I handle DUI cases in all the District Courts of Macomb and Oakland Counties, as well as parts of Wayne County. Almost every day, I meet with someone facing their first DUI, which in the majority of cases means someone facing their first-ever Criminal charge. In addition, many of my DUI Clients are people facing a 2nd Offense, or even a 3rd (Felony) Offense Drunk Driving charge. Their apprehension over what will happen may be a bit more informed, if not different, but no one is ever happy about being charged with a Drunk Driving Offense and wondering what's going to happen to them.
One thing that all people facing any kind of DWI charge have in common is the emotional strain they feel from the first moment of Police contact. In an earlier article on this very subject, I began examining the emotional impact of a DUI, and numerous times since its publication, a new Client has told me how they identified with it. In this article, I will reexamine that subject from a slightly different perspective. It seems that there is more to this topic than I was able to explore in the previous article, and I think a big part of that emotional stress is related to fear. While fear itself can be a healthy warning mechanism that keeps us safe, excessive or unreasonable fear can wreak havoc on a person's well being.
In the world of alcohol-related Driving Offenses, fear tends to lose any real value once a person has been pulled over. If fear can provide any benefit in this setting, it would be to prevent a person who's had a few too many from getting behind the wheel in the first place. Once the keys are in the ignition (it may surprise the reader to learn that, in Michigan, sitting behind the wheel in a car with the keys in the ignition, even thought the car hasn't been started, has been found by the Courts to be enough exercise of "control" over the car for that person to be charged with DUI), it's too late. All the fear in the world won't stop what's about to happen.
There is probably no unpleasant feeling a person can experience that rivals that "sinking feeling" they get when they see the Police car lights in their rear view mirror after they've been out drinking. And if we could just hit the "pause" button at that very instant for just a moment, we'd discover something very important. There is usually a very good reason for that sense of foreboding a person feels. In most cases, the Driver knows he or she is over the limit. It's not like they get that sinking feeling because they think they're about to get a speeding Ticket. Even if they rather naively hope they may get through the Police contact without the issue of drinking coming up (like that ever happens...), they know that they're in a tight spot. Ask anyone at that precise instant if they'd like to volunteer to perform some Field Sobriety Tests or take a Breath Test, and you won't see any hands raised.
In some people, alcohol impairs judgment in such a way that they think they may be able to sound sober, or talk their around, if not out of, the situation. Some may even think they can do "okay" on any kind of Field Sobriety Test. In an ironic, if not humorous twist of fate, many of these same people, when reviewing the Police car dash cam video, will see themselves after a few too many, and rather humbly say "turn it off. I've seen enough."
And honestly, in 22 years of doing this I have only heard of 1 person being let go after doing well enough on the Field Sobriety Tests. Whether it was true or not is one thing, but after having Represented literally thousands of DUI Drivers, this one story marks the only time I've ever even heard of someone who was asked to step out of their car being allowed to get back into it. The reality is that, once the Police Officer asks someone to step out of their car, the only other car they'll be getting back into that night is the Police car.
The definitional and practical difference between the words "dread" and "fear" are also important in this analysis. We're not indiscriminately slinging these terms around as if they're interchangeable; they really have different applications here.
Most often, a person will dread what they know, or have a pretty good idea of what is about to happen. When I have to go for a medical checkup, I dread the needle I'll be getting for a blood sample. When a person sees the Police car lights, they dread the approach of the Officer, flashlight in hand, who will no doubt be asking if they had "anything to drink tonight?" Dread usually involves some understanding of what is about to happen, or follow.
Fear, at least in the context of this discussion, involves the unknown. Thus, a person my dread that first Police contact, but they fear being taken into custody. They fear what will happen, because they don't really know, once they're put in handcuffs.
This also applies to the 2nd or 3rd Offense DUI Driver. They may not have the same fear of being taken back to the Police Station (although they probably dread it), having survived it in the past, but because they will be facing a more serious, subsequent Offense charge, they fear the unknown consequences of that.
