If you have ever watched any court dramas on television, you're probably familiar with the phrase that you have the right to an attorney, and if you can't afford one, you'll be provided one.
In most cases, this is true. But when it comes to a first-offense, misdemeanor Birmingham DUI, the court isn't mandated to provide one for you.
Still, as our Alabama DUI lawyers know, it is almost always going to be in your favor to have one. Too many people make an attempt to defend themselves, and they often learn the hard way that they could have gotten a better deal if someone had been advocating for them.
People v. Kinney is a case in which a multiple DUI offender moved to strike a prior DUI conviction from qualifying as a sentence enhancement on a current charge because he wasn't provided a court-appointed attorney in the earlier misdemeanor DUI case. Basically, he was contending that the prior charge shouldn't count against him because he didn't have the benefit of an attorney at his side.
This was a case out of Illinois so some of the specifics of law may vary, but the basic principles are still applicable here in Alabama.
Back in the late summer of 2009, a man named Michael Drew was arrested on charges of aggravated DUI. According to his indictment, he had three prior convictions for DUI – one in 1985, one in 1990 and one in 2000. That meant that his current DUI charge was considered aggravated, and that it was considered a Class 2 felony, meaning he wasn't eligible for probation.
Drew ended up pleading guilty to the charge, but filed a motion in that plea stating that the 2000 conviction should not be considered as an enhancement against him because he was not afforded an attorney during that proceeding.
Prior case law in Illinois (People v. Finley) indicated that misdemeanor DUI convictions that were obtained without defense legal counsel couldn't be used against the defendant as sentence enhancements in subsequent offenses. The state argued that case law was no longer valid, but the judge sided with the defendant in this case.
Drew was given 48 months of probation and no jail time. The state appealed.
In Illinois, just like Alabama, you won't get probation for a fourth DUI offense. Here, for example, it's a minimum of 1 year in jail (and up to 10 years in prison).
The question was whether the judge should have applied an even harsher sentence – and jail time – based on the prior convictions, even when one of those convictions was obtained without defense counsel.
The state court ended up applying federal case law, in which the U.S. Supreme Court has held that a defendant charged with a misdemeanor has no right to court-appointed counsel if there is no possible chance of imprisonment.
As a result, the appeals court sided with the state, and ordered the lower court judge to vacate his original sentence of probation and re-sentence him, using the earlier conviction as an enhancement.
Ultimately, what all of this illustrates is that an investment in a good attorney – even for a misdemeanor DUI – is worth it.
If you have been arrested for a DUI in Birmingham, contact Birmingham DUI Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.
People v. Kinney, Justia Dockets