Key DUI Questions
Questions you should ask:
- How long have you been practicing DUI Defense?
- What part of your practice is devoted to defending DUI cases?
- How many DUI cases have you handled?
- How many of your cases plead guilty as charged?
- Are you affiliated with the National College for DUI Defense?
- To what other organizations do you belong that are committed to
aggressive DUI defense?
- Do you own a copy of “Defending DUIs in Washington”?
- Have you presented seminars on DUI defense to other lawyers or
taught attorneys how to defend DUI cases?
- Are you familiar with the DataMaster used in DUI cases?
- Are you trained in the administration of field sobriety tests?
- Do you regularly appear in the court in which I am charged?
- Will the lawyer I hire be the lawyer who actually handles my case?
- What will it cost to get a good lawyer?
How long have you been practicing DUI Defense?
Most qualified observers believe DUI litigation to be amongst the most complex in our system of criminal justice. Developing an expertise in the area requires not only litigation skill, but extensive knowledge in the fields of constitutional law and criminal procedures, communication, police science and procedures, physiology, chemistry and chemical testing of breath and blood, field sobriety testing, accident reconstruction, the motor vehicle code, pharmacology, and other scientific disciplines, together with a command of the complex and ever-changing statutory scheme that regulates DUI prosecutions. In a word, expertise is not developed overnight. While there is no magic way to determine when experience is enough experience, generally the more the better. It may also be helpful to find out if the lawyer has spent time as a prosecutor or public defender, as both positions can provide invaluable court experience in a comparatively short period of time.
At Cowan Kirk Gaston, the lawyers have the combined experience of over 80 years in the courtroom, the vast majority of that time having been devoted to the defense of DUIs. They are recognized both locally and nationally for their command of the various disciplines necessary to conduct a vigorous defense of their clients.
What part of your practice is devoted to defending DUI cases?
Simply put, being able to write wills or sue for damages does not translate into being able to represent people accused of DUI. Even many highly competent criminal defense lawyers will not defend DUIs. Why? Because the laws and techniques are constantly evolving, and what was a successful legal argument yesterday may not work today, it is important that your lawyer be on the cutting edge of what is happening in the courts every day.
At Cowan Kirk Gaston virtually one hundred per cent of our practice is devoted to defending people accused of DUI.
How many DUI cases have you handled?
Again, experience counts. While there is no set number that will determine when a person has developed the necessary skill and experience, it is unlikely, all things being considered, that handling even a few dozen DUIs, or trying several jury trials would be sufficient.
At Cowan Kirk Gaston we have devoted our careers to defending those accused of DUI. We have extensive experience in all phases of DUI defense, including hundreds of jury trials.
How many of your cases plead guilty as charged?
Unfortunately, some lawyers plead their clients guilty in a significant percentage of their cases, sometimes even before they litigate any legal issues pre-trial. In most cases, pleading guilty as charged should be a last resort rather than a first option. For a first offense, a person doesn’t necessarily need a lawyer to plead guilty, since except in cases involving particularly egregious circumstances most judges will simply impose mandatory minimum penalties (However it is always best to consult with a lawyer before deciding to plead guilty, particularly since conditions of probation can vary from case to case, even for first offenses).
At Cowan Kirk Gaston it is our philosophy that we don’t plead clients guilty as charged except in those rare circumstances where it is in the client’s best interest to do so. If a client comes to us for the purpose of pleading guilty, we recommend that they see a lawyer who will protect their interests at sentencing and work for the most appropriate conditions of probation.
Prosecutors do not respect lawyers who plead their clients guilty with any frequency, although they may appreciate them. It is important to us, and to every person we represent, that the prosecutor know that we bring to the courtroom for every one of our clients the iron-clad resolve to fight to obtain the best possible result.
Are you affiliated with the National College for DUI Defense?
The National College for DUI Defense is a non-profit professional organization dedicated to the dissemination of information on drunk driving litigation and to the improvement of the DUI Defense Bar. Its mission is to provide the best advanced level training to the DUI defense practitioner. The College, presented each year at Harvard Law School, limits its class size in order to provide the best instructor/student interaction, and offers personalized instruction and hands on experience.
