What is the Role of a DWI Defense Attorney in Alcohol Treatment?

By Peter. H. Lederman, Esq.

An attorney can perform an important role in involving alcohol-related issues when representing a defendant in a DWI prosecution. The DWI defense attorney is generally the first professional person who comes into contact with the accused after arrest. He or she is also a person who deals with alcohol-related issues arising out of DWI complaints on a regular basis and who is trusted by the accused. The defense attorney, therefore has a unique opportunity to make a difference in assisting a client in recognizing and addressing alcohol issues. These matters should be addressed in the initial consultation. This discussion should involve the four reasons why a client should make a serious effort to address these issues:

  1. People receiving DWI complaints need to understand that alcohol is a dangerous drug, and that while alcohol consumption and subsequent vehicle operation may not amount to a violation of law, operation when intoxicated is obviously dangerous, wrong and illegal. It is important, therefore, that the client understand how the misuse of alcohol must be avoided in the future and that the defendant acknowledge the need to make a good thing out of a bad thing. Clients with obvious alcohol-related problems should be encouraged to use the occasion to address those issues. In cases where counseling is not needed, clients should be encouraged to acquire skills and techniques to prevent inappropriate use of alcohol before vehicle operation in the future.
  2. Seeking and undertaking counseling also helps the defendant in coping with difficult inter-personal and self-esteem issues, which arise within families and among others who care for the defendant. Obviously, seeking help makes an affirmative statement that the defendant is taking steps to address these issues.
  3. Our professional and personal responsibility should lead attorneys to assist clients in dealing with what could be a dangerous and life-threatening disease. Even when this is not the case, attorneys have a professional and personal obligation to make roads safer and to prevent unnecessary loss of life, injury and damage to property whenever possible. I can say, from personal experience, that there is nothing more satisfying than being contacted by a client, years after representation, to be thanked for encouraging them to seriously address alcohol-related issues.
  4. Finally, there are few things judges, prosecutors and police officers respect more than action taken by defendants in addressing alcohol-related issues before they are mandated by law to do so. These people bear a heavy burden when dealing with defendants charged with driving while intoxicated. They must protect society while, at the same time, ensure that defendants are afforded rights guaranteed by our Constitution an laws for fair disposition of complaints against them. The fact that a defendant seeks help and successfully completes a program dealing with alcohol issues can give the court some assurance that the defendant will not repeat the conduct that led to the issuance of the summons.

Attorneys then should actively address questions of alcohol use and abuse with clients. They should be prepared to encourage defendants to use the occasion to focus on issues involving alcohol use and to submit to a program of evaluation, education and counseling, when necessary.

The attorney is also in a position to explain the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) program and to ensure compliance with IDRC requirements. The attorney can also assist clients who reside outside the state of New Jersey in arranging for IDRC compliance.

Finally, attorneys representing clients in DWI matters have a unique opportunity to make a difference in how a defendant ultimately emerges from a DWI prosecution. In my view, the attorney has a professional and personal obligation to encourage the defendant to pursue evaluation, education and counseling.

Contact Mr. Lederman at 800-262-7170 for more information about this article.

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