How much is my freedom worth?
September 26, 2014 10:20 PM   Subscribe

What's a good rate for a DWI attorney in the Greensboro, NC area?

Hey all. YANAL, YANML, obvs.

I made a huge mistake, and now I have a pending DWI. I consulted with an attorney and received quotes for each of their attorneys. The less experienced was $2000, and the much more experienced (great reviews on Avvo, lots of successful DWI overturns,) was $4000. No damage to property, pulled over for speeding (10 over) and the officer smelled alcohol. I've never had this kind of thing happen so I really don't know how much I should be paying. I don't know if they'll be able to get me off of charges, obviously, but they seem like they know what they're doing.

1) This is worth it, right?

2) How much should I be paying?

3) Do I get my hopes up?

Thanks guys. Please, no judgment here, I feel like a piece of shit, I know I messed up.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, given the potential consequences of a DWI conviction -- which vary by state, but include jail time and stuff that can seriously impact your ability to work -- I'd throw everything I had at this. Do you have $4,000?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:37 PM on September 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

A good attorney will get you a reduced charge. Well worth the $4,000 in my opinion. As a first time offender, that will likely help too. I had a friend blow a 0.18 after being pulled over doing 105 mph on the Taconic. First time offender. Got a fine and a restricted license for 4 months. You want an attorney who has negotiated many of these in your jurisdiction. It is not so much about his lawyer skills as it is about his relationships with the DA and judges and his ability to know what optics are needed and play that game.
posted by 724A at 10:38 PM on September 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Both prices are within reasonable bounds. For $2000.00 you can expect a person who's basically going to walk you through the plea process. They probably won't file any serious motions on your behalf. I have about 8 years criminal defense experience in the Southern California area and I wouldn't defend a first time DWI for $2000.00.

For $4000.00, which is a bit more than I would charge you (unless it goes to trial, in which case their are extra costs which push it over that), you can actually expect the attorney to file some motions on your behalf and to some decent investigation. You'll probably have to pay for some lab work separately (shouldn't be more than around $200).

The difference is, hopefully (because their is always some luck involved, it's hard to tell if an attorney is going to be any good ahead of item, alas), the $4k attorney will fill some motions on your behalf if anything pops up, and to have the breath/blood samples tested separately if that makes sense in your case. (By the way, I recommend people always demand a blood test, it's easier for things to go wrong and thus more opportunities for the evidence to go wrong, also evidence that can lead to your innocence such as other drugs in the system or chemicals that can confuse the regular test will be preserved). They'll likely to have a better understanding of the science behind the Blood Alcohol test that might lead to arguments of your innocence.

The downside is, of course, that all the work might lead to nothing and then you're out $4k.
posted by bswinburn at 11:03 PM on September 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm an attorney. Not yours. I don't know anybody in the Greensboro area. I know attorneys who make this type of work the majority of their practice, who charge in the ballpark of $10,000. Every jurisdiction is different.

Pretend it's five years later. Now, look back. Is there anything else you would have bought with that extra $2,000, that you regret not keeping it handy for?

Good luck.
posted by cribcage at 11:07 PM on September 26, 2014

Friend of mine went thru this in Louisiana. I called up a well-known lawyer while she was still in the drunk tank. He told me straight up that he was the most expensive game in town at $3k, he was best at what he did, had the relationships with the DA, etc. He kept everything off her record; just a couple days of classes or sessions with a counsellor or something IIRC.

If I had the money I would spend it, but I'm a "fear the worst" (what if I ever want to work for a defence contractor? What if i want to become a public figure? What if I get denied entry to Canada? What if...) But actually in my part of the country it's not uncommon to have one on record. So weigh the pros and cons for you.
posted by ista at 11:13 PM on September 26, 2014

NC is pretty hard-assed when it comes to traffic violations of any kind. The 4k is cheaper than the extra your insurance would cost over the next five years. Not to mention the difficulty in G'boro of life without a car if you loose your license.
posted by cat_link at 3:18 AM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having been through this process, yeah, spend the 4K. This is only part of it - there will be other fees, and, should you decide to spend a little more later, you will possibly need to pay to have it expunged. Doing so may be worth it depending on what kind of jobs and stuff you'll be looking for.

Interesting note: if you apply for a security clearance, go ahead and disclose it, expunged or not.
posted by Thistledown at 5:07 AM on September 27, 2014

Get an attorney sooner rather than later--they might want you to do things like drug/alcohol counseling or something else. That can make a big difference in the outcome of a case, and it's much better to say that you have been to X sessions than that you will be going to X sessions.
posted by unreasonable at 5:11 AM on September 27, 2014

I know attorneys who make this type of work the majority of their practice, who charge in the ballpark of $10,000.

Someone I used to work with paid about that much and considered it money very well spent. My job requires me to have a drivers license and that's not unusual -- the costs of getting this wrong are very high, compared to the small costs of getting the best-connected and most-experienced lawyer available. I don't know anything about the two lawyers you are considering, but I would not make price the key factor in that decision.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:57 AM on September 27, 2014

A DWI is like cancer. Don't half-ass your treatment. A DWI on your record can screw you over in jobs, insurance rates, and all sorts of other things you haven't even thought of. I'd beg, borrow and steal to get the money to pay the best attorney I could find.

Do EVERYTHING you can to get out of the DWI. I'm not kidding.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:57 AM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

1) This is worth it, right?

I think so. It will help minimize future regret. If you go with the $2k lawyer, and you don't get good results, you'll be kicking yourself for skimping. If you go with the $4k lawyer, and you don't get good results, at least you will have the comfort of knowing that you did your best, and there will be no "what if" remorse ("What if I'd gone with the more expensive lawyer?")

If you stop drinking for a few years (or more), I imagine you will more than recoup that extra $2k in booze-related savings. No judgment here -- I used to drink shocking amounts, and drove drunk many times, and only by dumb luck had no accidents or legal issues -- but I would gently suggest that this incident might be a pivot-point for you -- a chance to turn away from drinking and turn toward a lifestyle where you won't have to worry about DWIs and legal costs (or worse). Four grand in legal fees, plus whatever other costs will be associated with "rehabbing" your driving record, is in the scheme of things getting off pretty easy. Coulda been soooooo much worse. Pay up, dust yourself off, and move on with your life. Lesson learned.
posted by nacho fries at 9:57 PM on September 27, 2014

I have been board certified by the North Carolina State Bar as a specialist in criminal defense. Defending people against impaired driving offenses is a substantial part of my practice. I do not practice in the Greensboro area, but I will do my best to answer your questions.

1. Yes, it is worth it. Hire a lawyer. In a best case scenario, the difference between having a lawyer and not can be the difference between having any sort of conviction or not. At the very least, hiring a lawyer should reduce your stress, decrease the unknowns of wandering around the courtroom, and keep you legally driving as much as the law will allow. Hiring a lawyer -- no matter who it is -- does not guarantee any sort of result.

2. How much should you be paying? I don't know the market there. I know that where I practice attorneys charge somewhere between 1500 and 2500 dollars. I know of one lawyer who charges 3000 dollars. There is not a direct correlation between the price and the quality of the attorney. It sounds like fees are a bit higher in Greensboro. Maybe I should move there. Choose an attorney you feel comfortable with that you can afford. Maybe it's the 4000 dollar guy. Maybe it's not. That is a personal choice.

3. Do you get your hopes up? No. Maybe something good will happen in your case for you. It happens. I probably wind up with about twenty percent of my DWIs being dismissed or resulting in not guilty verdicts. Many of those are for very lucky reasons (DA forgets to introduce necessary information, officer quits, etc.). Police need reasonable suspicion to pull you over. If you were speeding, the officer had that reasonable suspicion. The officer then needs probable cause to arrest you. That is what those field sobriety tests are for. I obviously don't know how you did on those, and you probably don't know what the officer's notes say. If the State clears those first two hurdles and you blew .08 or higher, then you have problems. Again, things can happen. Don't give up hope, but don't think hiring a lawyer has guaranteed some sort of result.

Additionally, I would advise you to try your case. Unless the judges there are different, there is little incentive to plead guilty to DWIs. The legislature has tied the hands of judges when it comes to sentencing DWIs, so you are likely to get the same penalty if you plead guilty or you try your case. Make your lawyer earn her money. Good things can happen.

I don't know your offense date, but if this is your first offense and you blew .08 or higher, then your license is suspended for thirty days. After ten days you can get a limited driving privilege drive for work, school, or maintenance of household activities. This license has a 100 dollar filing fee and requires that you get an alcohol assessment (should be 100 dollars), a DL-123 form from your insurance company (shows you are currently insured), and a letter from your employer if you work outside the hours of 6am to 8pm M-F. After thirty days, you pay 100 dollars to the clerk of courts and you will get your plastic license back. You will be able to drive with no restrictions unless you are convicted later. If you do get convicted and you have never had a DWI before, had a valid North Carolina Driver's License at the time of the offense, did not have a passenger under 18 in the car, blew .14 or less, and did not cause an accident that resulted in bodily injury, then you will be able to get a limited driving privilege that will last you for the year your license is suspended. There is a separate 100 dollar filing fee for this license. Everything else is similar to the temporary limited driving privilege referenced above.

If you blew .15 or higher and are convicted, then you will not be able to get that limited driving privilege until 45 days after the date of your conviction. Furthermore, you will need to get the ignition interlock system installed in your car for you to be able to drive. That device will need to be in your car for one year.

If you refused to blow, then you will be receiving a letter from DMV shortly that will tell you that your license has been revoked for one year regardless of whether you ever get found guilty or not. After six months, you will become eligible for a limited driving privilege. Of course, if you wind up getting convicted, it will affect your revocation period further.

Assuming you have none of the aggravating factors that I listed above and blew a .08 or higher, then your are likely to receive a sixty day suspended sentence and be placed on unsupervised probation for one year. This means that you will might have to serve sixty days if you do not comply with the judgment. The judgment will require you to pay court costs (290), a fine (almost always 100), get an alcohol assessment (same as the one you are getting for your limited driving privilege) and comply with the recommendations of that assessment (classes), don't get convicted of any new crimes, and 24 hours in jail or 24 hours of community service (250 dollar fee). Though judges have discretion, I have never heard of a district where the judge doesn't let you choose between the jail and the community service. If there is a judge who is known to do unusual things, I am certain your lawyer will keep you away from that judge.

Good luck.
posted by flarbuse at 7:51 AM on September 28, 2014

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