September 2009 Archives

September 29, 2009

Arraignment in Michigan Criminal Cases - Part 2 - Bond and Conditions

In the first part of this article, we examined what happens at an Arraignment from the beginning, when a Defendant is advised of the Charge against him or her, and the Penalty that can be imposed for that Charge, as well as how the Court advises the Defendant of his or her Constitutional Rights, to how a Plea is entered. In this second part of the article we will examine the setting of Bond, the imposition of Bond Conditions, and how and why a Court will inform the Defendant of his or her next Court date. In an earlier Blog Post about Bond and getting out of Jail, we examined the Bond Process, particularly the money aspect in detail. Here, we'll examine the mechanics of the setting of Bond and Bond Conditions more than the money considerations we discussed in that earlier Blog article.

As a Criminal Defense Attorney, I have the opportunity to observe and participate in these proceedings from a slightly more detached position than my Client, who may well be too nervous to recall much, if any, of what happened, once they walk out of Court. As we proceed, we'll be using the example about the person arrested and taken to Jail for Possession of Marijuana in the City of Warren from the first part of this article.

Judge1.pngLet's go back to that Possession of Marijuana example from the first part of this article. Remember, our imaginary Defendant was arrested in the City of Warren for Possession of Marijuana and has spent the night in Jail. Now, they've been brought to Court and before one of the Judges. After advising the Defendant of which Law he or she is charged with violating (in our example, either the City of Warren Ordinance or the State Law) and what the maximum possible penalty is for that violation, and after making sure the Defendant has been provided with either a verbal or written explanation of their Constitutional Rights, and that they understand them, and then entering a Plea on behalf of the Defendant (usually "Not Guilty," sometimes "Stands Mute,' and hopefully not, in any case, "Guilty"), the Judge looks to set Bond. The terms "Bond" and "Bail" have come to have similar meanings, which is an amount of money posted with a Court to get a Defendant out of Jail.

Let's take a detour from the example we've been discussing for a moment. Let's say that rather than having been arrested and spending the night in Jail for Possession of Marijuana, the person instead had their Marijuana confiscated and was issued a Citation (Ticket) instructing them to call the Court within 10 days from the date it was written. Or, let's say that the person was taken to the Police Station, booked, and then let out of Jail after posting an "interim Bond" of $100 or so, or just let go without posting any money, but, in either case, was still issued a Citation.

Continue reading "Arraignment in Michigan Criminal Cases - Part 2 - Bond and Conditions " »

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September 28, 2009

Arraignment in Michigan Criminal Cases - Part 1 - What Happens

This article will focus on the very first part of any Criminal Case, known as an Arraignment. Long before I ever became a Criminal Defense Lawyer, I had heard the term "Arraignment" in the news many times. Even though I had a general idea that the term had something to do with the beginning of a criminal Case, I didn't know exactly what an Arraignment was, much less what happened at one. For anyone involved with a Criminal Case, whether they are the person being charged with a crime (the Defendant) or that person's family or friends, the Arraignment is often their first-ever contact with the Criminal Process.

I'd like to narrow the focus of this article a bit. The vast majority of my experience is in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. Pretty much everybody I represent would be considered "regular," or "average," in the sense that they generally have families and community ties and jobs, as opposed to being career criminals like Bank Robbers, Kidnappers and Serial Killers. It's that kind of ordinary citizen facing a Misdemeanor or light-to-medium severity Felony Criminal Charge that we'll have in mind as we review the Arraignment process. Because even a relatively casual treatment of this subject requires some depth, we'll divide this article into two parts. In this first part we'll examine how the Court advises a person of the Charge against them and what the potential Penalty is for such an offense, how the Court advises the person charged of their Constitutional Rights, and how a Plea is entered. In the second installment, we'll examine the setting of Bond and Bond Conditions, and the scheduling of a Defendant's next Court date and how that differs in Felony and Misdemeanor cases.

large_sobrietycourt1_102008.jpgThe process of Arraignment serves several purposes, and this is how the proceeding goes:

First, a Defendant is formally told of the exact Criminal Charge that has been made against them.

