken the law behind the wheel. And it's required for three to five years.
"An SR-22 is a document that the insurance company has to send to the DOL or DMV that states that you have insurance in force, and that they will notify the State if you let that policy lapse," says Engelmann. "It basically ties your insurance to your license. The charge for this service can be anywhere from $40 to $200 per year."
Whatever you do, don't ignore your SR-22: "Make sure to get the SR22 if it is required, and keep it in force for the entire period," warns Engelmann. "Even a 1 day lapse in insurance will cause your Driver’s License to cancel."
Just like pinpointing the exact cost a DUI has on your insurance rates, it's not easy to determine how much a lawyer will cost you. "Some attorneys simply charge by the hour, and a trial will take many more hours than a plea," says Norton. "Some charge flat fees that cover different stages of the representation, including a plea, filing and litigating motions, trial to a judge or trial to a jury." The price of a lawyer depends on several factors:
There's no exact science to estimating how much a DUI lawyer costs. "Fees vary so much between attorneys and between different markets in America that it is impossible to say what an attorney will cost on average for a DUI," explains Norton. "It should be in the thousands of dollars for a first time DUI, though."
For example, one lawyer we spoke with charges a $5,000 flat rate for a first DUI. Another lawyer we spoke to requires a $2,000 retainer, and he says that usually covers an entire case. Both lawyers say that their flat fees don't include the cost of a trial. Other lawyers charge hourly rates ranging from $100 to $500.
Most DUI cases don't end up in the courtroom; "Statistically, very few cases go to trial," says Jonathan Dichter, a Washington-based DUI defense attorney. "At my office it’s less than 5% yearly." But if you're part of that 5%, you will have to pay your lawyer significantly more. One lawyer we spoke to said it’s a good rule of thumb to expect attorney fees for a trial to cost twice as much as a plea.
Based on conversations with several DUI attorneys as well as our independent research, here are our rough estimates for how much a DUI lawyer will likely cost you:
It's clear that hiring a competent lawyer doesn't come cheap, but it's worth the cost. "Since the consequences of a DUI conviction are staggering, the cost of good legal counsel should be viewed as an investment working to protect the defendant’s future," says attorney Eduardo M. Borda.
"Would you extract your own tooth or would you hire a dentist who has had training?" asks Denver Defense Attorney Jason R. Wolfe with DUI Defense Matters.
That's a fair point. DUI law and the court systems are extremely complex. A good DUI lawyer will have more than just a firm understanding of how the law works – they will also be able to bargain with the prosecutor to lower your charges. But first and foremost, you need someone who can examine your case and gather all the facts.
"A person charged with a DUI needs a lawyer specifically trained in defending DUIs to get the police reports, video recordings, audio recordings and all of the maintenance, calibration, and testing logs for the breath test machine, or any underlying data on blood or urine tests," says Norton. "You have to know what to ask for, know how to get it and then know what to do with it."
Established DUI lawyers may have relationships with prosecutors and familiarity with the courts. This is a vital component to getting a good outcome for your case. "I work with the prosecutor’s office to attempt to create a plea deal that will minimize the consequences to you as a client," says Dichter.
If you don't hire a lawyer, you can either defend yourself or use a court-appointed public defender. Defending yourself is not recommended due to the complex nature of DUI law. "The likelihood of getting DUI charges dropped or reduced without an attorney can be summed up in one word; nil.” says Borda. If your case makes it to trial, you better be ready: "A defendant will be held to the same standard as the prosecutor in terms of the admission of evidence, the selection of a jury, and the questioning of witnesses," says Wolfe.
Additionally, using a court-appointed lawyer isn't a bad option, but you're less likely to get the results you desire. "Public defenders are usually great lawyers, but overworked and underfunded and not likely to be able to go to the lengths necessary to investigate and litigate a DUI," says Norton.
Remember, DUI lawyers aren't magicians who can make your legal troubles disappear with the wave of a wand. But hiring an attorney who specializes in DUI law means you have made every effort in your power to get a good result from your case. "You are not only paying an attorney to beat a case, but so that you know that everything that could be done was done," says Norton. "You can sleep a lot better knowing that no stone was left unturned."
You may be tempted to skimp on your lawyer to save some money. After all, a DUI charge will put you in a difficult financial position, and attorney fees represent yet another expense. But our research shows that good attorneys are worth it financially:
The potential for long-term savings is a convincing reason to hire a lawyer. But it's not just the potential for lost money that will make you want an attorney. A DUI can lead to jail time, lost driving privileges, diminishing current and future job prospects, as well as undue stress. If you want to navigate the complexities of the law and successfully mitigate the damage that a DUI can cause, you will need a lawyer. As Norton tells us, "The only way to do that is to have someone who knows what he or she is doing flip over every rock and look underneath it."