All lawyers at Cowan Kirk Gaston are affiliated with the College. Doug Cowan is one of twelve Founders. Bill Kirk is a sustaining member and State Delegate, and Eric Gastonand Matt Knauss are graduates and members of the College. Mr. Cowan served on the Board of Regents of the College from 1994-2000, served as Dean of the College for the 1996-1997 academic year, and was presented the Richard Erwin Lifetime Achievement Award in July, 2000, only the second time that honor has been bestowed.
To what other organizations do you belong that are committed to aggressive DUI defense?
Nationally, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is an organization dedicated to supporting all criminal defense lawyers in zealously advocating for their clients, including those who represent citizens accused of DUI. Membership in that organization indicates a commitment to the principles that are necessary for a strong criminal defense bar and to the fundamental concepts of our criminal justice system.
On a local level, membership in the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, demonstrates a similar commitment, and membership in the prestigious Washington Foundation for Criminal Justice is even more important for the DUI defense lawyer. WFCJ is a small association of lawyers who emphasize or limit their practice to DUI defense. Membership is by invitation only and must be approved by a unanimous vote of its’ membership. The members of the WFCJ have presented numerous seminars for other lawyers emphasizing skills training while regularly conducting in-house programs designed to hone the skills of its’ members.
The Northwest Academy for DUI Defense is another highly selective association of lawyers committed to DUI Defense.
The Lawyers at Cowan Kirk Gaston are members of theses organizations. Doug Cowan is a founding member of WACDL and has served on its’ board of governors. He founded WFCJ and served as president for almost a decade and has co-chaired the seminars it has presented to other lawyers. Bill Kirk is an active member of both WFCJ and NADD, having served as NADD’s president in 2003 and is currently vice-president of WFCJ. Eric Gaston is a past president of NADD, has served as chair of the criminal law section of WACDL, and is an active member of WFCJ. Matt Knauss is a member of WACDL.
Do you own a copy of “Defending DUIs in Washington”?
“Defending DUIs in Washington” is a textbook designed to assist the DUI defense practitioner in honing his or her courtroom skills and techniques, and to keep abreast of developments in the law and science affecting DUI defense in Washington. Most DUI defense lawyers in Washington consider this text to be The Bible of DUI Defense and agree that an attorney cannot do a competent job of defending people accused of DUI without it.
Partner Doug Cowan co-authored the textbook in 1985, and has been primarily responsible for all annual updates and revisions since then while other members of the firm make regular contributions.
Have you presented seminars on DUI defense to other lawyers or taught attorneys how to defend DUI cases?
The best attorneys are asked to participate on the faculty of drunk driving defense seminars for other lawyers. Others in the field generally recognize those who are asked back to speak again and again as leaders in the profession, a status not unrecognized by judges, prosecutors and police officers.
The lawyers at Cowan Kirk Gaston are committed to contributing to the general improvement of the quality of representation in drunk driving cases and have made presentations on behalf of the Northwest College for DUI Defense, the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the University of Washington Law School Foundation, the Washington Foundation for Criminal Justice, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, the Washington State Bar Association, the Seattle-King County Bar Association, and the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission, as well as by seminars given to other lawyers by Cowan Kirk Gaston.
All lawyers in the firm are members of the National College for DUI Defense, an organization dedicated to elevating the quality of DUI defense.
Are you familiar with the DataMaster, the breath-testing machine used in DUI cases in Washington?
Virtually every DUI case involves the law and science of breath testing. Even where a breath test is alleged to have been refused, the lawyers understanding of breath testing technology and the physiology of breath testing can be critical in successfully defending against the license revocation proceeding that will be instituted by the Department of Licensing. Obviously, if a breath test is administered, and a result is obtained, your lawyer’s skill in dealing with the many issues that will surround the breath test result at trial will often make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful defense of the criminal prosecution.
At Cowan Kirk Gaston, we have dedicated ourselves to mastering the law, science and technology of breath testing in general, and the DataMaster in particular. We have on file virtually all the documents generated by the Washington State Toxicologist for administering the breath test program, and the Washington State Patrol in implementing it, together with a library of scientific articles exploring issues relative to breath testing and it’s shortcomings. Additionally, we will in all likelihood have a record of every breath test ever administered on the machine used in your case, including a record of every malfunction, every repair record and every maintenance record.
