Friday, May 7, 2010

12 Good Reasons Not to Represent Yourself for a New York DWI

I love practicing law in an area filled with many colleges and universities. Ithaca, NY has Ithaca College and Cornell University and my practice focuses on DWI defense within 50 square miles of Ithaca. Over the years I have represented many students and professors who attended SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Cortland, University of Buffalo, Keuka College, TC3, New York Chiropractic College, Syracuse University, etc. The Finger Lakes region also draws people from all over the country for college events and games, recreational activities, and conferences.

In my view, higher education and drinking seem to go together like spaghetti and meatballs. Like it or not people like to drink. I enjoy drinking. There is no law against drinking and driving just driving while impaired or intoxicated. College can be stressful because thinking is the hardest work there is. Writing voluminous papers (often expounding on topics no one cares about), reading (usually very dry material), and taking exams (that play with your mind) is not always fun times.

Alcohol is the most common, legal, and socially acceptable drug we have. Some of my best college memories involved sharing a drink with my friends and fraternity brothers. After having been through many years of college between my undergraduate B.S. in Human Biology, my Chiropractic education, and then law school I have seen the use and misuse of drugs and alcohol. Mr. Mackie may say "drugs are baddd," but I do not believe that drugs or alcohol are bad. They have their place, much like everything else.

I have had a lot of very smart clients. Some with Masters degrees, and Phds in very hard subject areas. They are as a group highly intelligent, motivated, able to research, understand, and apply knowledge at a level beyond the average person.

Which brings me to my burning question of the day,

Should these People represent themselves? In other words proceed, "pro se"?

I will start out by stating a clear and unequivocal NO! and then give you my twelve reasons.

1. If you are embroiled in something personally it is impossible to remain objective. Distance gives perspective, balance, and non emotional (clear) judgment.

2. Most even very intelligent people do not understand the legal system. Even relatively simple Burdens of proof between license issues (administrative) and criminal cases are different.

3. Many Attorneys in 2010 have to specialize and focus in particular areas of law.
The attorney that understands and spends years practicing primarily divorce law will not know how to handle even a speeding ticket let alone DWI charges.

4. Different areas of the country, state, county, city have local rules and customs.
How a Judge, Court, or Prosecutor proceeds with a DWI case in one part of the state may differ greatly by how they handle it in another part of the state. A DWI in Manhattan uses a different breath machine, the Intoxilyzer 8000 versus the Datamaster and Draeger Alcotest (State Police) in Upstate New York.

5. There are usually collateral issues (ie. license) that need to be addressed.
Dealing with the DMV and ALJs (Administrative Law Judges) at DMV hearings is another potential aspect of DWI cases that is overlooked by lay people.

6. There are often pragmatic issues that need to be thought through. How is your case going to affect an out of state license? What are the potential penalties and future ramifications to your specific job or profession?

7. If your case requires hearings, motions, and a trial what then? Are you certified in Field Sobriety testing? Are you familiar with the forensic science behind Breath testing? Have you ever cross examined a police officer? Have you ever presented evidence? Have you ever picked a jury?

8. Would you know what to look for after you obtain the police reports, breath test documents, and other discovery? Have you read many of these? Do you understand police procedures and protocols? Would you be able to pick out problems with the processing of your case?

9. Would you know what was missing from police reports and other documents?
What's not there is as important as what is there. Can you read in between the lines?

10. Is it possible for you to look over one case (your own) in a vacuum and have any insight, perspective, and/or place it on the spectrum in comparison to any other cases? Do you have a firm grasp of current DWI case law? Can you pick out the legal issues and research them? Can you spot any potential defenses?

10. Seasoned attorneys even hire attorneys to represent them and their families.
What legal background or training do you possess? Have you had any prior experience representing anyone legally?

12. Do you believe that the Government prosecutor will negotiate with you fairly, in good faith, and the same way as if you were represented by an attorney?
Do you think you are on even ground when talking with the district attorney? Does he know more about your situation than you do?

It is often said that people who represent themselves have a fool for a client, don't be foolish get the best lawyer you can afford.