As a Maryland DUI/DWI Attorney who is in court on a daily basis, I am in a position fairly regularly to witness attorneys handling DUI/DWI cases who are clearly not qualified to do so. I am also regularly surprised that the clients that I meet with rarely ask me about my experience and background to determine my qualifications before agreeing to hire me. As a regular part of my initial consultation, I volunteer the information that I am a former Assistant State’s Attorney and that I am a 100% full time Maryland Criminal Attorney, but again, people rarely ask me these basic questions. This is a serious mistake that can have very serious consequences.
By way of example, and I could offer many others, I was in Baltimore County District Court recently when I witnessed the shocking mishandling of a DUI/DWI case. The client was a second offender so the stakes were a little higher than for a first offender but the case was still very manageable if handled correctly. The attorney that handled the case, whom I will not name, was an attorney whom I know to be primarily a domestic and civil attorney. I watched in disbelief as he mishandled the case from beginning to end.
The first mistake he made was to allow his client to appear in front of one of the most prosecution oriented judges on the bench. One of the most important services that an experienced criminal defense attorney can provide is a deep knowledge of the tendencies of the various judges. This particular judge, who was a former prosecutor, is known to all who regularly practice criminal, and particularly those who practice DUI/DWI law, to be among the harshest sentencing judges in the state. An experienced criminal attorney could have (and would have) very easily avoided this judge with one of several available procedural tactics.
The second mistake the attorney made was not understanding that he had an extremely viable defense concerning probable cause, or lack thereof, for the stop. The client had been observed by the police officer to be execute a lawful turn without utilizing a turn signal. The incident occurred late in the evening on an all but deserted road. I blogged about a similar case that I handled in the past so I immediately recognized this attorney’s failure to raise this obvious issue concerning probable cause for the stop. Had he read the statute – TR 21-604(c) -, or my blog for that matter, who would have know that a driver is only required to utilize a turn signal if any other vehicle “might be affected” by his failure to do so. Had this attorney properly questioned the police officer and properly presented the argument to the court, the likely result would have been that all evidence would have been suppressed and the defendant would have been found not guilty.
The final mistake he made was to not properly prepare the defendant’s case to present to the court in the event of a conviction. Any criminal attorney worth his salt would have had his client immediately enter an in-patient or at the very minimum an intensive outpatient alcohol treatment program. The attorney failed to do this and also had no documentation as to the client’s employment or anything else positive to present. He only repeated multiple times that his client was a “good person” and a “hard working family guy”. Needless to say this particular judge was unsympathetic and sentenced the defendant to a year in the County Detention Center with all but 60 days to be suspended. The attorney didn’t even know to request recommendations for work release and home detention once the sentence was passed. I would assume that this sentence will in all likelihood cost this defendant his job and have other serious consequences for him and his family.
The real tragedy here is that this awful result was completely avoidable had the client taken just a few moments to investigate the qualifications of the attorney before retaining him. If the client had simply asked the attorney what percentage of his practice was criminal or how many DUI’s the attorney handled each week or month he would have become aware of his attorney’s dearth of experience. The are also many other ways to investigate an attorney’s background to include contacting the bar association or researching the attorney’s case experience on Maryland Judiciary Case Search – http://casesearch.courts.state.md.us/inquiry/inquiry-index.jsp.
The bottom line is that most people would not let a doctor operate on them without determining if he or she is qualified to do so and they should be equally diligent concerning serious criminal and traffic matters.