The reader will likely agree that we're pretty clear on the whole "fear" thing. The question now becomes, what is the meaning of this, and what good (or bad) does it do? In other words, what's the point?
Okay, cue up the music. Point the camera on the save-the-day superhero Lawyer, striding in to the rescue....
Or at least, that's kind of how it should be.
I have many roles as a DUI Lawyer. Some are more obvious than others. Saving the day and finding that gem of a problem with the evidence that causes the whole case to get dismissed is one of them, although that doesn't happen in the majority of cases.
Helping work out a Plea Bargain and a Sentence "deal" that keeps my Client out of Jail is another.
Yet often overlooked, but of no less importance, is explaining things to the Client, and helping alleviate their fears. Changing the unknown into the known is vital.
I am the first to point out that I make my living as a Lawyer, not as a magician. If someone wants magical results, skip the Lawyer, and hire a magician, although I think they'll find there is no such thing as magic; there are only illusions. Accordingly, the explanations that I give are honest, and based in reality, and not "pie-in-the sky" promises that raise one's hopes and end in disappointment. This means I will tell my Client what he or she needs to hear, and not just what they want to hear.
That kind of candor has the unfortunate effect of costing me money, because it seems that there are too many gullible souls who would rather buy into unrealistic hopes and dreams rather than deal with reality. Yet I believe strongly in the adage that "what goes around comes around." If I had a sibling in another state that was facing a DUI, what kind of Lawyer would I want them to get? Would I want the slickster who charges them an arm and a leg and hints at getting the case dismissed before he or she has ever seen word one of the Police Report, or would I want a more analytical and careful Lawyer who fundamentally understands that every case is different, and each case turns upon its own facts?
That said, however easy or tough things might look to be, I think that one of the best things I can do for and with my Client is to explain things to them. I've read thousands of Police reports, but the Client may have never even seen one before. I need to explain no only the language used in that report, but why it's there, and its significance to the case.
If this is done correctly, then I can help dispel the Client's fear; that fear of the unknown. Even if what is likely to happen isn't quite as much fun as a paid vacation to Hawaii, knowing what's coming, and being able to prepare for it, can alleviate a lot of the stress caused by fear.
Of course, we can stop speaking as if one is planning for an execution or a funeral. Beyond all the dread and fear stuff is the cash-on-the-barrelhead reality that a Lawyer is hired to keep the Client out of Jail in the first place. That is, has been, and always will be job number one in my book. When circumstances preclude that (such as a DUI 3rd Offense Felony charge that cannot be beaten or otherwise reduced to a Misdemeanor) and some period of Jail will be required, then keeping that to the legal minimum, or as close as possible to it, is the first priority. Let's be frank; no matter what kind of "deal" a Lawyer works out, it won't seem very good to anyone who gets locked up.
Fortunately, the truth is that many of the scarier aspects of a DUI Arrest will have already taken place before the person ever gets out of Jail. Thankfully, for everyone charged with a 1st Offense (except in the Court of one Judge in the 48th District Court in Bloomfield Hills), there will be no more Jail. The same is ALMOST true for anyone facing a 2nd Offense DUI, if things have been properly handled. And for what it's worth, "proper handling" will never be on the menu for anyone who hires a cut-rate Lawyer, or looks for a bargain on Legal Fees by hunting for the low-bidder. In those cases, you get what you pay for, and you certainly won't get be getting the benefit of anything you DIDN'T pay for, either. Top shelf Lawyers don't hire out their services at bargain-basement prices. I certainly don't.
The larger point here is that a Client should not be paralyzed with fear about a pending DUI. It is my job to answer the Client's questions, address their concerns, dispel their fears, and explain things. Once the Client can get past their fear, they can become a useful partner in working out a favorable, meaning lenient, result in their case.
And while I don't wish to make light of anyone's situation, hopefully, as the years pass, the Client can think back to that "sinking feeling" they had when they first noticed the Police car lights in their mirror, they can chuckle a bit at it, having hopefully learned from it and moved on and well beyond that rather regrettable lapse in judgment.