Should I Use a Public Defender for My DUI Case?

Should I Use a Public Defender for My DUI Case?

If you’ve ever watched a crime TV show (and who hasn’t?), you’ve probably heard a stern officer saying, “If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you” as they duck a suspect into a police car. If you’ve been arrested for a DUI, you might have even heard this line first-hand. The right to representation is built into the American judicial system – but just because you can use a public defender for a DUI, doesn’t mean you should. Here’s what you need to know.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My DUI Case?

The simple answer is yes. If you’re charged with a DUI in Oklahoma, you may be able to represent yourself, but it’s usually not a good idea. A lawyer can help get your DUI dismissed, reduce the charges, or get a deferred or suspended sentence. There’s almost always something an attorney can do for you in a DUI case.

What Are My Options for DUI Representation?

As with most criminal cases, you have two options: a public defender or a private attorney:

  • Public Defender for a DUI: A public defender is an attorney assigned to your case if you can’t afford one. In Oklahoma, you’ll automatically be assigned a public defender if you don’t post bond. If you do post bond, you can still get a public defender – you’ll just have to go through an application process.
  • Private DUI Attorney: A private attorney simply means one that you hire and pay for on your own. Keep in mind that this is a unique type of criminal case, and it’s important to find an attorney that specializes in DUIs.

The Oklahoma Public Defender System

In Oklahoma, public defenders for DUIs fall under the same umbrella as other crimes and are administered by the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System (OIDS). To get a public defender, the state must determine you’re entitled to free legal counsel.

As mentioned, the state will assume you’re indigent (in other words, broke) if you don’t post bond after your arrest. Otherwise, you can fill out an application and bring it to your first court date. There’s no specific income requirement to be eligible for a public defender. The judge will look at your income, savings, debts, and other financial obligations and make a determination.

Are Public Defenders Good for DUI Cases?

While the U.S. Constitution and the State of Oklahoma both guarantee a right to representation, a public defender for a DUI isn’t always the best choice. OIDS is underfunded and caseloads are high. According to its 2022 report, OIDS handled 51,872 cases that year and there has been an upward trend for over a decade, with an 18% increase since 2010.

A 2019 report found that nationwide, only 21% of state-based public defender offices had enough staff. Many public defenders do care deeply about the defendants that they represent, but they just don’t have the time to mount a good defense.

Another downside of public defenders for DUIs is that there is both a criminal and administrative aspect to DUI cases. In addition to the criminal case, Service Oklahoma (formerly known as DPS) will start proceedings to revoke your license, which is a separate civil case. A public defender can only represent you in criminal court and you will also need to be there, while a private attorney can represent you in both cases and can appear for you at your court dates.

Benefits of Hiring a DUI Lawyer

A public defender for a DUI case is better than representing yourself, but a private attorney is an even better option. When you hire your own lawyer, they’re more dedicated to your case—both the civil and the criminal case. They’ll be able to:

  • Thoroughly investigate: Did the police officer have probable cause to pull you over and to give you a breathalyzer? Did they administer it properly? These are some of the most common ways to get a DUI dismissed.
  • Negotiate the best deal: Experienced DUI lawyers know the ins and outs of the system they work within and will know the strengths and weaknesses of the state’s case, so they can negotiate from a better position.
  • Question witnesses: At your DPS hearing for your license revocation, your attorney can cross-examine the officers involved in your arrest and present evidence in your defense. Public defenders won’t even be able to attend this hearing.
  • Litigate at trial: Plenty of public defenders are also trial attorneys. But private DUI attorneys will have the time – as well as assistance from a legal team – to properly prepare witnesses and form a winning strategy.

Is a Private DUI Attorney Expensive?

The biggest benefit of a public defender for a DUI is that they won’t cost you anything. But when you factor in the benefits of a private attorney who has the bandwidth to investigate your case and get you the best possible outcome, it might not be as expensive as you think. For example, if your case is dismissed or pled down to a lesser charge, you can avoid the sky-high auto insurance premiums that come along with a DUI conviction on your driving record.

If you have multiple DUIs in Oklahoma, the consequences are even more severe, including possible jail time. A good lawyer can help you avoid that punishment, saving your job, your finances, and your reputation.

Think of your civil case, too: You may be able to avoid having an ignition interlock device installed on your car, which costs a lot of money. And a revoked license is more than an inconvenience. It can also increase your insurance rates and leave you stuck shelling out for Ubers.

The Bottom Line

The public defense system is a bedrock of the American judicial system and a much-needed asset for indigent individuals. But are public defenders good for DUI cases? Most people would agree that if you can afford a private attorney, that’s the way to go. Many DUI attorneys will evaluate your case for free – including the Tulsa DUI Guy. Contact us today to get started.