Second, the Defendant is likewise told the exact nature of the possible Penalty that they face.

Third, a Defendant is either told, or reads and must sign to indicate they read and understood, their Constitutional Rights when charged with a Crime.

Fourth, a Defendant is asked how he or she Pleads (Not Guilty, Stands Mute or Guilty).

Fifth, and perhaps most important of all, at least to the Defendant, is the setting of Bond and Bond Conditions.

Sixth, and finally, the Court informs the Defendant of the next Court date, or at least advises the Defendant that Notice regarding that next Court date will be sent to them.

We'll examine each of these things in turn, beginning with informing a Defendant of the exact charge or charges against them. When a person is alleged to have committed a crime, it means that they violated or "broke" some written law. In fact, everything that is illegal is illegal precisely because there is a law written somewhere that makes it illegal.

Continue reading "Arraignment in Michigan Criminal Cases - Part 1 - What Happens " »

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September 25, 2009

Michigan Criminal Cases and Bond - The Basics of Getting out of Jail

As a Lawyer who spends a substantial part of his practice handling Criminal Cases, primarily in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, one of the typical calls that comes into my office is from a family member or friend of someone who has recently been arrested and is in Jail. Often, the caller is distressed about the situation, and wants advice, first and foremost, about how to get their family-member or friend out of Jail.

The first thing to learn when trying to determine a jailed person's situation is whether or not they have been "Arraigned." An Arraignment is the first Court Proceeding in a Criminal Case. It follows a person's Arrest and "Booking" (mug shots and fingerprints).

What-Exactly-is-a-Bail-Bond-2.jpgWhile an Arraignment serves several purposes, the one that matters most to anyone going through it is the setting of Bond, which is done at or near the end of the proceeding. Bond is the amount of money that will be necessary to "Bail" the arrested person (also known as the Defendant) out of Jail. When a Judge or Magistrate is ready to set Bond, there are several things he or she looks at in making their determination.

First, there is the nature of the Crime. Is the offense a Felony or Misdemeanor? Even though, at the outset of a case, a Defendant is presumed "innocent until proven guilty," a person charged with a First-Offense Drunk Driving will be considered considerably less risky to put back on the street than a person charged with being a serial killer. Thus, the severity of the offense being charged is one of the things considered when setting bond. This is spoken of in terms of "Protection of the Public."

Of similar importance is the prior record of the person being charged. Someone with no, or a rather minor prior record, is considered a safer bet for release than someone who has a lengthy prior record, if for no other reason than a Defendant with the lengthy prior record seems to not be able to stop getting in trouble. Also, the worse a Defendant's prior record, the more likely that the "next" offense, at some point, will net them a Jail (or Prison) sentence. Thus, there is, with such people, an increasing risk that, with each new case, they may become scared and simply not show up to Court out of fear of getting locked up.

Continue reading "Michigan Criminal Cases and Bond - The Basics of Getting out of Jail" »

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September 23, 2009

Michigan Arrest Warrants - What is a Bench Warrant?

As a Criminal Defense Lawyer who appears in Detroit and Suburban Courts almost every day of the week, I hear and see Judges issue a "Bench Warrant" often. Most people have a general understanding of what a warrant is, but many are not clear on the meaning of the term "Bench Warrant" and how it relates to Warrants in general.

A Bench Warrant is, as you can imagine, a Warrant that is issued "from the Bench," meaning by the Judge sitting at his or her "desk" in Court. A Bench Warrant can only be issued in certain, limited situations. While a Bench Warrant is a kind of "Arrest Warrant," not all Arrest Warrants are Bench Warrants, in the same way that a baseball is a kind of ball, but not all balls are baseballs. The focus of this article is upon Bench Warrants, when they're issued, for whom, and how they're dealt with.

MI Judge.pngA Bench Warrant is issued when a person who is subject to an order of a particular Court does not comply with it. One of the most common situations in which Bench Warrants are issued is as good a place as any to look for an example.

