This article is from an interview with Utah DUI defense attorney Jason Schatz. This portion talks about practical advice for weathering the fight through a long criminal or DUI charge in Utah.
Interviewer: When someone’s going through defending a DUI, what have you found are the best strategies for helping someone through the process emotionally?
Attorney Schatz: One of the things I always tell all my clients is, just because you’ve been arrested for a DUI, drug, or other crime does not mean you’re a bad person.
Let’s face it, the vast majority of the people that I deal with for DUI or drug cases are good people, good and productive citizens who have either developed a drug or alcohol problem that’s interfering with their normal life, or they just simply exercised poor judgment and made a bad decision, like to drive after they consumed a little too much alcohol. Something I always tell people is, what makes you as a person is not the mistakes you make. It’s what you do to try to make amends for your mistakes that says a lot about you. Knowing that you’re not a bad person can sometimes make all the difference to someone’s ability to weather the long process of fighting a DUI or other criminal charge.
Sometimes that’s not enough, though. One of the things we work very closely with our clients on is that, if we do have an individual whom we believe has a drug or alcohol problem, we try to steer them to treatment or to assistance to try to deal with whatever the issue is that’s causing them to abuse drugs or alcohol. In all reality, in my job as an attorney, I have two duties to my clients. First is a legal duty, obviously, to be their legal representative and fight for them and defend them as best I can. Second, I also have a personal duty to my clients to assist them in getting past whatever issues are affecting them that are causing them to get in trouble in the first place.
We work very closely with local counseling centers where attendance, even before we go to court, is a preventative measure and also as a way to get favor from the prosecutor and the court insofar as plea-bargaining and sentencing are concerned. Oftentimes, we’ll have our clients go out and perform community service or complete a drug and alcohol evaluation and the educational series before they go to court, so they can show the court and the prosecutor that they are taking the matter seriously. This does show that they’re certainly committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to make sure that it doesn’t repeat itself again in the future.
Interviewer: How long can defending a DUI case take, approximately?
Attorney Schatz: I would say a standard DUI that results with a plea agreement at say, the first pretrial conference, usually takes three to four months. If there are motions to suppress that are being filed and litigated, it can take anywhere from six to eight months.
But oftentimes, if the case goes to a full-blown trial, it can easily be ten months to a year, sometimes longer, before that case finally works its way through trial. The justice courts that handle misdemeanor cases in Utah are extremely busy. They’re extremely overwhelmed with the number of cases. They only have so many days set aside each month to handle jury trials. So oftentimes, a trial will get set, and they’ll set 10 or 12 trials on any given day with only one judge and one jury. So out of those 10 or 12 cases, only one of them gets to go to trial on that day!
There is a statutory priority schedule that determines which of the cases gets priority, but oftentimes when you go to trial, you may actually have your trial continued two or three times before your case moves to the top of the priority list and you get the opportunity to try your case. So it can definitely take a while.
Interviewer: Even though at the beginning, people know that they have to fight with everything they have to avoid a conviction if possible, do you find them waivering as the case drags on? What would you tell people that say, “I can’t take it anymore” once the case is ongoing and they want to just give up and plead guilty?
Attorney Schatz: That’s something I always talk to clients about. I tell them that if they’re going to hire me to defend their case, I want them to be in it for the long haul. The criminal case scenario is somewhat similar to an insurance company handling a personal injury case. They know that the longer they can drag that case out, the more frustrated the plaintiff is going to get, and the more likely they’re going to be willing to settle for a lower settlement, just to try to resolve the case and try to move past it.
I obviously advise my clients that if we’re going to defend the case, we’re going to take whatever time necessary to do a good job. We’re going to take whatever steps are necessary to properly defend that case. If that means that the case takes six months or a year or even longer to bring to a resolution, that’s what we’re willing to do. We help them through that waiting by always being available to answer questions and by communicating any progress in the case.