A: Using a public defender to fight a DUI is tempting. But if you plan on fighting your DUI, you should consider hiring a private attorney.
Public defenders are often overworked and may not have the time or resources to plead your case in court. For example, in Washington State, a study revealed that public defenders spent less than an hour on each case. It's no surprise, considering the yearly caseloads of 1,000 misdemeanors on their plates.
This doesn't mean that public defenders are bad lawyers. Rather, the reality of the legal system places an undue burden on the shoulders of public defenders.
When you get a DUI, you go through two sets of hearings. The first one is a DMV hearing to determine your license eligibility. The second one is your court date to decide your fines and potential jail time. Public defenders will represent you in your court date, but you will generally be on your own for the DMV hearing. If you're afraid of license suspension or revocation, a DUI lawyer can help you in your DMV hearing, whereas a public defender won't. They will also be able to preview the evidence that will be used against you in your trial.
A: When a defendant faces charges, the prosecutor and defendant can sometimes make a pretrial agreement to avoid an actual trial. Plea deals often happen when the prosecutor isn't 100% confident that they can win their case. In order to avoid a trial, they will offer a deal where the defendant will plead guilty to a lesser charge. This guarantees a conviction and helps the prosecutor avoid a potentially lengthy trial with an uncertain outcome.
Let's pretend a defendant is charged with burglary. If the evidence isn't rock solid, the prosecutors may offer a plea deal where the defendant accepts a lesser charge, like trespassing. This way, the defendant avoids potentially harsher penalties, and the prosecutor gets a successful prosecution under their belt.
A: Are you a lawyer? If the answer is no, you shouldn't represent yourself. When contesting a DUI, you will want a law expert with first hand experience navigating a DUI case.
But you might not plan to fight your DUI charge if you have no chance of getting a reduced or dropped charge. Irrefutable evidence such as a high BAC, witness testimony, or dashcam footage can all diminish your chance of getting a good result. If you plan to plead guilty, you can do that without the help of a lawyer. This isn't recommended, but depending on your case specifics, it may be a viable option.
A: When you're facing a DUI charge, hiring a lawyer with specialized knowledge of DUI law is a smart idea. DUIs are complex, so you need an expert who knows the intricacies of DUI law to fight for you. If you want to get your DUI charge reduced or dropped, hire a DUI lawyer.
A: Odds of getting your charges reduced or dropped are higher. You're also considerably less likely to see any jail time. Of course, it depends on the specifics of your case, but judges are generally more lenient to first-timer DUI drivers.
But don't expect leniency just because you have never been in trouble with the law. Your punishment is ultimately up to the judge.
A: At least three to five years. If you have past incidents on your driving record, they can add up and compound into higher rates. Your DUI can take as long as seven years to disappear from your driving record, and it will likely hurt your rates during that time.
Each insurance company rates drivers differently, and your risk-level will depend on several factors like your age, gender, car make and model, and driving history. And remember, even when a DUI drops off your driving record, it remains on your criminal record.
If you're facing your second DUI charge, you're going to have a bad time. Most lawyers charge significantly more to defend a second DUI case, and your insurance will rise exponentially. The punitive punishment is also considerably harsher. In California, for example, a second DUI means mandatory jail time.
Getting a positive outcome from a first DUI charge is already difficult on its own. A second DUI shows the courts that you are a repeat offender and that your first DUI wasn't a one-time mistake.
A: It's not always necessary, but it is a good idea.
Let's say you drive a German car. When your car has problems, you take it to a mechanic who specializes in German cars. Sure, a skilled mechanic who normally works on Japanese cars might be able to fix your car. But they may overlook key components or make mistakes that the German car mechanic wouldn't.
That's why you want a lawyer who focuses on DUI cases. They know the ins and outs of DUI law in your state, and they will are more likely to have intimate knowledge of the courts. An expert in DUI law may have relationships with prosecutors and judges, giving them a greater ability to reach a beneficial deal on your case.
A: An SR 22 is an official form that your insurer will provide to your state's DMV stating that you meet the minimum liability requirements for insurance. This form is often required by the DMV to reinstate a suspended license, and it will likely include a higher insurance rate.
"A DUI conviction can drastically increase your car insurance and even possibly require a high-risk SR22 policy for three years - which can cost $100-$150 a month or more in addition to your existing insurance which will likely also go up," says Dichter.
A: Some states will require an SR-22 to prove that you have necessary liability insurance. SR-22's can be required by the state or a court order. If the state requests an SR-22, you will receive a notice in the mail. You will be notified of a court ordered SR-22's during your hearing. The following states do not currently require SR-22 forms:
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current and is subject to change without notice. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.
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