New Directions recently reached out to respected Ohio criminal defense attorney Shawn Dominy for his opinion about what to consider in choosing a DUI attorney. While Shawn practices in Ohio, most of what he shares here has practical application across the country.

If you were charged with DUI (in Ohio it’s called OVI), you only have a few days before the first court appearance; the arraignment. At the arraignment, you will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty. Before the arraignment, there are three questions you should answer for yourself. 

  1. Do I intend to plead guilty or not guilty?
  2. Do I intend to hire a lawyer?
  3. If I’m hiring a lawyer, how do I select a good one?

The answers to these three questions will have a significant impact on your case.

Do I Intend To Plead Guilty Or Not Guilty?

If you plead guilty (or no contest), the case will almost certainly be finished at your first court appearance. On one hand, that is good, because having the case behind you rather than in front of you brings peace of mind. On the other hand, you will have an OVI conviction on your permanent record.

The conviction on your record is one factor to consider in your decision. The record for an OVI conviction cannot be sealed or expunged later.

When you plead guilty at the arraignment, the case is closed, and you do not have the opportunity to review the evidence against you and present a defense. However, the permanence of the decision does not mean every person charged with OVI should plead not guilty and fight the case. The question is not what every person should do, but what you should do.

A substance abuse assessment will likely be a part of your decision-making process of which to plead, guilty or not. Read another article we wrote about what happens in an alcohol and drug assessment and associated costs.

Do I Intend To Hire A Lawyer?

It is not necessary to hire a lawyer for an OVI case, but it is wise. Although you may read about OVI online and feel confident about representing yourself, it is very different to actually litigate these cases. Representing yourself would probably be like an amateur boxer fighting a professional. It’s possible but unlikely, the fight will go as you hope.

Even if you intend to plead guilty, there is value in hiring a lawyer. A lawyer guiding you through the court process is like a tour guide leading you on a trip through a foreign country. You could make it through the trip without the tour guide, but it will likely be much smoother with the guide. Court will be much smoother with a lawyer.

If you intend to plead not guilty and contest the case, you should hire a lawyer. OVI cases are deceptively complex. You must know:

  • Ohio substantive law
  • Ohio procedural law
  • Ohio rules of evidence
  • Local rules of the specific court
  • Trial strategies and techniques

In addition, you may need a firm comprehension of the science behind:

  • OVI investigations
  • field sobriety testing
  • chemical testing for alcohol and drugs

Unless you have this knowledge, coupled with effective public speaking, you should hire a lawyer to help you contest an OVI.

How Do I Select A Good OVI Lawyer?

Select a lawyer with experience and expertise in OVI defense.

I recently observed a corporate lawyer representing his business client charged with OVI. The corporate lawyer asked me for assistance. I found a mistake in his client’s paperwork which resulted in his one-year Administrative License Suspension being terminated at the arraignment. I later assisted the corporate lawyer with other parts of the case because he was admittedly “in over his head” on what he thought of as “just an OVI”. 

How do you identify a lawyer with experience and expertise in OVI defense?

Qualified lawyers will have training specific to OVI defense, such as courses in

  • field sobriety testing
  • breath testing
  • blood/urine testing

In addition to training, the lawyer should have experience putting that training to work in the courtroom. Qualified lawyers will have industry recognition from their peers; they often will be asked to teach OVI defense to other lawyers at continuing education seminars. They will also achieve recognition reputable third parties such as Martindale-Hubbell, SuperLawyers and Avvo. Finally, good lawyers should have favorable reviews from previous clients. 

Making Decisions

You now have a framework for making your decisions. As mentioned above, the question is not what every person should do, but what you should do. 

There are so many possible circumstances which go into these decisions that it’s impossible to list them all. Every person’s circumstances are different, so what is the right answer for one person may not be the right answer for another person. Before making your decisions, you should conduct a full evaluation of your circumstances. To help in your evaluation, you may want to talk with an OVI defense lawyer. 

About The Author

Attorney Shawn Dominy is the author of the book I Was Charged With DUI/OVI – Now What?! That book answers many of the questions people have when charged with OVI in Ohio. The book can be downloaded for free from the Dominy Law Firm’s website: