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DUI/DWI Defendant Faces Long Jail Sentence on Violation of Probation: Was He Properly Represented By a Truly Qualified Attorney

As a Baltimore Maryland DUI/DWI Attorney, I regularly see defendants who are improperly represented in Maryland District Courts by attorneys who do not specialize in the representation of people charged with criminal and serious traffic offenses. I blog about this issue fairly often because it troubles me greatly when I see attorneys who do not specialize in criminal and serious traffic offenses, make mistakes (also known as malpractice) that no specialist would ever make. Sometimes these mistakes go without consequence. Sometimes they cost their client’s dearly. I was recently retained in a case where the latter scenario played out. (To research a Maryland attorney’s qualifications in a particular area of the law and/or jurisdiction go to the Maryland Judiciary Case Search Web Site at http://casesearch.courts.state.md.us/inquiry/inquiry-index.jsp)

The client was charged with a DWI/DUI about a year ago. This charge represented his first Maryland DWI/DUI offense. Prior to this situation, he had been represented by an attorney in a divorce case. He had never had the need for an attorney prior to his divorce, so this attorney was the only one that he knew. So when he was again in need of an attorney he did what most people in his situation would have. He called his divorce attorney. This attorney, of course, told him that in addition to being a divorce attorney, he was also a criminal/serious traffic attorney and was “more than qualified” to handle this case. While this statement was not an outright falsehood, ( according to Maryland Judiciary Case Search, this attorney handles roughly 20-25 criminal/ serious traffic cases per year) he is hardly a specialist.

From the client’s perspective, and probably from the attorney’s perspective, his representation of the client appeared to have gone quite well. The case was scheduled in the District Court for Baltimore City in Patapsco. The case proceeded by way of a guilty plea because the attorney had correctly determined (in my estimation) that there was not a viable defense to the charge. As a sentence, the client received probation before judgement with 18 months of supervised probation. He was minimally fined and would not get any points on his license as a result of this case. GREAT JOB by the attorney, right? Not so fast.

While the initial outcome of the case is certainly an important part of properly representing someone in a DUI/DWI case, it is also a vital part of the representation to anticipate what the consequences will be of a violation of probation should one occur. As a full time criminal and serious traffic attorney, I can honestly say that I have yet to meet the DWI/DUI defendant who didn’t promise me in all sincerity that “he will never get behind the wheel after drinking again”. Unfortunately, people have short memories and all too often the people we represent in these cases not only re-offend but do so while they are still on probation for the initial offense. So it is important to anticipate that a certain percentage of your clientele will re-offend and to plan accordingly. It is also important to recognize that while you may be able to identify some clients as likely probation violators, there will also be cases where clients who you couldn’t imagine violating, do so. So a responsible practitioner simply has to assume that there is a possibility that each and every client has the potential to violate probation and, as I said, plan for that contingency.

And this is where my client’s original attorney made his mistake because the judge that he allowed the client to appear in front of has a well deserved reputation for having zero tolerance for violations of probation. Any experience criminal defense attorney in Baltimore would have known that it is madness to allow your client to be on probation to this particular judge because if your client violates his probation, as a certain percentage undoubtedly will, the consequences for the client will be swift and devastating. Indeed, it is this particular judge’s practice to immediately issue a no bail bench warrant upon being notified of a subsequent charge and if that person is convicted, to impose, without exception, the entire suspended sentence.

In this case my client made it on probation for about 10 months without incident until he was arrested on another DUI/DWI. This particular client has a family, a mortgage and a very good job. True to form, the original judge has issued a no bail bench warrant for the client which remains outstanding. Once he is apprehended he will be held until he new charge is adjudicated which could be months and then brought back before the court. And as I said, if he is convicted he can count on receiving the entire one year sentence.

This situation could have turned out far differently, even accounting for the subsequent DUI and violation of probation. Had the client been represented by a more qualified attorney he would now be on probation to a different judge who may very well have been willing to consider alternatives to incarceration such as an inpatient alcohol treatment program. I have worked with many judges over the years on situations similar to this one to find a solution that addresses the problem without the need for long term incarceration and the concomitant devastation that it causes to some one’s life. My client’s only hope now is to avoid being apprehended until we appear in court for the second case (where he will definitely be taken into custody) and hope that we are able to secure an acquittal. If we are able to do so he may be able to avoid serving the entire year on the violation but will still sit in jail for at least a month until he appears for the violation hearing.