Cost for a DUI: Lawyer Fees, Fines And How to Pay
According to FBI data, approximately 1 million people are arrested annually for driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol or driving while intoxicated (DWI), as it is known in some states. These charges are considered to be some of the most severe driving violations, and consequently come with hefty fines and a strict legal process.
Drivers charged with a DUI often wonder if they should hire a lawyer. While DUI lawyer costs can be high — with the average cost ranging between $700 to $4,000 — they may be worthwhile. There are financing options to consider to cover the cost as well, such as a personal loan or payment plan. Read below to learn more:
- What happens when you get a DUI
- DUI costs: Fines and penalties
- Don’t overlook these other DUI costs
- How a DUI lawyer may help and costs
- DUI lawyer vs. public defender
- How to pay DUI costs and lawyer fees
What happens when you get a DUI
The DUI process may take anywhere from six to 12 months for a first offense, depending on if you go to trial. After the arrest, the following events occur:
- Arraignment: You will appear in court to be formally charged with the DUI and will be asked to respond to the charge. You can enter a plea of either guilty, not guilty or no contest.
- Release from jail: If you haven’t already posted bail, you will likely be released at the arraignment.
- Choice of how to proceed: At this point, you will need to decide if you will accept the charges, attempt to plea bargain, request a trial before a judge or ask for a jury trial.
- Plea bargain: This is when you or your attorney — if you have one — reach a compromise with the prosecutor. You enter a guilty or no contest plea, and the prosecutor offers a reduced charge and penalties in exchange.
- Trial: If you decide to fight the charge instead of plea bargaining, you can request a trial before a judge only or ask for a jury trial (if the option is available in your state).
- Jail time: If you plead guilty or go to trial and are found guilty, you could be sentenced anywhere from just a few days to six months for a first offense, depending on state law. In some cases, jail time could be longer.
DUI costs: Fines and penalties
Penalties for DUI are established according to state law and depend on whether it is a first or subsequent offense. In some states, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of the driver and the presence of minors in the vehicle play a factor in the fines and penalties. Additionally, in some cases, a judge may use alternative sentencing for a first offense, which can include education and substance abuse treatment instead of jail time or fines.
In addition to license suspension, many states require offenders to have an ignition interlock device (IID) attached to their car once their license is reinstated. The driver blows into the device each time they want to drive; if it senses their BAC is above a specific limit, the car will not start.
Here is a sampling of DUI charges in a few states.
Don’t overlook these other DUI costs
On top of the DUI fine and lawyer fees, other expenses associated with a DUI bring the total cost to $5,500 to $8,000, depending on if your case goes to trial and whether you use a public or private attorney. Also consider indirect costs related to a DUI, such as an increase in insurance premiums and wages lost due to court appearances.
How a DUI lawyer may help and costs
The average cost of hiring a DUI lawyer ranges between $700 to $4,000, depending on whether you enter a plea bargain or go to trial. How your lawyer structures their fees (flat rate or hourly) and whether this is a repeat offense also could play a factor. Here’s a look at the average cost of a DUI lawyer.
Hiring a DUI lawyer to represent you in court is not mandatory, but it could put you at an advantage over representing yourself. A DUI lawyer will be familiar with your state’s laws and typical outcomes in cases similar to yours. They’ll be able to advise you on the best defense and will represent you in the event of a plea bargain.
DUI lawyer vs. public defender
If you do not have the funds to hire a private lawyer, you may request a court-appointed attorney at your arraignment. If you qualify financially, the judge will refer you to the public defender in your area.
The cost of a public defender varies by state, but as shown above, it can be significantly less than a private lawyer. On average, defendants represented by public defenders pay an average of $5,500 in total DUI costs (attorney fees and related expenses) while those represented by private lawyers pay up to $8,000 in total costs on average.
Public defenders are licensed attorneys as are private lawyers. Using a court-appointed lawyer does not inherently mean the quality of their counsel will be inferior.
How to pay DUI costs and lawyer fees
Some lawyers may offer a payment plan, especially those that charge a flat rate. Terms and qualification requirements will vary by attorney, but those who provide this as an option typically require a percentage of the fees, or a retainer, upfront with monthly installments for the balance.
Be sure you are familiar with the terms of the payment plan, including if you will have to pay finance charges.
One way to cover the costs is to take out a personal loan. Personal loans are unsecured loans ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 or more that can be used for any purpose. You could get a personal loan from your bank, credit union or an online lender.
The interest rates are typically slightly higher than a mortgage or other secured loans, but lower than most credit cards. Your exact rate will be based on your credit score and financial history. Note that those with better credit scores tend to get much better interest rates. Still, those with bad credit could get a personal loan, though they may end up paying far more over the life of the loan.
Home equity loan or HELOC
With a home equity loan, you borrow a lump sum against the equity in your home and repay it over a specific term. The interest rate — and thus, the monthly payment — is fixed. With a HELOC, you receive access to a line of credit, which you withdraw as needed during the designated draw period. Interest rates on HELOCs are variable and based on a market index. As rates adjust, your payment will as well.
With both products, you’ll have closing costs similar to taking out an initial mortgage. Depending on your lender, expect to pay an application fee, origination fee, appraisal and additional charges. To qualify for these loans, lenders will look at the amount of equity in your home, credit score, debt-to-income ratio, income and capacity to make the payments.
Before taking out a home equity loan or HELOC, be sure to consider all your other options. If you run into trouble affording the payments on the loan, you risk losing your home.