Should You Hire a Lawyer if You Are Charged with a Violation?
That’s not a particularly satisfying answer, but without a full understanding of the consequences, even a low-level violation could have big impact.s
In New Hampshire there are three levels of offenses–violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. You can’t be sent to jail for a violation, all the court can do is make you pay a fine. I have had a number of people ask if it’s worth hiring an attorney to represent them on a violation. The logic is simple–if the worst I can get is a $1200 fine plus penalty assessment, why hire an attorney that will cost me more than that? That makes perfect sense. There are times when hiring an attorney for a violation is not wise. But there are other times when hiring an attorney makes a lot of sense, because many charges have penalties far beyond what happens in the courtroom (for more on collateral consequences of convictions, see here).
In particular, driving charges in New Hampshire, even violations can have serious consequences.
First, some violation-level offenses involve license-related penalties. It would be terrible to go to court, pay a small fine, then get a letter from the DMV a few weeks later telling you that your license is suspended. While it makes sense to skip an attorney if all you have to do is pay a fine, it does not make sense if you also lose your license. Faced with a choice, most people would much rather pay for an attorney than lose their ability to drive.
Second, some violations could impact your professional license. Again, driving charges come to mind. Imagine you get a ticket, pay a small fine, and then learn that your commercial driver’s license is suspended. Not only can you not drive, you might also lose your job. People that work in the medical field, such as nurses, RNA, and the like might face similar license/employment issues for minor drug offenses. Again, this is a case where hiring an attorney makes sense.
Finally, and perhaps most important, New Hampshire has a law called the Habitual Offender law. It is one of the very few ways that a person can go to prison (not jail; there is a difference–prison is for people sentenced to more than a year, jail is for people that are pretrial or sentenced to a year or less) on just driving offenses. If you drive after being deemed an Habitual Offender by the DMV you face a mandatory minimum jail sentence, with the possibility of getting a prison sentence. So if you have a violation-level charge that could make you a Habitual Offender, it makes a lot of sense to hire an attorney.
The take home message here is simple–because of consequences other than court fines, it might make sense to hire an attorney to represent you on a violation level offense.
If you have questions about a charge, even a violation, call me at (603) 318-0450 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org