Questions You Should Ask When Hiring a DUI Lawyer
Few offenses in America’s criminal justice system (including murder trials) call for greater attorney expertise than cases involving driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Properly defending a DUI case, or especially a Vehicular Assault or Homicide case is just as complex as defending any “DNA murder” case because DUIs almost always involve scientific evidence (the chemical evidence obtained from you such as blood, breath or urine tests, the results of your physical roadsides tests, or a police medical drug evaluation which are all based in science).
At this critical time you need an experienced trial attorney who has been formally trained in the intricacies of this scientific evidence and who has the trial experience and formal knowledge to refute this evidence which the government holds against you. For these reasons, it is necessary that you ask these questions of any attorney who you will consider hiring:
How much of your practice is devoted to defending people who have been accused of a drinking & driving offense (including vehicular assault and homicide)?
Because of the complexity of science behind DUIs, the answer to this question should be 100% or close to it. Any attorney who tries to handle too many different types of cases (real estate law, divorce law, criminal law), will simply be a "jack-of-all trades and a master of none."
Are you a member of the National College of DUI Defense (NCDD)?
The answer to this question should be yes. Unfortunately many “generalist” lawyers will accept DUI cases, but they make no great effort to learn about the fine art and science of defending these very complex cases. In other words, they are a “Jack of all trades, but a master of none.”
The only real service such a generalist can provide is to take your money and plead you out in court. Members of the NCDD are dedicated to pushing the scientific horizons of DUI defense. Hiring any other lawyer is usually a recipe for failure.
Are you a graduate of the National College of DUI Defense? If Yes, how many sessions of the NCDD have you attended and completed?
The answer to this question should be yes. Some lawyers join a group like the NCDD but never make the financial and time sacrifices necessary to complete the necessary training programs the NCDD encourages members to complete. You should always ask for and compare the lawyer’s training resume with any other lawyer you consider hiring, even if they are an NCDD “member” in name only.
Do you have any formal training in the administration of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST)? These are the physical roadside and eye test that the officer most probably ordered you to perform.
The answer should be yes. Chris Cessna is not only a former DUI Police Officer who was trained and certified to administer these tests to hundreds of motorists, but he is also a trained and certified NHTSA SFST Instructor who has taught and instructed other police officers and lawyers around the country. Mr. Cessna has also been qualified as an expert witness in the Colorado Courts as an expert in the administration of the SFSTs.
Even if they knew what to look for or how to properly cross examine a police officer, very few lawyers even know that if the officer administered the roadside tests improperly the tests are to be considered invalid and unreliable by the court or the jury. This in-depth, expert knowledge allows Mr. Cessna to provide his clients with the best DUI defense when the government has obtained standardized field sobriety test evidence against you. Ask the lawyer what certificates and training he or she has received in this specialized area. These certificates will usually be hanging on the wall of his office.
Has the lawyer ever been trained and certified to use and operate the breath testing machine used in Colorado (known as the Intoxilyzer 5000)?
The answer to this question should be an emphatic "YES." Mistakes frequently occur during breath testing. These mistakes occur due to operator error or machine error. Be sure to ask the lawyer for his or her certificate that proves that he is trained and certified to operate and maintain the breath testing machine (intoxilyzer 5000) which was used to test you. This certificate will most likely be hanging on the lawyer's wall. Don't let the police and the prosecutor be the only ones at your trial who knows how this machine works! Mr. Cessna has been a trained and certified intoxilyzer 5000 operator not only as a police officer, but as a lawyer. In fact, Mr. Cessna is one of only two lawyers in Colorado who owns his own intoxilyzer 5000, and who is actually certified by the state and federal government to operate and maintain it.
The police officer who arrested me for driving under the influence suspected that I was under the influence of drugs (not alcohol). The officer actually seemed more like a doctor - putting me through an extensive medical examination using a stethoscope, a blood-pressure cuff, a pupillometer and other strange medical tests and tools. How will you fight my case against such sophisticated, scientific evidence?
You were examined by a police officer known as a “Drug Recognition Expert” or DRE. This officer is undoubtedly the most well-trained, and experienced officer in their police department for investigating impaired driving cases. In fact, due to training costs, and time away from street patrol, many police departments cannot afford to send their best officers to this extensive, sophisticated and expensive training.
However, if the government holds this type of medical evidence against you, then you need an attorney who is a trained and certified DRE. Chris Cessna is the only attorney in Colorado who is a formally trained DRE-EMT (drug recognition expert – emergency medical technician). Make sure and ask the lawyer for his or her certificate that proves that he or she has been formally trained as a Drug Recognition Expert – Emergency Medical Technician (DRE-EMT). Again, don’t let the police and the prosecutor be the only ones at your trial who knows the science behind the DRE evidence that is being aimed in your direction!
When and how did you win your last DUI or DWAI case, and when is your next DUI trial scheduled for?
The victory should be a recent one. The answers to this question will naturally vary, but he or she should be able to rattle off a recent “Not Guilty” verdict or dismissal in the pre-trial phase, motions hearing phase, or jury trial phase.
And again, the lawyer’s next trial should be within a week or two of your consultation. Most dedicated DUI lawyers will have at least one DUI trial scheduled within a week or so of your consultation. Ask the lawyer what court it will be held in and go watch. The courtrooms are open to the public. The best measure of a potential lawyer’s performance is how he or she actually performs in court.
Have you had any other extensive experience in handling DUI cases? For example, do you have any prior experience as a DUI Police Officer, a Deputy District Attorney, or a Public Defender?
Unfortunately, many “generalist” attorneys who will take a DUI case are under the mistaken impression that any lawyer can adequately handle one of these complex cases simply because they are (typically) not a felony matter. This is a recipe for disaster. If the lawyer you are interviewing has never had any actual experience as a public defender, deputy district attorney, or even as a former police officer, this should raise a red flag. Ask the attorney about his past DUI work experience.
Mr. Cessna has had extensive experience handling thousands of DUI cases as a police officer, deputy district attorney, and as a
dedicated DUI lawyer for the last 20 years.
What and how much formal training in blood testing have you received?
Your lawyer should be able to rattle off numerous multi-day, week-long, or out-of-state seminars devoted specifically to impeaching the blood test administered to you. Such training and certificates will almost always be hanging on his or her wall if he or she has received specialized and extensive training in this very important area. Mr. Cessna is the only attorney in Colorado who is a trained and certified gas chromatographer. If you submitted to a blood or urine test, your sample was analyzed on a gas chromatograph (GC). Understanding this instrument and how it works is the key to damaging the government's evidence against you. Do not settle for a lawyer who attends an occasional one-hour “luncheon” seminar in downtown Denver every now and then.
Have you ever been asked to teach or instruct other lawyers, police officers, or law students in the area of DUI law or defense techniques?
Being invited to teach other professionals is a sign of being accomplished in your area of specialization. Ask your lawyer how often they are invited to teach other professionals in the areas associated with DUI defense. Mr. Cessna is frequently asked to teach, lecture and testify as an expert in the very specific areas of DUI defense. If the lawyer you are interviewing cannot list off numerous lectures, articles written, or teaching invitations, then he or she is most probably inexperienced or simply not seasoned enough to be in much demand.