Let’s say you’ve been arrested for an alleged DUI offense. You were driving home from a party and an officer stopped you upon observing that you appeared to be unsteady in your lane of traffic. You failed a field sobriety test and your blood alcohol level tested at .08, which is the threshold for a finding that you were legally impaired at the time of the stop. You didn’t think you’d had too much to drink, but it sure looks like they’ve got you guilty “dead to rights.” Now, you’re at court and the prosecutor is offering you a deal — if you plead guilty to first offense DUI, you’ll get the minimum sentence; a $350 fine, 48 hours in jail and loss of your driver’s license for one year. Seeing no other way out, you accept the offer.
After all, you had no practical alternative, right?
If your answer to that question was “right,” let me ask you another question: How do you know that you had no practical alternative? Consider these additional questions, and whether you would have known to ask them or what the answers would be:
- Was the officer’s observation that you were unsteady in your lane of traffic a sufficient basis for him to pull you over in the first place?
- Did the officer conduct and analyze the field sobriety test correctly?
- Were the officer’s conclusions about the field sobriety test credible when compared to the videotape of you undergoing that test? (YES, there WAS a video. Did you watch it? Did you ask to watch it? Did the prosecutor even tell you that there was a video?)
- Did you consider the legal arguments you might have made to the court concerning the efficacy of the field sobriety test performed?
- How long after you were stopped was your blood sample taken, and when was it analyzed? If your blood alcohol level was measured at .08 at the time of the analysis, might it have been below the legal limit at the time you were stopped?
- Was the prosecution ready and able to produce the laboratory analyst who reviewed your blood sample to testify against you? Was it required to do so in order to rely on her conclusion or report?
These are but a few of the questions you need to:
- know to ask
- know how to find the answers to before you can represent yourself effectively in a DUI case.
Similarly, you need to know what questions to ask and how to answer them before you can be your own lawyer in any other type of criminal proceeding, be it on a charge of drug possession, shoplifting, domestic assault, burglary, theft …. whatever the offense involved happens to be.
If your legal training and experience qualify you to be your own lawyer — and if you can also be objective about your own case — then, go ahead, be my guest! If not, however, don’t be “a fool for a client.” Hire an attorney to represent you!