Investigation Finds Dropped Charges More Likely for DUI Defendants With Lawyers

December 28, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

As a Fort Lauderdale drunk driving criminal defense attorney, I was not at all surprised by a recent article in the Daytona Beach News-Journal. The newspaper is in the middle of a three-part series on drunk driving in Volusia County, focusing on cases where prosecutors brought only one DUI charge, typically against a first offender. Its first part, published Dec. 27, looks at how prosecutors decide to drop, reduce or pursue DUI charges. Its unsurprising conclusion: Defendants with private attorneys are more than twice as likely as those with public defenders to win dropped or reduced charges, which means they never get a first drunk driving conviction on their records.

The article goes into detail about why defendants with private representation tend to do better than those with public defenders. According to the News-Journal, public defenders often aren’t even assigned to a DUI case until the defendant makes a decision about how to plead. They also have heavy caseloads -- 300 to 400 cases each, the newspaper said. By contrast, private attorneys can get involved as soon as the defendant calls, and their caseloads are typically closer to 50 cases at a time. They also have specialized DUI defense experience, giving them a better chance of finding flaws in the cases against their clients. Other factors making dropped charges more likely include mistakes by the arresting officer, flawed evidence and videotapes of the arrest that don’t show obvious intoxication. And the article noted that public defenders cannot represent clients at the DHSMV hearing, as private attorneys can and do.

I use these defenses almost routinely in my work as a Miami-Dade DUI defense lawyer. As the article notes, one mistake by an officer can mean throwing out the evidence created by that mistake. For example, one woman in the article was told that she had to submit to field sobriety tests, which is simply not true in Florida. Her lawyer filed to suppress the resulting evidence, which ultimately allowed her to plead guilty to reckless driving. A conviction for reckless driving still carries probation and alcohol classes -- but it keeps a DUI off your record. That means there won’t be a first conviction on your record in the event of another DUI charge -- though the article says 90% don’t re-offend.

I believe this is the strongest argument possible for hiring a South Florida DUI criminal defense lawyer like me, if you’re facing drunk driving charges. The penalties for a first intoxicated driving conviction in Florida are severe, including potential jail time, loss of your driver’s license, hundreds of dollars in fines, probation and community service. As the article notes, hiring an attorney isn’t always cheap -- but neither are the costs of all of these penalties. If losing a license means losing a job, the cost is even higher, in both dollars and financial security. And of course, the benefit of keeping a criminal conviction off your record is not always measured in dollars. An Orlando drunk driving defense attorney like me can’t promise a specific result -- but as the article showed, statistics are on our side.