How do you choose an attorney for a DWI case?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

If you have been arrested and charged with DWI, one of the most important decisions you can make is which DWI attorney you hire to handle your case. The right attorney can make the difference between a good and bad result in a DWI case. Additionally, a DWI attorney will also help to make the process as smooth as possible. But how do you choose the right DWI attorney?

The first thing to understand is the role of a DWI attorney. Of course, a good DWI attorney should be able to effectively challenge the evidence to maximize your chances of an excellent result. But a DWI attorney will do more than that. In the Greater Houston area, a DWI can take 6 months or more to resolve. While your case is pending, the right DWI attorney can ensure that your regular life is as unaffected as possible by the case (by making sure that you do not have overly restrictive bond conditions, for example). Ideally, you should be able to entrust your case (and your worries) to a DWI attorney while you go on about your life. 

There are several things to look for when hiring a DWI attorney. The first is whether the attorney focuses his practice on criminal defense and DWIs. Many attorneys handle cases in a wide-variety of fields, like family law or immigration, in addition to criminal defense. It is impossible to master any one field if an attorney handles cases in too many areas of the law. In law, like in many other fields, expertise comes as a result of dedication to a craft. Probably more than anything else, it is important to hire a DWI attorney who shows a dedication to criminal defense and DWIs. 

DWIs are highly specialized and involve more science and specialized police procedure than almost all other criminal cases. In the Houston area, almost all DWIs involve breath and blood alcohol testing and specialized police tests known as “standardized field sobriety tests” (the balance tests that police administer during DWI investigations). Alcohol testing and police balance tests are unique to DWI investigations and are extremely complex. In order to be able to effectively challenge the evidence in a DWI case, a criminal defense attorney must devote hundreds of hours to understanding these topics. When hiring an attorney, it is important to consider what their training is in these fields. 

Many attorneys who are serious about defending DWIs will take the time to become certified in administering police balance tests, and undergo extensive training in breath and blood testing. For example, many dedicated DWI attorneys throughout the country attend seminars at laboratories where they learn how to conduct blood alcohol testing themselves, using the same equipment that police labs use. By intimately understanding blood testing, attorneys are better able to challenge the evidence in DWI cases. 

It is also important to consider whether a prospective attorney is actually a trial lawyer. Unfortunately, many criminal defense attorneys rarely, or never, go to trial. The reality is that it is impossible to obtain the best possible results for DWI clients if a lawyer is unwilling to set a case for trial. Although the goal of a DWI – or any criminal case – is to obtain a dismissal, many cases will not be dismissed. If a DWI case is not dismissed, in many cases, it makes sense to set a case for trial. Experienced DWI lawyers know that good things happen when cases are set for trial (apart from obtaining a “not guilty” verdict, many cases are only dismissed after they are set for trial, when the prosecutor is faced with the prospect of actually going to trial). Many prosecutors do not respect attorneys who do not go to trial and know that these attorneys can be bullied. When interviewing an attorney to handle your DWI case, it is always a good idea to ask how often the attorney goes to trial.  

Next, you should consider a DWI attorney’s familiarity with the courts. Although the facts of a case are probably the most important factor about the case itself, the importance of the venue is difficult to overstate. Judges, prosecutors and court staff can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of a case, and the strategy to defend a case will often vary depending on what court the case is filed in. Even in Houston, courts can vary greatly one courtroom to another and it is important that a DWI attorney have a familiarity with the courts.

When hiring a DWI attorney, it is also important to hire an attorney with good communication skills. One critical service that a DWI attorney provides is advice and consultation. An effective DWI attorney should communicate with his client at every step of the way, in order for the case to proceed smoothly and so the client can make an informed decision as to how a case should be resolved. When all of the evidence in a DWI case is received, an experienced DWI attorney should take the time to review it with his client to make sure that the client understands a case’s strengths and weaknesses as well as the options to resolve the case. When considering a DWI attorney, it is very important to take the attorney’s communication skills into account. 

Last but not least, it is important to take an attorney’s fees into account. Although it would be a terrible idea to hire a DWI attorney based on cost alone, the reality is that most people must take cost into consideration. The cost of a DWI attorney can vary greatly and generally speaking, you pay for what you get. However, spending more does not always guarantee a better result, and cost is a factor that should be balanced against other factors when hiring a DWI attorney. 

Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor who has handled hundreds of DWIs in his career. Mr. Ceja has completed extensive DWI-related training throughout the country including certifications in police balance tests and blood alcohol testing at Axion Labs in Chicago, Illinois. If you have been arrested and charged with DWI anywhere in the Greater Houston area, call Ceja Law Firm today.

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.
Posted in DWI