The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment states that every individual should be protected equally under the law. This means that whether you are rich or poor, you should receive equal treatment in court if you’ve been charged with a crime. Yet, recent studies and reports have found that wealthy individuals are more likely to receive lighter sentencing for a range of crimes—including DUIs.

Much of this is due to the fact that poorer individuals cannot afford DUI defense lawyers who could help them get better outcomes for their cases.

According to Mother Jones, the average public defender would need to work a year-and-a-half in order to complete a year’s typical workload. This means that most public defenders—court-appointed lawyers for those who cannot afford legal counsel—are saddled with more cases than they can handle. Many public defenders who do not have the time to handle a case simply encourage their clients to plead guilty. These same clients might have been able to receive reduced charges or sentencing had they been able to afford a defense lawyer who could give their case the time and attention it deserved.

According to a 1991 study, drunk driving is the most common crime committed each year. Individuals charged with DUIs face serious consequences, including jail time, license revocation, a criminal record, and increased insurance rates. In Sarasota, Florida, individuals who can hire a DUI defense lawyer are often at an advantage over those who cannot afford counsel.

According to the New England Journal of Civil and Criminal Confinement, courts and judges treat the wealthy differently than they treat the average citizen. Wealth not only affords individuals social and economic advantages, but it also gives individuals a legal advantage as well. Analysis of sentencing shows that courts repeatedly give the wealthy lighter sentencing than those who are in poorer socioeconomic brackets.

This issue was brought to the national spotlight, when Ethan Couch’s DUI defense attorney used an “affluenza” defense in his trial, claiming the boy was a victim of his wealthy upbringing. The defense strategy worked and he wasn’t sentenced to serve jail time.

The New England Journal of Civil and Criminal Confinement notes that the affluenza defense is questionable in that it goes against the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Yet, despite this, the reality is that individuals with the wealth and money to hire a DUI defense lawyer are more likely to have their DUIs thrown out and face reduced sentencing. If celebrity DUI cases are any indication, having the money to hire a savvy lawyer can make a world of difference in whether one serves jail time, loses driving privileges, or faces the consequences of having a criminal record.

If you’ve been charged with a DUI in Sarasota, Florida, the consequences of not defending yourself can be immense. Your reputation and freedom may be on the line. A qualified DUI defense attorney with the Law Offices of Jeffrey A. Haynes, P.A. may be able to assist you.