Nearly every two days, a drunk driver kills somebody in Maryland. Although DUI (Driving Under the Influence) fatalities and injuries have decreased throughout the state in recent years, a nationwide effort to curb drunk and drugged driving has resulted in strict laws, limits, and mandatory penalties in Maryland and every other state. Because DUI and DWI (Driving While Impaired) punishments have increased in severity and are often combined with other criminal charges, choosing the right lawyer can make all the difference as to whether you spend years in jail or have your case dismissed.
Maryland DUI Law and Bias
Maryland passed several new DUI laws recently, the most famous of which is Noah’s Law, or, The Drunk Driving Reduction Act of 2016. Officer Noah Leotta was hit and killed by a drunk driver while stopping another driver on suspicion of driving drunk. This led to an increased intolerance to driving under the influence throughout Montgomery county and the rest of the state by law enforcement and judges. Penalties are especially severe if you are charged with underage drinking and driving, and blood alcohol limits are much lower when you are under 21. Similarly, the punishments for DUI are much higher if children are in the vehicle at the time of your arrest.
Finding Attorneys to Interview
If you have been charged with DUI or DWI, finding the right lawyer quickly is crucial since the system in Maryland tends to move faster than in other states. The first step is compiling a list of attorneys to interview. Purchase a notebook or 3-ring binder with pockets to take notes and keep notes and court documents organized during the interview process, as well as throughout the duration of your case.
Never hire an attorney who is not licensed to practice in your state, and review attorneys’ disciplinary record with the Maryland State Bar Association. Although disciplinary action should not necessarily keep an attorney off your short list, the type of complaint or offense may give you a good indication of how ethically they treat their clients.
If you’ve ever hired an attorney in the past, this may be a good place to start asking for recommendations. If not, ask friends and family. If you are too embarrassed about your charge to ask around, as many people are, check with the Maryland State Bar Association, The National College of DUI Defense, The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), or the numerous online attorney review sites such as lawyers.com, nolo.com and avvo.com.
Consider Time Practicing as a DUI Attorney
Ask attorneys how long they have been practicing DUI law in Maryland, specifically. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Maryland is an exceedingly serious criminal offense in the eyes of state (and national) law. Per se law, imminent consent law, and recently passed new Maryland laws that back the state in prosecuting you can really stack the cards against you.
You could lose your family, job, home, friends, and life savings over jail time, license suspensions, and fines associated with your charge. That’s why you need an attorney who knows Maryland law, the history and current climate of these law and outcomes in the state, and the various judges and law enforcement involved. If you have been charged with multiple crimes, it may be helpful to find an attorney who not only specializes in this area, but also has experience in legal matters pertaining to your other charges, as well.
The right attorney has a history of aggressive trial defense and a trail of “wet reckless” pleas and combined penalties to avoid jail time as well as dismissed cases. When interviewing attorneys to represent you in your DUI case, get a history of each of these and enough information to know what percentage of their cases like yours resulted in losses or jail time.
While interviewing attorneys and explaining your case, ask if that particular firm’s consulting representative is the attorney who will be assigned to your case. Then, meet with your assigned attorney, if different than the one representing the firm in the initial consultation, to gauge that attorney’s sympathy level with you. You made a mistake, but you still have your rights, including a right to dignity. Your defense will be stronger with an attorney who doesn’t judge you before you’ve even seen a judge.
Consultation and Payments
The right attorney will offer you a free consultation and payment plans that work with your budget if you need one. Bring all paperwork with you to a consultation, and be honest about your charges and your situation. The initial consultation is a good time to ask whether the attorney charges per case or by the hour.
Most attorneys in Maryland will ask for a retainer fee upfront, but many will allow you to make payments spread out over several months. Of course, never choose the lowest-cost attorney you can afford – given the penalties you will be facing, the right attorney will be worth their weight in gold. When you are finally ready to hire, get everything in writing, especially concerning charges, fees, and payments.
Choosing the right lawyer to navigate the swift-moving Maryland criminal justice system is crucial if you don’t want to put your life on hold, or worse, lose everything you have, over your mistake. An attorney who knows the biases and tendencies of Maryland judges and police officers can more effectively navigate the Maryland judicial system better for you, resulting in a more positive outcome. Choose an attorney who understands you and treats you with the respect you deserve; equally important as understanding Maryland law is understanding you and your unique situation.
For more information, visit the Fellner Law Firm, where we specialize in DUI and related criminal cases. If you are ready to choose your attorney, contact us through our website, or call us today at (301) 309-2000 to set up your no-obligation consultation.