'The DWI Guy' Talks About His Sobering Job Defending Drunk Drivers

Tom Anelli, "the DWI Guy," wants to set something straight, right from the start: "My wife and children drive around on the same roads as you do, so don't look down your nose at me for doing this work. Just because we defend those charged with DWI doesn't mean I advocate drinking and driving."

So how does a successful attorney enter the world of drunk driving? In Anelli's case, it was by choice.

The DWI process

As a young, up-and-coming attorney in the upstate New York area, Anelli became concerned when he saw lawyers "handling DWIs like traffic tickets." Too often, he said, general law practitioners take on DWI cases when they aren't trained or equipped to do so because they are either trying to be all things to all people or are trying to establish their name and their business. In DWI cases, their approach often was to speak with the district attorney to get a reduced sentence.

As Anelli's interest in DWIs began to grow, he started studying the system to really understand DWIs and the law: how sobriety testing is done; how much training police officers receive; the constitutionality of how the sobriety tests are used, etc.

Anelli spent two days in a factory learning how DWI breathalyzer machines were made, and his interest piqued even more. He learned that police only receive sobriety testing training one time in their entire career and that as a result, sobriety tests are often administered incorrectly. And, because so many attorneys try to practice multiple areas of law, they do not practice all those areas well, forcing the attorneys to take a plea or miss the fact that a field sobriety test was incorrectly administered, making it unconstitutional.

The 'DWI Guy'

As a result of his curiosity and research efforts, Anelli decided to focus his energy on practicing one type of law, and practicing it really well. Almost overnight, "The DWI Guy" was born. As Anelli's website says, "you wouldn't go to a general-practice doctor for brain surgery. The science of DWI prosecution, like brain surgery, is extremely complex. DWI lawyers certified in field sobriety testing and machine use with national training can sometimes identify defense opportunities that other attorneys might miss or have not the training to discover."

Anelli recalls that in the beginning his services were so needed and in demand that "I used to ride around New York in the back of a town car with two Blackberries going at all times, riding from one courthouse [to testify as an expert witness] to another." To offset his huge workload, Anelli began hiring a team of other lawyers who also wanted to be specialists, just like him.

To help prevent his work life, which can sometimes be unpleasant, from seeping into his home life, Anelli used the Strategic Approach Program, run by Dan Sullivan, to help him separate the two. "I am home every night by 6PM to eat dinner with my family and sit with my girls before they go to bed at 8PM, and I have young lawyers who take the night court appearances," he said. "I spend the whole weekend at home with my family and not working. You have to do it to balance work and family life."

So why does Anelli keep going back every day to a job that is far from average and highly stressful? Because he really believes in the science behind DWIs and he trusts the legal system. "The real wins are when you do prove that the test aren't valid or that someone was actually wrongfully accused," Anelli said. This can happen if people have just been in an accident or if they have a medical condition that prevents them from taking a field sobriety tests. Also, "when you do all this training and work and really help someone, you really feel good."

Ways he can help

A common example of when tests can produce inaccurate results involves a nice dinner at your favorite restaurant that starts off with some bread. According to Anelli, who is also a certified field sobriety tester, a small crumb of bread that gets stuck between two teeth can absorb alcohol like a sponge and trap it there for hours. If you get pulled over on the way home for some other infractions, such as having a taillight out, even if you only had two sips of wine at dinner and are not drunk by any measure, that bread could give a false reading when and if you are forced to take a breathalyzer test.

Another advantage to being a DWI attorney in Anelli's book is that you can get people the help they need if they do have a drinking problem. "If people get arrested for drunk driving two or three times. we can send them to an alcoholic evaluator to see if they have a drinking problem or not. People want to work with us, so we can use that [the alcoholic evaluator's assessment] as leverage."

While Anelli's videos may lead you to believe that he is over dramatizing the world of DWIs for business purposes, in person this attorney comes across as a driven, family-man who truly believes that he is doing just what he was always meant to do.

When it's not so easy

But Anelli has seen the dark side of DWIs, as well -- many times in his career. Skaneateles, N.Y., is one such place. "I had the worst case of my life there," he said.

