Is DUI / Drunk Driving Defense Considered a Specialty?
Over the past two decades, DUI defense has evolved from a side practice for civil and criminal lawyers into a single area of focus for many lawyers. This is because as the laws governing drinking and driving evolved, and the penalties became more serious, defending DWI cases turned into a serious matter.
Many legal scholars believe that next to serious cases involving DNA evidence, DUI cases are legally and scientifically the most complex area of criminal law. There is no type of case where the common public perception is that if a person fails a chemical test for DUI then they must be guilty.
While most states do not certify lawyers in the area of DUI defense, there is trend towards local lawyers focusing exclusively on the area of law, and making themselves world-class experts. The lawyers associated with this this project each focus the vast majority of their practice on defending people accused of DUIs, and have for years.
Most states consider it an ethical violation to advertise that an attorney is a “DUI specialist.”
The National College For DUI Defense (NCDD) is the first national body to certify attorneys in this area of law. As of the writing of this article, there are fewer than 60 attorneys nation-wide who are certified by the NCDD. To gain certification with the NCDD, the applicant must pass a general test which covers knowledge of nationally applicable DUI law, and science and evidence issues. The applicant must also possess a high level of trial or litigation experience that demonstrates that the applicat has recently litigated a significant number of DUI cases.
There are many attorneys practicing DUI law who would probably qualify for NCDD Board Certification, but who, for various reasons, have not bothered to do so. Rather than reject an attorney as unqualified because they do not claim board certification, it is wise to ask detailed questions about the lawyer’s experience and knowledge. Some of the best DUI defense lawyers in the United States are not Board Certified. On the other hand, if you have a chance to consult with a Board Certified specialist in your area, you should take the opportunity, as the NCDD’s standards ensure that you are getting the real thing.
Because of the ethical rules in many states, if you ask an attorney whether they “specialize” in DUI defense, the attorney may be obligated to say “no,” even though they concentrate their practice 100% on defending drinking drivers. Less ethical attorneys may advertise that they are “DUI specialists” even though it is in blatant disregard of the state bar’s ethical prohibition on such advertisements, and even though they have not been certified as a specialist by anybody. Sleazy lawyers may even tell you that they specialize in DUI defense even though their state bar prohibits them from doing so, and even though it is inaccurate.
The take-home message here is to take the word “specialize” with a grain of salt. You certainly want a lawyer whose practice is devoted to defending cases like yours, but you want one who is not willing to mislead you or break the ethical rules in order to impress you.