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Can I Represent Myself in My Ohio DUI/OVI Case?

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a serious crime in Ohio, just as it is in every state. As such, you possess the Constitutional right to represent yourself in DUI cases as the case will take place in criminal court. But, most defendants choose to either hire a private attorney or be represented by a court-appointed public defender.

The following information is designed to help you choose between these three options based on the best fit for your specific circumstances.

Free Consultations

Most DUI attorneys give prospective clients a free consultation to discuss the issues and merits of your cases. Most importantly, you are under no obligation to hire the attorney who provides you with the consultation. To make the most of this consultation, you should bring all materials related to your cases (citations, documents, court dates, etc.) as well as a list of questions. The consultation can be a good jumping off point to decide whether you need legal representation, and if so, whether the attorney you speak with is the right representation for you.

Cases Where You Might Not Need an Attorney

Many jurisdictions have a standard plea offer for first time DUI offenders. This offer is extended to run-of-the-mill DUI cases with no aggravating factors such as extremely high BAC or injuries caused. This offer is typically at the lower end of the spectrum of allowable penalties for first-time DUI offenders.

In theory, the “standard” plea offer should be the same whether you have legal representation or represent yourself. This may be the case for you, and an attorney may be unable to help you at all in these situations, but this would only be the case if there is overwhelming evidence against you and there is no aggravating or mitigating factors surrounding your DUI.

In practice, however, an attorney can often improve the plea deal offered to you even in “standard” first offense situations. DUI lawyers are trained to comb through the unique details of every case to find weaknesses in the prosecution’s argument. There are simply some legal weaknesses that non-lawyers will not find solely because they are not trained in the intricacies of DUI law. Any weakness may be an opening to negotiate better plea terms as prosecutors are busy and do not want a case to extend longer than it absolutely must. Additionally, a local lawyer with a good reputation likely has strong relationships with the prosecutor and judge, which can help facilitate a better deal than you could reasonably negotiate on your own.

Finally, accepting a standard plea offer may be inadvisable in even typical cases because you may neglect an obscure defense or unknowingly fail to assert a right simply because you do not know the law as well as an experienced DUI attorney. The law can be complex, so it is always better to have someone on your side that is thoughtful, knowledgeable and experienced.

Why Choose a Public Defender?

All criminal defendants have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, the court will appoint a public defender to advocate on your behalf. This may seem like the perfect compromise: you get an attorney and also save on legal fees. However, just like all legal situations, there are pros and cons to public defender representation.

DUI is a very common offense, so most public defenders have considerable experience handling DUI cases, which is a strong bonus. They are also generally very familiar with the prosecutors and judges and know their typical reactions, which can help when negotiating a plea deal.

Unfortunately, there are also several negatives to being represented by a public defender. First, public defenders are typically extremely overworked. They constantly have enormous caseloads that make it difficult for them to devote the necessary attention to each individual case on their desk. Second, you do not get to choose your public defender. You merely get who the court appoints to your case. Your personality may clash with the attorney or you may get a particularly busy public defender and have no recourse to solve the issue. Third, a DUI arrest can lead to two separate proceedings: administrative proceedings with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and a criminal court case. Defendants, in some jurisdictions who have a public defender, may have to deal with the DMV proceedings on their own because public defenders only deal with cases in criminal court.

Why Hire a Private Attorney?

First, a private DUI attorney will handle both the administrative proceedings and the criminal case. This is advantageous for multiple reasons: (1) You will be represented in all situations, (2) your legal defense will be coherent and consistent in both proceedings, and (3) you will not have to pay someone else to familiarize themselves with the case again. Your private attorney will already be well-versed on the facts of your case from the first proceeding.

The major deterrent to hiring a DUI attorney is the price as it can cost a few thousand dollars (and even more if your case proceeds all the way to trial). However, think of the money as a long-term investment. A DUI is a serious crime that can have a lasting impact on your driving ability, job prospects, and financial situation. You can try to navigate the waters on your own or with an overworked public defender and hope to pull through, or you can spend more money upfront and negotiate from a stronger position with a DUI attorney fully committed and dedicated to your case. You will get more one-on-one time with your attorney to discuss litigation strategy and ensure that your needs are being met.

If You Want to Go to Trial, An Attorney is a Must

It is possible, if unlikely, for you to represent yourself as well as an attorney could represent you throughout the pre-trial process and plea negotiations. A trial is a whole different game. Attorneys train their entire careers to be well-prepared and polished at trial. You are entitled to represent yourself at trial if you choose to do so, but it is generally a very bad idea. A person with no trial experience will have an extremely difficult time presenting a fluid and coherent argument under pressure from the judge and opposing counsel. The main takeaway is—if you are going to trial, an attorney is highly recommended.

Schedule a Free Consultation with The Farrish Law Firm

Please reach out to an attorney today. We would love to discuss your case and begin working towards a swift and positive resolution of your DUI charge, so you can get back to your everyday life.