Assume a person has been arrested for an offense (it can be any offense: Drunk Driving, Possession of Marijuana, Domestic Violence, etc.) and is sent a notice by the Court to appear on a certain day. If that person does not appear on the date required by the notice, when the Judge calls their case and they don't respond, he or she will issue a Bench Warrant. This means that a warrant is put out through the LEIN (Law Enforcement Information Network) and if and when the person comes into contact with a Police Officer, they will be arrested.

Actually, the Bench Warrant itself is an order of Court commanding a Police Officer to arrest someone and bring them before the Court. The Officer cannot ignore an active Warrant. This is one reason why, upon pretty much any contact with the Police, an Officer will want ID from a person so that he or she can run their name and see if they have any outstanding Warrants.

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September 21, 2009

Criminal Cases in Michigan - Do I need a Lawyer?

In my role as Criminal Defense Lawyer with an office in Macomb County, I have contact with all kinds of people from the Metro-Detroit area. Some of these people are the Defendant's themselves, some family, and others interested friends. Sometimes, the facts of a given case are so completely beyond dispute that I will be asked by the Defendant or their family or friends "Do I (or does the Person charged with a crime) really need a Lawyer?"

Now, you can probably guess my answer to that question, but the reason for it may not be as obvious. Sure, there is always the possibility of some technicality coming to light which can be discovered by an astute Lawyer, but the focus of this article is more about what a Defense Lawyer can do in pretty much each and every case, no matter how bad things might appear, rather than on some once-in-a-blue-moon turn of luck.

68918_law_education_series_3.jpgFirst, and just as a general observation, try and recall anyone in the Public Spotlight who has ever been charged with a crime and didn't have a Lawyer. Even in the age of video, where some crimes are caught on tape and a person's guilt appears to be a foregone conclusion (like the Police Officers caught on tape in the Rodney King beating), anyone familiar with the Legal System will always have a lawyer as they maneuver through it.

There's an old saying, referring to Lawyers, that "The Lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client." Lawyers, perhaps more than anyone, recognize the importance of having Professional Representation. When Geoffrey Feiger faced (and was ultimately acquitted of) Federal charges related to Political Contributions, he hired a Lawyer (none other than the legendary Gerry Spence). And whether you like him or not (I do, and not just because I'm a Lawyer) you'll have to admit that Feiger is one good Lawyer. I'll bet most people would be hard-pressed to name any other Lawyer as good as Feiger, much less anyone even remotely in his league. Yet, despite being more than able to take on (and usually beat) anyone in a Courtroom, Fieger didn't do that; instead, he had Professional Representation.

So, what can a Lawyer do for someone who, for whatever reason (really bad prior record, crime caught on tape, solid confession, etc.) appears to be in a hopeless (and helpless) situation? What should a person look for in a Lawyer that will help them decide who to hire, and just as importantly, not to hire?

Continue reading "Criminal Cases in Michigan - Do I need a Lawyer?" »

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September 18, 2009

Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License in Michigan - Part 2 - What Happens in Court

In the first Blog post of this 2-part series, we examined the differences between Suspended and Revoked Licenses in Michigan. In this second part, we will look at how these each of these cases is usually handled in Court, and what a Lawyer can do to help the Client avoid the negative consequences that go along with each.

Whatever the reason or reasons, the most common Misdemeanor Driving Charge is Driving While License Suspended, or DWLS. Driving While License Revoked, or DWLR, while not as frequently cited a charge as DWLS, is still a common Misdemeanor Driving Offense. Here's where things can get strange.

Judge.jpgRemember how, in part 1, we learned that DWLS and DWLR are part of the same statute (law), and carry the same penalties for violation? While that's true, in the real world of Courts and Judges, they are often looked at very differently, and a violation for DWLS is often treated much more leniently than a violation for DWLR. Here's why:

As we noted in the first Blog post of this series, most (but not all) License Revocations result from an accumulation of alcohol-related (or sometimes drug-related) Driving Convictions. When a person is cited for DWLR, it often means they are what's known as a "Habitual Offender" of Drunk Driving (of DUI) Laws and has had their license Revoked. In part 1 we saw that we can compare having a License Suspended to being suspended from school, and having a License Revoked to being expelled from school. From a Judge's point of view, a Revoked Driver causes the biggest concern, because not only do they (often) have a demonstrated record of DUI convictions, they also demonstrate a lack of ability to follow the law even after their license has been yanked.

My job in representing a Client in this type of case is to demonstrate that, aside from whatever caused their License to be Revoked in the first place, the Driver is not nearly as defiant as the charge may at first make them appear.

Continue reading "Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License in Michigan - Part 2 - What Happens in Court" »

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September 16, 2009

Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License in Michigan - Part 1 - The Different Charges and Meanings

Most people don't know that the terms DWLS, DWLS/R/D, Driving While License Suspended and Driving While License Suspended, Revoked or Denied are all violations of the same Law. A person arrested for Driving on either a Suspended or Revoked License goes home with a Ticket that has one of the above-mentioned terms written on it. As a Criminal Defense Attorney who handles Driving Cases of every kind, from Traffic Tickets and Criminal Charges to Reinstatements and Restorations, I am often asked why someone's Ticket says "Revoked" when their License was only "Suspended?"

Fortunately, that's an easy question to answer. By answering that question, we learn quite a bit about the whole subject of Suspended and Revoked Licenses, and what can be done about them. Because there is no quick explanation of all this material, we'll divide the discussion into two parts. In this first of the two-part series examining these Charges, we'll learn about these terms and what they mean. In the second part, we'll look at what can be done in the Court case involving on of these Charges.

First, let's clarify the difference between the terms:

12878.jpgSuspended License means the driver has a License, but driving privileges have been suspended. Think of it like you would a student in school. A suspended student is still a student at the school, but is not allowed to come back for a specified period of time. The same is essentially true with Licenses. The vast majority of suspensions have a "From-To" date, meaning, for example, the Driver's privileges have been suspended from September 1, 2009 through July 4, 2010. This means that on July 5, 2010, the Driver can go to a Secretary of State Branch Office and get their License reinstated, usually upon payment of a $125 Reinstatement Fee.

Sometimes, although less often, a Driver's License has been Suspended "Indefinitely." Unlike the usual "From-To" suspension, there is no absolute duration for this type of suspension, although there can be a minimum period of suspension. Instead, the Driver can have their License Reinstated upon the completion of or the happening of some event. This most often involves something like the payment of outstanding Court fines and Secretary of State Driver Responsibility Fees (more on those later). To use our school example again, a Driver with an Indefinite Suspension is like a student who has been suspended until they complete a certain, specific task, like write an essay or turn in a bunch of overdue homework assignments. The sooner whatever needs to be done gets done, the sooner they're back "in."

Revoked License means that a Driver once had a License, but it has been taken away, or "Revoked" by the Michigan Secretary of State. Using our school example again, a Revoked Driver is the same thing as a student who has been expelled. That person is no longer a student, and they may not return to school until they re-apply and are approved for readmission. In the case of both the Revoked Driver and the expelled student, there is no automatic reinstatement or readmission after a specific date, or upon the happening or completion of some particular thing. Instead, both the Driver and the Student must start from "square one" by reapplying and proving that whatever got them in trouble in the first place is no longer a problem. In the world of Michigan Driver's Licenses, this is done through the process of License Restoration.

Continue reading "Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License in Michigan - Part 1 - The Different Charges and Meanings" »

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September 9, 2009

Michigan Criminal Offenses - Having a Conviction "come off" your Record

As a Criminal Defense Attorney in Michigan, I am often asked about keeping Criminal Charges off of a person's record, or having such charges "come off" their record after a period of time. This post will discuss those cases where charges can "come off" a person's record.

In two other Blog posts, we've reviewed how Drug Possession charges can be kept off of a person's record using something known as a 7411, and how almost any crime which occurs between a person's 17th and 21st birthday (including Drug Possession charges) can likewise be kept off their record using what's known as HYTA. Under each of these two mechanisms, no Public Record is made of the matter, and if the person completes whatever probationary terms the Court requires, the whole case essentially "goes away."

428206_eraser-1.jpgObviously, there are plenty of cases where a person would not be eligible for either of those opportunities (for example, the person is over 21 and the crime with which they are charged isn't Drug Possession). There is still a way to keep a person from ultimately showing a conviction in many of those cases, and it applies equally to Felonies and Misdemeanors.

