Can Underage Drivers Qualify for a Public Defender?

Interviewer: When it comes down to the trial are they still eligible to receive a public defender?

Matthew Nebeker: Yes, many young adults don’t have the money to spend for an attorney so they will see if they qualify. In the juvenile court, when someone is under 18, the court will take in to consideration the parent’s finances and their financial ability to go out and hire an attorney versus whether the child qualifies for a public defender.

I think most of the parents understand the difference between a private attorney and a public defender but not all of them do. They ask me, “Why shouldn’t I just get a public defender? We don’t have the means or it would be difficult or it would be a struggle for us to come up with money to pay your retainer amount.”

What I explain to them is that most of them are good attorneys and they do have some heavy caseloads, but they have relationship with the judge, with the prosecutor.

Public Defenders Cannot Represent the Driver in the Civil Charge at the Drivers’ License Division

The important thing on a DUI is the public defenders can’t handle the civil portion of the case at the driver’s license division. If a driver is facing 2 to 3 years before they can get their license back, that is almost a bigger issue than the fines and the community service that you’re going to get in the court.

An Attorney That Focuses His or Her Practice Exclusively on DUI Defense Has Gained a Unique Scope and Depth of Knowledge about Successful Defenses   

I’ve tried to make that distinction for them that I just handle DUI defense and so I feel like I’m that pretty good at it. Most of the underage drivers do qualify for a public defender.

I know most of the public defenders in the courts where are these cases are heard. They’re good. I admit that they’re good attorneys, but they’re handling all the other types of cases, such as domestic violence and theft.

Case History: Minor Alcohol-Related Charges

Interviewer: Can you share a favorite case that you worked on?

Illegal Search and Illegal Detention

Matthew Nebeker:  My client is 18 and he and his girlfriend had gone to a park. It was after hours and one of the neighbors that lived in the houses that was adjoining to the park, saw this car parked there. They called it in as suspicious activity and so the officers went to investigate. He didn’t really smell any alcohol or anything like that, but he went and had them get out of their car and ask them what they were doing there. They just explained, “We came here to talk.”

My client pulled something out of his pocket and the officer saw what he thought was a Marlboro pack of cigarettes.

He says, “You’re not old enough to smoke. You’re not old enough to have these,” so he searched him based on those cigarettes being contraband. So he could put him under arrest and search him. They found some marijuana and a pipe and that’s really what they were doing there at the park.

They charged him with possession of the marijuana and because it was involving a car, they charged him with the driver’s license portion of it. He had to go to driver’s license division. He had to appear in court.

We ended up having the case thrown out because he didn’t have a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. The officer mistakenly seen that or made that up and so we were able to get that thrown out as an illegal search and illegal detention. We were able to get the license reinstated. That was my most recent kind of victory that I felt good about.

Interviewer: I imagine that your client was pretty scared and had given a lot of thought about his future at that point.

Matthew Nebeker: That’s one of the cases where the father was really involved. He was calling me all the time. He was really concerned about his son’s future. Ultimately, we had a good outcome, a good result for that case.

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