I’ve had quite a few people come to my office recently asking whether they really need to hire a lawyer to defend them in a criminal matter. I have a pretty obvious bias. But, yes, you do need a lawyer, and here are a few reasons why, sticking just with the laws in the realm of DWIs:
Do You Know the Law:
Do you know what it means to “drive, operate, or be in physical control of any motor vehicle”? Does a riding mower count? What about a Zamboni on a private rink? What if you’re asleep in the trunk?
Do you know how the laws treat police stops differently in a boat than in a car? Obviously you can’t do the heel-to-toe sobriety test on water.
Do you know the mandatory minimum levels of sentences for different degrees of DWI and what would satisfy them?
Did you know that in Minnesota , being in jail for two minutes could count as two days, but that if you’re on a 36 hour probable cause hold without a warrant, 36 hours (or one and a half days) could legitimately last as long as 107 hours and 59 minutes (or four and a half days)?
Do You Know the Jargon:
It’s not fair, but prosecutors, judges, cops, probation officers, and court personnel use a lot of jargon in criminal court. You might have to choose between EHM or STS or jail time with Huber. You can ask questions, but the prosecutors will throw so much jargon at you so fast that you won’t even remember what to ask.
Do you know what it means if you are ordered to do a “Rule 25” or that a private chemical dependency evaluation by your doctor and covered by your insurance can be cheaper than what the court or probation order?
Do You Know the Collateral Consequences:
The prosecutor does not need to tell you, and won’t tell you of the collateral consequences of a criminal violation. You probably know that a DWI has implications for your driver’s license. But did you know that the DL issues are only addressed by a civil lawsuit that you have to file, without fail, within 30 days of receiving a Notice of Revocation in the mail (or that what that really means is within 33 days of the date on which it was mailed).
Do you know the implications on gun ownership for violations of certain laws? The DANKO implications? What about challenging the forfeiture of a vehicle? What if the vehicle you were arrested in is your mothers?
Can you have a jury trial on a ticket for running a stop sign? How many jurors do you get for a misdemeanor trial? Can you call a character witness if you’re arrested for DWI? Can the state use your prior arrest history? What if you say you’re a “safe driver”? Does a jury verdict have to be unanimous?
These are a few of the implications of one area of criminal law (DWI) that came to me off the top of my head. There are hundreds of criminal laws, each with their own unique consequences that you need to be aware of.