Under a law known as 771.1 (formally, MCL 771.1), a person who pleads to or is found guilty of any offense which is not otherwise disqualified from such treatment, such as Murder, Treason, Criminal Sexual Conduct in the 1st or 3rd degree, or Major Controlled Substance Violations, may have that conviction automatically "come off" their record after successfully completing 1 year of Probation.

The common way of discussing this arrangement is that the charge "comes off" a person's record. And that's exactly what happens. Of course, this means that the conviction first "goes on" their record. The legal term that describes this is "Delayed Sentencing." Technically speaking, the Court puts a person on Probation for a year, and delays the imposition of any further punishment. If the person completes this year of Probation (it can be either non-reporting, or the person may be required to report) without any violations, then the court, instead of actually sentencing the person, dismisses the whole case. That means that no record of the Conviction remains.

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September 7, 2009

Michigan Criminal Charges - Avoiding a Conviction with HYTA

One of the first questions that I ask any caller, as a Criminal Attorney practicing in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, is "how old are you?" I ask this because there is a provision of Michigan Law, Called the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, or HYTA, which allows a person who commits a crime after their 17th, but before their 21st birthday, to keep the whole thing off their record.

confidential1.gifIn an earlier Blog post, we examined how Drug Possession charges can be kept off anyone's record, regardless of age, if they have no prior Drug Record, under something known as a "7411." The HYTA law can produce the same result, but two features make it very different from 7411:

1. HYTA only applies to people charged with a crime which occurred after their 17th birthday, but before their 21st birthday. That age range is inflexible; if someone is charged with a crime that occurred one day before their 17th birthday, or on the very day of their 21st birthday, they are ineligible. Section 7411 does not have any age limitations.

2. HYTA applies to all kinds of Crimes, not just Drug Possession charges, like section 7411. There are certain exceptions: Crimes punishable by imprisonment for life (Capitol Offenses), Major Drug Crimes and all Traffic Offenses.

The reasoning behind this law is the recognition that young people, on occasion, do dumb things. An instance of bad judgment before one has the chance to mature and think like an adult should not necessarily handicap that person for life with a Criminal Record, which can have all kinds of negative consequences for future advancement. HYTA is equally applicable to Felonies and Misdemeanors, with the exceptions mentioned above. HYTA status allows a person to prove to the Court that they can stay out of trouble long enough to warrant dismissing the whole case without ever placing it upon their Public Record.

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September 6, 2009

Drug Possession in Michigan - Keeping it off your Record with 7411

As a Criminal Defense Attorney in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, handling Drug Possession Offenses, including Possession of Marijuana, in the Detroit area is part of my everyday routine. Sometimes, a person with whom I'm speaking has a vague, or general idea that a Possession charge can be kept off of their record. Most often, the person will tell me that they've heard of some legal provision that will allow a Drug Crime to be taken "under advisement" or "come off" their record.

637885_-top_secret-.jpgWhile that's partly true, the whole truth is even better: In many cases, especially in Drug Possession cases where a person has no prior Drug Possession convictions, it is usually possible to keep the entire matter from ever going on their record in the first place. This means that there is never anything which will need to "come off" their record later.

Many people are unaware that a conviction for any Drug Possession charge requires the Court to Suspend a person's Driver's License. While there is some availability for a Restricted License in Drug Possession cases (see my earlier Blog post for a detailed discussion of Restricted Licenses in Drug Cases), the bigger point here is that all of that can be avoided, and there will be no License Suspension, if the whole case is kept off a person's record in the first place.

The most common method by which a charge is kept off a person's record is known as a "7411." This actually refers to a statue (the technical term for a law) in Michigan's Public Health Code, formally known as MCL 333.7411. MCL stands for Michigan Compiled Laws, the formal title for Michigan's statutes (laws).

7411 is also known as a "deferral," which means, in a figurative manner of speaking, that a person, by arrangement with the Court, offers to plead guilty to a Drug Possession charge. The Court, by that same arrangement, essentially agrees to keep the whole charge and plea "secret."

