DUI or Drunk Driving Charges, Can You Afford the Cost?

March 25, 2009

Recently noted in news accounts are the costs of a charge of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs.  Minimum court costs are $715.50 in Oklahoma County.  A “typical attorney’s fee” for misdemeanor for a guilty plea is $3,000 to $5,000.  That is for a first-time offender.  Other fees included a drug/alcohol assessment mandated by state law, the costs of driving school and/or substance abuse treatment and/or counseling, all as monitored by probation services, usually by the District Attorney of the county in which the prosecution takes place.

Lurking behind all the court and attorney costs are the effects on vehicle insurance.  These increases are hard to quantify, they vary so much.  These costs can skyrocket, according to John Wiscaver, governmental affairs director for State Farm Insurance in Oklahoma.  He says many insurance companies decline to renew the policy of a driver convicted of Driving Under the Influence.

Then there’s the revocation/suspension of the driver’s license.  In Oklahoma, a conviction for Driving or Being in Actual Physical Control of a Motor Vehicle While Under the Influence of Alcohol results automatically in revocation of the driver’s license, although a modified license can sometimes be obtained.  A modified license enables the driver to drive so long as the vehicle is equipped with a Safety Interlock or similar device. This requires the operator to give (breath) a non-alcohol sample to the machine before the vehicle will start and then at random times while the journey is underway.  These typically costs about $150 for installation and then $75.00 per month, usually for six months.  These have gotten more sophisticated now, so that the machine  even takes a photo of the person giving the non-alcohol breath sample to insure it is the licensee.   Obviously, this latter measure was taken from experience to bring the cat-and-mouse game up to give advantage to the machine manufacturer.

Except for the court costs, all costs mentioned above can increase dramatically when the criminal charge includes  allegations of injury to property, leaving the scene of an accident or injury or death of a person.

The costs described are not my numbers. They came from an article in the local newspaper. However, while my flat fee for some circumstances involving a first time DUI offense might be less than the $3,000.00 minimum quoted, it would not be as low as just a few hundred dollars (as some people expect). Moreover, while it’s always possible to find a lawyer to handle a case for a lower fee, that may actually end up costing you more in terms of the outcome.

In fact, there are many pitfalls in choosing an attorney just based on price alone, such as getting a lawyer who is a high volume attorney that won’t spend much time on your case, or hiring a lawyer without much experience practicing as a criminal defense lawyer. These are dangerous scenarios for you if your case and future are important to you and your family. That’s why I recommend anyone facing a DUI charge to get my “Protect Your Freedom Kit” by requesting it at my website at http://www.oklahomacriminallawoffice.com/freedomkit.php

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Criminal Defendants’ Rights to Speedy Trial

March 17, 2009

Locked up for 10 years, just waiting for her trial, she finally faced the jury, and the jury acquitted her.  But how could someone be kept that long without a trial in America?

Kathleen Hilton was charged in Lawrence Superior Court, Massachusetts, of setting a fire that killed five people.  She was diagnosed with mental retardation and was initially found incompetent to stand trial.  After some weeks of being observed at Taunton State Hospital, however, psychiatrists opined that she understood the charges against her and was able to assist her attorney in her defense.

The fire took place in 1999 in Lynn, Massachusetts.  Three children died and a fireman was injured in the fire.  Prosecutors argued that Ms. Hilton set the fire to kill her son’s former girlfriend because the woman would not let her son see his two children.  Her grandchildren lived there, and they survived.  However, other residents, Heriberto Feliciano, his wife, Sonia Hernandez, their two daughters, Sonia and Maria, and a niece, Glorimar Santiago were killed.

The case was delayed from trial by legal battles and rulings back and forth between he Superior Court and the Supreme Judicial Court.  The legal battles concerned the admissibility made by Ms. Hilton when she was arrested three days after the fire.  Allegedly she told police that she had struck a match and dropped it on the wooden porch, which she said she had soaked with flammable scented oil.  Police claimed she told them she watched the house erupt in flames and then walked home.

There was another statement at issue.  Following her arraignment, Ms. Hilton allegedly told a court officer escorting her to a holding cell, “I hope he forgives me.”  When asked what she was talking about, she allegedly said, “I hope my son forgives me.  I could have killed my grandchildren.”

Hilton’s court-appointed lawyer, Michael Natola, argued her statements were made in an attempt to protect her son, Charles Loayza, who was in a custody battle with his girlfriend, Krystina Sutherland, and had himself threatened to burn down her house.  Natola urged that Hilton made up her story because she believed her son, a prime suspect of setting the fire, would go to prison.   Her son had an alibi, however, and the police did not remain a suspect.

The right to a speedy trial is protected by the federal and state constitutions.

The United States Constitution provides in the VI Amendment:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Had Ms. Hilton’s lawyer demanded a speedy trial, she likely would have received an earlier trial.  However, it appears her own lawyer was wrangling with the courts for some rulings that her lawyer thought were important enough to wait for the trial.  Facing six counts of life sentence, the stakes were great.  So long as a person or her lawyer is part of the process causing the delay from trial, a person cannot blame the system.

Indeed, The Lawrence Superior Court Rules provided that murder cases take no more than a year from arraignment to trial.  That is speedy, considering all the evidence that must be assembled and disputed by the prosecution and defense and ruled upon by the court before beginning the trial before the jury.  The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which predated that of the United States about nine years, does not specifically provide for “speedy trial”, but it has a rigorous provision for the Writ of Habeas Corpus, and historically this has been an effective  safeguard against prisoners languishing in jail.

Oklahoma’s Constitution provides:

Article 2 – Bill of Rights     § 20. Rights of accused in criminal cases.

In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall have the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the county in which the crime shall have been committed …”

In order to protect a defendant’s right to a speedy trial, it’s important he or she has an experienced and competent criminal defense lawyer so that issues can be dealt with effectively, and timely. There are a number of things to consider when choosing a criminal defense attorney, which is why I recommend anyone charged with a crime visit my website at http://www.oklahomacriminallawoffice.com to learn what to look for when making this critical decision.