Interviewer: Going back to this issue of representation, which we haven’t covered, people can decide to defend themselves or they look for a public defender or hire a private attorney. How would you contrast the good and the bad of those scenarios?
Kevin Roach: A lot of people call my office on a regular basis and they ask me those same questions: Why do I need a lawyer? What can you do for me? For instance, on a misdemeanor case, I'll hear a lot of people say, “I don’t need a lawyer; this is my first offense, I’m probably not going to go to jail.”
If you're not represented when you go to court, the judge will tell you that you have two options: you can plead guilty or you can request a trial. If you plead guilty, you are going to have a conviction on your record. Granted, it’s a misdemeanor conviction, but it’s not something you want on your record. They’re not going to offer you a suspended sentence or an SIS, or they’re not going to amend it down to careless and imprudent driving unless you have an attorney. The ramifications are huge.
Interviewer: There’s no mercy in the court that people can throw themselves upon?
Kevin Roach: You can always throw yourself on the mercy of the court, and a lot of people do if they don’t have the resources to retain an attorney, but the result they get on their case aren’t usually worth it. If you have a conviction, they can impose jail time; they can impose community service; they can impose huge fines on you. It’s money well spent to retain an attorney to keep your record clean and keep you out of jail.
Interviewer: Right. What about a public defender versus a private attorney? Is it very hard to get a public defender? Do you have to be truly indigent? What’s the plus and minus of them?
Kevin Roach: You have to have a really low income level and/or be indigent to get a public defender. Though, quite honestly, you don’t want a public defender. I know a lot of public defenders and they’re nice people and a lot of them are competent lawyers, but they are very overworked. Public defenders have hundreds of cases, and they just keep piling them on. Thus, they simply don’t have enough hours in the day to handle all those cases. Basically, they’re in over their head. You’re not going to get the same level of service, obviously, if you can never talk to your lawyer.
Public defenders don’t get the same respect and they don’t get the same deals that a private attorney can get you. It’s common knowledge. For instance, if a public defender were handling your case, the prosecutor would not offer to maybe dismiss your case down to a misdemeanor or amend your case or give you the same type of treatment.
Interviewer: Okay. When we talked earlier, you said there are two different parts of the case, the criminal side and the administrative driver’s license side. The public defender probably can’t even address the driver’s license portion of your case, right, if it’s not criminal?
Kevin Roach: You’re exactly right, they cannot. Since it’s a civil proceeding, a public defender cannot help you with a driver’s license portion of the case.
Interviewer: And that’s a reason why the defense won’t be as good?
Kevin Roach: Yes that is a good point. Furthermore, it’s hard to qualify for a public defender. On misdemeanor cases here in Missouri they don’t even offer it. It has to be a felony. For a first offense or second offense DUI, if you don’t have the resources to obtain an attorney, you’re on your own; there is no public defender’s office.
Interviewer: I know you can’t give percentages, but when you’re helping someone on a case like this, how often are you able to mitigate some of the circumstances or penalties or effects of the charges?
Kevin Roach: Obviously, since every case is different, we can’t get every case dismissed. For example, the high BAC cases and the cases involving assault where people were hurt are obviously a lot harder to take care of. On first offense cases, very rarely does someone take a conviction. For instance, I handle a lot of first offense refusals, and typically we can get the case amended to where it’s not on your record; there are no points. Typically, we can get the driver’s license case dismissed as well. If it’s in St. Louis County or St. Charles County, they offer what’s called a concession policy, meaning if you agree to do 40 hours of community service, they will dismiss the driver’s license case.
What that means is you’re not going to have a criminal conviction, you’re not going to lose your license, there’s not going to be a black mark on your driver’s license, and you’re not going to pay higher insurance for the next three to five years. It’s going to save you a boatload of money.
Kevin J. roach is a St. Louis DWI defense attorney who has defended thousands of DWI and DUI cases in the St. Louis Metro area. Call us today at (636) 519-0085 or (866) 519-0085 for your Free Consultation!