Are you trained in the administration of field sobriety tests?
Most DUI prosecutions include the results of so-called field sobriety tests. Some have been subjected to scientific study and are approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a federal bureaucracy. NHTSA’s studies have insisted that in order to be reliable, the approved tests MUST be administered in strict compliance with NHTSA’s standards. Accordingly it is essential that an attorney know two things: which tests have been approved by NHTSA, and how are the tests to be administered.
The lawyers at Cowan Kirk Gaston have successfully completed an intensive 3 day, 20 hour program on field sobriety testing presented by a NHTSA approved instructor, the same program that is presented to police officers at the police academy.
Do you regularly appear in the court in which I am charged?
Each court has different procedures for handling cases that come before it. In courts having multiple judges, the procedures can vary depending on the judge. Additionally, each judge has his or her own approach to DUI cases. Arguments that may be successful before one judge may not fly in front of others. Some judges are known to be very good when it comes to legal arguments or being willing to follow the law regarding reasonable doubt, but are very tough when it comes to sentencing. Other judges are believed to be a tough when it comes to selling the merits of a case, but are more compassionate or flexible at sentencing. The same considerations often apply to prosecutors that may be assigned to a particular court. Furthermore, a good relationship with court personnel can often smooth the way through the complexities of the judicial process. Simply put, success or failure can hinge on the lawyer’s familiarity with the procedures and personnel of each court.
At Cowan Kirk Gaston we regularly appear in all district and municipal courts in King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties. Additionally, we are associated with qualified DUI defense lawyers throughout the state, and would be happy to make a referral to them, when appropriate.
Will the lawyer I hire be the lawyer who actually handles my case?
You probably want to be represented by a well-known, widely respected and experienced lawyer. But simply hiring such an attorney does not guarantee he or she will personally handle your case. Some such lawyers take on too many cases and have associates handle the cases for them who may not have the reputation or experience you bargained for. Other partners, however, are likely to have well earned reputations of their own. Well-respected, experienced attorneys don’t usually go into partnership with someone who isn’t an equal, or nearly so.
Regardless, you are entitled to be represented by the attorney you retain, and to receive a full explanation of who will be handling your case each step along the way.
At Cowan Kirk Gaston, the attorney who is retained will handle all court hearings, except in an emergency. Any exceptions will be thoroughly explained before a retainer is paid. The attorney who is retained will handle ALL court hearings at which testimony is taken. We take a team approach at Cowan Kirk Gaston, and regularly revue and discuss each other’s cases. We firmly believe that four minds are better than one. When you retain a lawyer at Cowan Kirk Gaston, you are literally retaining the entire firm. However, only ONE lawyer has responsibility for court proceedings.
What will it cost to get a good lawyer?
Not surprisingly there is no easy answer to this question. Attorney’s fees vary, of course, usually depending on the reputation and experience of the lawyer, and often by the geographic location in which he or she practices. As with most professions, the more well known and skilled the attorney, the higher the fee. Lawyers who limit their practice to defending DUIs will normally charge higher fees than lawyers with a more general practice. Each lawyer has something to offer. For some it’s a low fee or an easy payment plan. For others it’s an exceptional reputation and skills to match. It is rare that you will find both in the same lawyer.
Experienced criminal defense lawyers typically charge an up-front flat fee retainer that will cover all fees up to a certain point, at which time additional fees may be required. Some lawyers require additional fees to handle the administrative license hearing or to litigate pre-trial motions. Others require additional fees only in the event of a trial. Beware lawyers who charge a comparatively low flat fee. A guilty plea is often the result.
Costs for such things as an investigator, service of subpoenas, expert witness fees preparation of photographs or other exhibits, etc., are usually extra.
DO NOT hire an attorney unless and until you have a clear understanding of all of your financial obligations, which should be reduced to writing.
At Cowan Kirk Gaston, we will discuss with you ALL financial aspects of our representation, and will provide you with a written retainer agreement for your review before asking to get paid. Except for pre-trial appeals, which are rare, all legal services are covered by the retainer up to the time of trial. Our fees are competitive with those charged by others lawyers who also emphasize DUI defense in our area.