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September 4, 2009

Getting out of a Michigan Traffic Ticket or Avoiding the Points

A fair share of my time, as a Metropolitan Detroit Attorney, is spent in Court handling Traffic Tickets. When I get a call from someone who is considering fighting a Ticket, they usually want to know 1 of 2 things:

1. Is there a way to "get out of" or "beat" the Ticket? or

2. Is there a way to at least avoid the Points?

Before I can answer that question, I have a couple of my own:

1. What does your Driving Record look like (i.e, any points, and if so, for what)? and

2. In what City did you get the ticket you're calling about?

MSP Ticket.jpgThe answers my questions allow me to give a good answer to the caller's questions. Let's look at an example: The other day I went to Court in the City of St. Clair Shores for a guy who received a speeding ticket on I-94. He had no points on his record, and it had been more than two years since his last ticket. He asked what could be done about the ticket. He knew that "beating" the ticket would be an uphill fight, as he had been caught going about 16 miles an hour over the speed limit by radar. When I learned he had no active points, I explained that it was quite likely I would be able to negotiate a deal with the Prosecutor for him to plead responsible to a "no point" offense which would not go on his record.

He was pleased with my answer, and then asked it there was a way he could just have me handle the ticket and not have to go to Court himself. When I explained that in Ticket, or "Civil Infraction" cases a lawyer could go to Court and handle the matter without the Client having to be there, he was thrilled. He made arrangements to send me the ticket, my fee ($400 in his case) and another check for $150 to cover the fine. I went to Court, worked out the deal I had discussed with him, paid his fine and sent him the receipt. Two days later, I received an e-mail from him thanking me for helping him out.

Continue reading "Getting out of a Michigan Traffic Ticket or Avoiding the Points" »

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September 2, 2009

Michigan Drunk Driving - 3rd Offense in a Lifetime is a Felony

As a Drunk Driving Lawyer who handles DUI Cases in all of the District and Circuit Courts of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, I am often asked about the somewhat new Michigan Law that a provides that a person who has two prior Drunk Driving (also called DUI, DWI, OUIL and/or Impaired) convictions, and who is arrested for a third time for any Drunk Driving charge, no matter how long ago any of those two prior offenses occurred, faces a Felony Charge. In an earlier Blog post, I described the differences between these various charges and explained what they mean. It seems there is a lot of confusion regarding when and how a person can be charged with 3rd Offense Drunk Driving.

Many people are not aware of the change in the law (Known as Heidi's Law) that got rid of the provision that a person was subject to a Felony Charge only if they racked up 3 Drunk Driving charges in 10 years. This new law, which took effect on January 3, 2007, now allows Prosecutors to count any two prior Drunk Driving convictions, regardless of what they were (OUIL, UBAL, OWI or OWVI) or when they occurred within a person's lifetime, in order to make the Felony Charge.

Drinks.jpgIn 1998 what was dubbed Michigan's "Repeat Offender Law" changed what had been a somewhat confusing landscape of Alcohol-related Driving Offenses. The law was streamlined and simplified, and at the same time, made tougher. After passage of the Repeat Offender Law, any combination of 2 Impaired, OUIL, UBAL, or OWVI (and now OWI) charges within 7 years was to be handled as a Second Offense, and any combination of 3 of those charges within 10 years was to be handled as a 3rd Offense Felony.

This new law now gets rid of that 10 year provision. This means, for example, that someone who had an impaired driving 25 years ago, and another 17 years ago, and who is now arrested for another Drunk Driving offense is to be charged with a 3rd Offense, which is a Felony punishable by up to 5 years in Prison.

It does not matter if any of the prior offenses resulted in convictions for Impaired, OUIL, OWI or UBAL or any combination of them; the only thing that matters is that it's the Driver's so-called "3rd Strike." Now, a person is essentially "at bat" for the rest of their life after their 2nd Drunk Driving conviction. Should you find yourself facing a 3rd Offense charge, remember to be a good consumer and check out all of your options. Speak with as many lawyers as you can (including me) until you find one in whom you have confidence, who you can afford, who does not make promises that seem too good to be true (they usually are) and with whom you are comfortable.

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