A man who was charged with is fourth DWI hit and killed a girl scout while she was delivering cookies. Described as average Joe, this defendant worked as a carpet installer and would stop on his way home from work and get a few beers at the local bar with his buddies. On the night of the accident, he stopped and had a few drinks after work, like always. As he was driving home, a car (belonging to the girl scout) was parked slightly in the road. The driver swerved to avoid hitting the misplaced vehicle, but ended up hitting the girl scout in the process, who was half in the road, reaching into the car for cookies. "At court I was just praying to God to get me through this. That was probably the low point in my career," said Anelli, "because this poor guy had a real drinking problem that just never got the attention it needed, until something tragic happened."

Generalists vs. specialists

Despite the bumps in the road to being "The DWI Guy," Anelli stays focused and committed to this challenging and unconventional job. "I think that any job at this level is harder than doing it as a cursory -- it's harder to delve deep into one level of the law rather than the entire law, and its been hard to turn down some lucrative work in the past and tell people that I am going to be true to this mission alone."

Regardless of your profession, Anelli recommends being a specialist instead of a generalist. Pick one thing, anything, but do it better than anyone else and you will succeed.

"The way I got over the hump of being a generalist and being a specialist is through marketing, because that is the key to creating a brand. Advertising is also good when it helps people make the right decision, which is what I am trying to do, and the education factor is also huge. I travel, go through constant training, do research and continue to educate myself every day, which is expensive, but it is worth it."

Next: To Be a Specialist or Generalist? The Case for Each >>

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Nikki Amber

lawyers and commonfolk aside, it's apparent everyone gets a turn which is great... However, I would love to know how many friends of those who post here drive drunk, or have driven drunk, be it "without someone else knowing," or unfortunately they're an obvious drunk. No one shoud be above the law; except for the Kennedy's so seriousy stop ur bitching. Swazye proonged his terminal caner, Shaq beat AIDS and your rich poitician who you think is fighting for your "rights" just got $20,000 to sell his county/state down the river. Money talks and it always has. I'm not advocating for right or wrong; just what really happens. Keep complaining about drunk drivers while the Saudis and Europeans (yea i lived in Europe as well as the oil bearing countries so shut your liberal mouth about "human rights" as you blog from your liberal west side manhattan brownstone) cant wait to cut our heads off. You've got bigger problems cause even Leandra's law cant help "broke ass always giving a hand out to everyone" NYS while the rest of us have two jobs to survive. Have fun with this one guys...I'm sure your twisted liberal minds will attempt to overhaul my simple consevative rant...be advised I may be in charge of teaching your children....and they may come home with the right ideas about how to turn this country around...

April 27 2011 at 1:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Two good reasons to be thankful for lawyers like this gentleman: (1) the .08 statutory limit is a one-size-fits-all criterion that conveniently ignores the fact that different people handle alcohol levels differently. One guy will fall over after a single beer, while another is fully capable of downing 10 or 12 beers without the slightest impairment. The standard for determining DUI ought to be entirely subjective, based on observable circumstances that reflect on the driver's actual ability to control a car. (2) Those wonderful sobriety checkpoints (surprise!!) are based on a presumption of guilt that our constitutional guarantees ought to forbid outright. If there is no probable cause to believe you are driving under the influence, it smacks of totalitarianism to make you stop, detain you for who knows how long, shine a 24-inch flashlight in your eyes, and interrogate you as though you were a common criminal. It's a pity our otherwise oh-so-liberal courts have not struck down these procedures as a blatant violation of due process.

September 23 2010 at 1:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to galocke's comment

I see why you waited till the thread was dead to comment....

September 24 2010 at 5:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Attorneys eat their young.

September 23 2010 at 8:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Old Chinese proverb: "It's a shame that the behaviour of 97% of lawyers give the rest a bad name."

September 23 2010 at 12:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The county I live in (in NC), earlier this year, had the president of the local MADD chapter arrested on a DWI charge! Some double standard, huh???

September 22 2010 at 9:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am always fascinated by people who don't look at what they are preaching or the consequences of it. I do not advocate driving under the influence of alcohol or any other drug that can impair your abilities. However to not allow for proper legal representation is foolish. Someone is going to have to represent the accused no matter what the crime and that attorney is bound by law to do their best to defend the accused. Many attorneys "specialize" in areas of law he is just one of them.

