Michigan DUI - Location Matters

February 8, 2013

As a DUI Lawyer who handles Drunk Driving cases exclusively in the Courts of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, I have extensive experience in a limited number of Courts. This is an asset, in the same way that a Cardiac Surgeon has extensive surgical experience on a limited part of the human body. It is because of that repeat experience in the same Courts that I can explain, with a high degree of accuracy, what is going to happen in any given case.

Inherent in this is the fact that every Court is different. But there's more than just that; things can play out very differently in the same Court depending on to which Judge a DUI case is assigned . In the 47th District Court in Farmington Hills, for example, Judge Marla Parker runs a Sobriety Court, while her counterpart, Judge James Brady, does not. Judge Brady will not transfer cases to Judge Parker. This means if you have a 2nd Offense DUI in the 47th District Court, the ability to get into Sobriety Court and keep your Driver's License depends entirely on the Judge to whom your case is assigned.

location 1.2.jpgThis is a bit of an extreme example, but it serves to underscore the larger point that where a DUI case is pending is one of the most important factors affecting it. In fact, with the exception of legal issues related to the admissibility of the evidence, the location of a DUI is the single most determinant of how things will play out. To that end, unless a DUI charge is "knocked out" somehow, what will happen to you depends in very large part on where your charge is brought.

I'm sure these local differences are the same all over the state, but my experience is limited to the Tri-County area of Metro-Detroit. If you have a DUI pending in any Macomb County, Oakland County or Wayne County Court, then you probably already know, or will soon enough, at least, that there are some rather stark differences between them. Once a DUI Arrest has taken place, it's obviously too late to do anything about that. Besides, no one ever plans on getting a DUI. It's not like someone is thinking about going out to pick up a Drunk Driving charge in one County, but not in another. In a very real way, a DUI charge is always an accident of geography.

That said, if you're going to have this kind of "accident", you'll fare much better if it's in a city in Macomb or Wayne County. If you check around even the slightest bit, you'll find that Oakland County is just much "tougher," in multiple ways, than either Macomb or Wayne County in DUI cases. Yet even within Oakland, or any given County, for that matter, there are vast differences from Court to Court.

Macomb County Courts take a far more "real world" view of DUI cases. While no one would argue that anyplace is getting easier on DUI cases, the fact, and I do mean FACT, is that for all the increased penalties and money sanctions that have been poured over the whole DUI landscape over the past 2 decades, there has been no, as in ZERO appreciable decrease in DUI's. Additional License penalties and more expensive fees, fines and costs don't have the effect of preventing or deterring DUI's, they just make life more difficult for those people who make a mistake and get caught driving after having had a few too many.

Many Wayne County Courts take the same view as Macomb. While nowhere in Wayne is as "tough" as most places in Oakland, there are a few Courts that will certainly feel a lot tougher to the person who winds up on the unlucky end of a DUI Arrest than some others. This is a matter of circumstance, however, and not one about which anything can be done once the Arrest has been made. The only thing to do is to find a Lawyer familiar with the Court where your case is pending, and who has a viable strategy to make things better. Of course, as I noted, beating the case is a great way to make things better, but such a strategy is beyond useless in any case that is legally sound enough to NOT get dismissed.

There are loads of useful strategies one can employ to soften the consequences of a DUI charge. Key to developing such a strategy is to first ask where the case is pending. From there, one should know, if at all possible, in a multiple Judge Court, to which Judge the case has been assigned. Whether the case is a 1st, 2nd or 3rd Offense matters, as well. Also important is a person's BAC, meaning breath (or blood) test result. The circumstances of the Arrest figure prominently into all this, as well; being pulled over for weaving down the road with a .12 BAC is a lot different than crashing into a school bus full of kids with a .24 BAC.

These factors need to be funneled into a strategy that also takes into account the inclinations of the particular Court where a case is pending, and the Judge who will be handling it. No matter what else, though, where the case is brought still shapes, more than anything else, how it will work out.

