This DUI blog post is going to contradict the logic of just about every experienced DUI/DWI defense lawyer I know.

For years, I’ve had the same discussion over and over with DUI attorneys in Wilmington, Dover, and Georgetown – some newer, some very experienced. Many tell me they have very little interest in first offense DUI cases, because they think the stakes are relatively low. It’s hard to get excited about going into battle (trial) when it’s likely that your client is going to be offered the First Offender’s Program (FOP). Also, most people don’t go to jail for a first-time DUI. I strongly disagree with this view! I believe the first offense DUI is the most important one and I, as a DUI defense lawyer, would be doing a great disservice to my clients if I did not treat their first offense DUIs as seriously as I treat felony DUIs, where my clients are facing years in prison.

The first DUI sets my client up for success or failure because the result of that case will be used in future prosecutions if my client gets subsequent DUI arrests. Many of the DUI cases I handle are second offense DUIs, third offense DUIs, fourth offense DUIs, or even higher. Each successive DUI arrest brings more serious charges, and more risk of longer periods of incarceration. So many times when I have had a young man or woman charged with a second DUI, I have asked what happened when they got their first DUI. They tell me that they spoke to a lawyer, but the lawyer made the charge sound less serious than it was, so they handled it alone and took whatever plea the prosecutor offered. WHAT A BAD IDEA! In so many of these second or third DUI cases, I wish I could roll back the hands of time, reopen the first DUI case, and vigorously fight the charge and challenge the evidence as well as the procedures used to collect that evidence. If DUI defendants take whatever they’re offered for their first DUIs, it can, and most often will, come down on them like a ton of bricks if they’re ever charged with another DUI.

First Offense DUI in Delaware Deserves Close Attention

The recipient of a first offense DUI arrest is often a younger person. The typical first offense DUI client is under thirty years old, at least in my observation. When I get a client who has his whole life ahead of him, a DUI arrest can have a much bigger collateral impact on that client than it might on a client who is much older, such as a retiree. For example, if the client charged with first offense DUI is studying to become a professional, that DUI could prevent him from getting into his choice of college or university. That DUI arrest is going to be asked about in the character-and-fitness evaluation for her bar admission as an attorney. It’s going to be asked about on her professional licensing application for her license to practice as a nurse or a doctor.  For these reasons, I encourage other Delaware attorneys to treat that first offense DUI as seriously as any other DUI arrest.

In many cases, the first offense DUI is also a warning sign that should be heeded. A first offense DUI is a red flag that tells me that when the going gets rough, the client is likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol rather than develop healthy coping skills. Very often, when people come to me to defend them in a DUI arrest in Delaware, the case is not the result of an innocent night out with friends at a local bar or restaurant.  Rather, it’s much more common that the arrest is a bi-product of some sort of emotional trouble that my client is having.  Perhaps her marriage is falling apart.  Perhaps he lost his job and the mortgage company is trying to take his home.  Perhaps my client had a serious illness resulting in time out of work and has bills she can’t pay.  These are just some examples of the situations that cause folks extreme stress, anxiety, worry, and depression.  And when they’re trying to deal with that kind of stress, they’re more likely to self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol and make that bad decision to get behind the wheel.  So that first DUI really is a wake-up call for my client to not only cut back on his drinking or recreational drug use, but also to step back and take a look at the big picture and figure out why things are not going so well; perhaps get counseling from his pastor, or ask his family doctor for a referral to a counselor who can guide him through this rough patch. A first offense DUI is not something to just brush under the table.  Doing that would be a missed opportunity.

So in conclusion, as an attorney who handles many DUI cases throughout Delaware, I firmly believe that lawyers who don’t take first offense DUI cases seriously are doing a great disservice to their clients.  That first offense DUI must be defended as vigorously as any felony criminal case, because it is that client’s future that is in the hands of the defense lawyer.

First Offense DUI in Delaware Deserves Close Attention

Please take a moment to read my “Side of the Road DUI Guide”

Associate Attorney
Schwartz & Schwartz, Attorneys at Law
1140 South State Street
Dover, DE 19903
Work: (302) 678-8700
Fax: (302) 678-8702