New Jersey DWI laws are strict – perhaps the strictest in the United States (and they are getting stricter because of public sentiment). Stringent penalties upon a conviction are mandatory, and there is a prohibition against plea bargaining (i.e. reducing the DWI charge to a lesser offense).
If you are seeking counsel, you have been through an embarrassing and demoralizing ordeal of being arrested. While a DWI is technically a motor vehicle violation, for most clients, they feel like criminals after the arrest ordeal. You are likely feeling overwhelmed and uncertain – stressed. See Article On Stress & The DWI Charge.
You must face the reality of the charge. The tough charge of DWI must be met head on by a defense attorney who is equally tough — respectful and professional to the court at all times, but firm, in defending the charge. Leveling the playing field requires creativity, experience, and passion. Proper DWI defense is simply no place for the inexperienced attorney, the general practitioner (the attorney who dabbles), the lazy or the timid. The wrong attorney can do irreparable damage to your case and your life – the correct choice can make a difference.
What To Look For and What To Avoid
- Avoid The Generalist – the proverbial “Jack of All Trades and Master of None.” If you needed heart surgery, would you go to a general surgeon who performs a few heart surgeries a year? You would and should want a devoted and experienced heart surgeon whose medical practice is focused on heart surgery. You would want and expect a surgeon who performs heart surgeries day in and day out, knows how to react to unexpected complications, and is committed to being on the cutting edge of his craft.
I was at a party recently and spoke with a legal secretary. When I told her that my practice was devoted to DWI defense, she told me that her boss “dabbles” in DWI defense. The “dabbler” is a scary but common reality. Look for an attorney who devotes the majority of his practice to defending DWI cases. The dabbler is likely to miss issues that can mean the difference between a successful or failing defense.
- Avoid The Volume Practitioner. These offices are sometimes referred to as “mills” or “dump trucks” because of their reliance on quantity, not quality. The theory of these offices is to take in as many cases as possible (often for low flat fees) and to push them out as quickly as possible with a quick conclusion of a guilty plea (or counseling the client to enter a guilty plea) with no challenge. Look for the attorney who will meticulously, diligently, and zealously work on your file and defense – not who views your case as just another file in the office filing cabinet.
- Avoid Attorneys Who Employ Unsavory Baiting & Marketing Practices. It is unethical to guarantee a result in any case – while many clients want a guarantee as if they were buying a product, guaranteeing a result is just wrong. Telling you what you want to hear may make you feel cozy, but it not moral. It is also unethical for an attorney to suggest that since he knows a particular judge or prosecutor, he can improperly influence him. Look for an attorney who is frank, who has honor and who has integrity.
The internet has afforded clients a vast landscape of information – legal and otherwise. You should carefully sift through the information and make sure that you are not being lulled in by a lawyer who is masquerading as DWI defense lawyer with a website. I have had other lawyers lift my work from my sites and pass it off as their own – believe it or not! One was later disbarred after being convicted of a felony! Most clients know the difference – some do not and are fooled. Is the information and format original – creative, or is the site a replica of another dwi site? If the lawyer is not creative, fresh and original, can you expect the attorney to be creative and fresh with your case?
- Know Who Will Handle Your File. The Attorney you hire should be the attorney who handles the bulk of your case. Many times, files are opened and quickly handed off to associate (sometimes an inexperienced underlings so that the senior attorneys can handle what are regarded as the more serious cases), or handled by several attorneys throughout the representation. When this happens, too many cooks can spoil the proverbial broth and sometimes the right hand does not know what the left has done or is doing (I know – that was two clichés in one sentence! – but an appropriate use to make a serious point). If another attorney will be used, it should be for routine or certain events in the process only. Look for an attorney of your choice who will devote a significant portion of time to your case.
- Trust Your Instincts and Do Your Homework. Draw upon both your gut instincts, as well as your homework. Speak with the attorney and do not be afraid to question him carefully about his qualifications and experience – remember, you are the client and are entitled to know who you are hiring. I have a colleague who began his career in the Public Defender’s office defending serious felony cases (e.g. murder, robbery, etc.). He told me that the prisoners he was called upon to represent, while uneducated in the formal sense, had a tremendously keen skill at being able to “read” attorneys – they could tell for example, which ones knew their stuff, which ones were looking for the easy road, and which ones did not know a thing.
Prisoners in state prison may have heightened instincts for many social reasons, but we all have instincts – draw upon yours. Do not be afraid to question your prospective attorney. A competent, experienced and honorable attorney will welcome your questions and should provide you with frank responses. You should also feel comfortable with the attorney on a personal level. Has the attorney answered all of your questions, is he going to defend the charge with passion and zeal, has he treated me with respect, is he smart, can I trust him? Is the attorney pressuring you – do you feel like the lawyer is touting his greatness (a “me myself and I” speech) and/or giving you a “sales pitch?”
In assessing the attorney as you are doing your homework, you want to know:
- What portion of the attorney’s practice is devoted to defending DWI charges. Is the attorney a generalist or dabbler, or is he devoted to DWI defense.
- How many DWI cases the attorney has taken to trial as opposed to simply pleading a client guilty. Ask the attorney about recent cases he has tried and won and the issues which were presented.
- Whether the attorney will personally handle your case, or it will be handled by someone else in the office at any stage of the proceedings.
- Whether the attorney has any ethics infractions against him.
- Fees & Costs. Some lawyers charge by the hour, some charge flat fees. The attorney should clearly answer your questions regarding the cost for his representation. Lawyers’ fees are going to vary, but remember, cheap and good is usually not available. You can also find that a bad lawyer can also be expensive, but you should expect to pay more for quality representation and for a focused dwi defense lawyer.
The New Jersey DWI charge is tough – I believe that the defense must be equally firm to assure the defense is placed on equal footing with the immense power of the state. If you have been arrested for DWI, you are undoubtedly nervous and embarrassed. You are looking for answers and hope. I cannot offer you a guarantee – I can offer only my assurance that I will do all that I am ethically obligated and allowed to do to advocate a zealous defense.
I should also add this: I see the significance of the psychological underpinnings of the DWI charge (e.g. you may be suffering from the disease of alcoholism, you may be suffering from depression, anxiety, or other psychological condition, you may be coping with a unique life event such as divorce, loss of a job, and there might be other human and personal issues which have resulted in your charge). I try and understand each client as an individual, not just another file – this helps me better represent the client particularly in the event of a guilty finding (I believe it is important in this event to explain the human element to the court). My ultimate aim is to advocate my clients’ position within the very bounds of ethics (See Article: Why Zealous Defense Of DWI Charges Is A Moral Imperative). I do, however, try and understand and empathize with the human element as well.
Please feel free to call me if you want to discuss your DWI charge. Calls and what is discussed are protected by attorney-client privilege (i.e. your very private matter will not and cannot ethically be divulged). I do not charge for an initial consultation – a concentrated effort is made to answer calls 24 hours a day and seven days a week and I personally respond to phone calls.