If we condemn a driver on our feelings over this issue and not through the courts, then what if you are accused of a crime that many feel the same way as you do about the drunk driver. Should you not be sent to jail the same way without legal procedure or representation? Be careful of setting a "case president" on DUIs based your emotions. It could be used against you over something else, and then it will be too late. The system fails many times not just with DUIs but with murder, rape, child abuse and many more. But I wouldn't like any other system I've seen or heard of.

By the way for the cops that responded so hatefully I hope you are as good about ticketing and stopping your own drunks as you are to general public. From what is known many of you look the other way when it's your own involved.

September 22 2010 at 9:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Paul's comment
Donald R. Mack

9-22-2010 @7:29PM
david said... 1st offense should be loss of license for 5 years , loss of auto, and 1 year in prison no less if there are no injuries in an accident , if an accident is involved it should be at least 5 years
Thank God you're not a judge, David. In most cases where the punishment doesn't fit the crime, the person will move to another state. Which is what I did. I left the garbage state, New Jersey, after I had been sober for 3 years with the help of A.A. This Thanksgiving I will be sober for 23 years. The thing that got to me the most in my last detox is that being addicted to alcohol is not a matter of being good or bad. For years and years people in society have tried to force that belief on alcoholics. Alcoholism is a disease and the only way to overcome it is to stay away from one drink one day at a time. So I traded in all my guilt and shame and accepted the fact that I have a disease. I've been driving now over 20 years without so much as a ticket and I never paid and nevere will pay that ridiculous surcharge (extra charge) to New Jersey. LOL!

September 22 2010 at 8:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Donald R. Mack's comment

Just amazing....

September 22 2010 at 8:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you are unlucky enough to get pulled over, and you have been drinking, you are NOT REQUIRED to do a road side sobriety test. Field sobriety tests are a form of self incrimination and you do not have to perform them. You probably will be arreted, but in court, a failed field sobriety test cannot be introduced which makes the challenge of the officers training or the opertion of the breath test machine into question.

September 22 2010 at 8:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't like drunk drivers, and I don't like the attorneys who try and get them "off the hook" in court. Thousands of people get killed every year by drunk drivers, and thousands more are seriously injured. Drunk drivers DON'T deserve a defense - they desrbve to be put in jail for at least 90 days for the first offense - no plea bargaining, no parole.

September 22 2010 at 8:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to rick's comment

I was beginning to wonder if the whole world had gone insane...thank you rick

September 22 2010 at 8:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Finally someone with a conscience....thank you rick

September 22 2010 at 8:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

None of this is true lol, you do not nhave to test at all if you so chose not to you are forced to sighn the test or no liscance under derest there for it is not vaid to take your licanse for refusing to test but watch out the dmv will be pissed at you and try to get you on the ten day right to appeal but the law says you must first be convicted so it want stick the smartest thing to do is to simply refuse to test then it is your word aginst his with no evadince it is a hard thing to prove for them now the ball is back in your court and they have to prove you are guilty becouse thay have no evadince you get out faster and you lose your licanse any ways for a year stop making things easy for them you can fight a dui and win if they have no evidence and did not have a good reasion to stop you they loose the case and it caust the county suddenly they are loosing money on dui's and it is not profitable to prosacute those cases did you know more people die each year in accidents caused from high speed car chases than dui's did you know 60% of all accidents are caused by those over the age of 65 years old and 70 percent of those are indgerys to the other persion do we out law old people from driving what about the other 40% you say ! those are not dui's those are teens causing accidents and out of those nerely 80% of those accidents are deaths ! in fact you are more likely to die of a cold than to die in a car reck caused by a drunk driven vehical the dui program is not about public safety wake up it is about revinue it is a mega billion if not a trilling doller buisness to rehab a dui driver you have court caust ,dmv caust ,police money,insurince, money, probation fees and all a big public scare tactic to embesal and swindle money from you . If you have ever ! Had a glass of wine and drove you are guilty ,a beer, one shot of wiskey , the law say any alcohal is prohibited so we are all guilty are we not ?????

September 22 2010 at 8:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to john's comment

I'm sure you are adding very relevant facts, as is obvious in the statistics you give(sources maybe when you do). Maybe try a few periods here and there?

September 22 2010 at 8:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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