Interviewer: I’m sure a lot of people may mistakenly think, “I’ll just get a public defender.” Can you tell us about them, and how hard is it to qualify for them? And I heard they also can’t represent yourself on the DMV side.
Eric: Correct. That’s a big thing. That is the biggest issue of all, is that in some of the counties the clients will go in and think that it’s only a DWI or it’s only a traffic issue and treat it like a traffic ticket and think that I’ll just take the free lawyer, the legal aid lawyer. And the Legal Aid Society is not allowed to represent the person out of the building, so if there is for instance, a refusal; the client, the motorist, the citizen is warded to appear to the Department of Vehicles for a motor vehicle hearing. And the Legal Aid Society does not go there. They can’t represent the person there. And that is a huge, huge mistake for the motorist because a lot of information is gathered at the Department of Motor Vehicles hearing.
A motor vehicles hearing can be won, much to people’s dismay and some of their mistakes. But a motor vehicle hearing can be won and that’s when you’re going to either keep your license or lose your license. And then information gathered at the motor vehicles hearing can be used on your behalf to defend your DWI case in the criminal court. Testimony that is received by the police officer at cross-examination and direct examination is taken down. It’s under oath and it is used for plea negotiations as well as cross examination if necessary at another hearing or at a trial.
So the Legal Aid Society is not prepared for that. Plus the majority that we find of the legal aid attorneys, because they are required to represent so many people, their caseload is so high, they don’t focus on DWI cases. And, therefore, we find that although they are very competent attorneys, we don’t find them to be the best representation in a DWI case. I don’t recommend people who can afford a lawyer ever have the Legal Aid Society represent them on a DWI case.
By Eric Sachs