In that regard, there is an interesting fact that should not be overlooked. As a DUI Lawyer, I have a certain role, and certain well-defined obligations that are part of that role. Long ago, however, I became interested in what separates one Court, or even Judge, from another in terms of what they do to a person in a DUI case. In previous articles I have pointed out that once a DUI case is NOT dismissed, the whole focus of the Court shifts to the person's relationship to alcohol. Indeed, in a growing number of Courts this focus is obvious right out of the gate, as more and more people are being Ordered to "test" for alcohol as a condition of release from Jail after a DUI Arrest.

That interest brought me to become involved in post-graduate, University level studies of alcohol and addiction issues. Some Lawyers are breathalyzer "experts," and can practically apart the breathalyzer machine and then put it back together by sheer memory. That's impressive, but it loses ANY value in a DUI case unless that knowledge gets the charge dismissed. Knowing how alcohol problems are diagnosed and treated, and how the Courts view such issues ALWAYS has a HUGE impact on how a case will play out. Anyone who has had a prior DUI knows that the entire Probation process focuses on alcohol, meaning keeping the person away from it, testing to make sure they don't use it, and counseling them all about it.

As a Lawyer, I know how the Court system in general, and the various Detroit-Area Courts in particular, view the subject of drinking in a DUI case. As someone who studies alcohol and addiction theory and recovery, I know how the experts in those fields view drinking, as well. Those competing views are very different, but not just because of a difference in perspective. Instead, it is generally understood in the academic world that the Judicial system is DECADES behind in terms of how it understands drug and alcohol issues.

The simplest proof of this has to do with AA. Twenty years ago, AA was the golden child of the treatment industry. If you went into any program, be it in-patient or out-patient, you'd be directed to attend AA several times per week as part of your treatment program. In more recent years, more and more Counselors have come to understand that AA isn't for everyone, and that sending some people there can have the effect of turning them off so bad that they run for the hills and right out of recovery.

In this same period, as the top shelf treatment providers have begun to recognize that AA is just one of many possible tools to use in the treatment of people with an alcohol problem, and that it works for some, but not for others, more and more Courts have been Ordering people into AA. This means that the Courts are, in reality, a good decade or two behind the times in terms of dealing with alcohol issues. This isn't a surprise when you learn that there are some Courts that still have not adopted fax machines as a method of sending or receiving paperwork, while others, like the Federal Bankruptcy Court, have practically eliminated paper filings and do everything electronically.

This irony really stands out when one considers that Oakland County is considered, and considers itself, ahead of the curve in innovation. In one sense, Oakland County is ahead of the curve. Alcohol testing as a condition of Bond, or release, more or less originated there. Now, it's standard in almost every Oakland County Court, and catching on like wildfire in neighboring Macomb and Wayne Counties. In that sense, while Oakland may be leading the way that Macomb and Wayne will follow, it is still about 10 or 15 years behind current diagnostic and treatment protocols for alcohol issues. By the time any Court system catches up to how the better grade of treatment providers is doing things now, those providers will have long moved on to the next big thing...

Here, we arrive at another point at which I have to restrain myself from going off the reservation. Part of what I do so well, and what separates me from the pack of other Lawyers handling DUI cases, is address these issues of alcohol diagnosis and treatment as a sub-specialty. A Lawyer will not get very far in a DUI case by just arguing to the Judge that his or her Client doesn't have a drinking problem, or that it isn't that far along, or that some treatment recommendation is excessive. Instead, the Lawyer has to have a fundamental, working clinical knowledge of these things, and I have that. That makes me different, and, if you're facing a DUI charge that won't otherwise get thrown out of Court, that makes me much more helpful and useful than the guy who knows all about the breathalzyer machine. It means I can argue facts to make things better, and, in a DUI case, "better" always means less, as in less consequences, like AA, alcohol classes, counseling and rehab.

As I pointed out before, no one goes out planning to get Arrested for Drunk Driving. When it happens, it's unexpected. Where it happens, though, is a key determining factor in everything else that will or will not happen from that point forward. Even then, it is important to hire a Lawyer who is intimately familiar with the Court where your case will be handled.