In my role as a Metro-Detroit DUI Lawyer, I answer every conceivable kind of question about the DUI process. One question that virtually everyone asks is about Probation. I'm asked everything from what "Probation" means, to what it entails, whether or not I can help my Client avoid it, and if any kind of exception can be made to accommodate some circumstance a person facing a DUI has. This article will be a brief, minimalist summary of what Probation means in a DUI case.
Within the more than 120 DUI articles I have on my Blog, some make a rather detailed examination of the whole Probation process, requiring 2 installments to do so adequately. This article will be the polar opposite of that. If I've had to learn anything the hard way, it's that not everyone is interested in the textbook treatment and microscopic analysis that defines most of my earlier articles.
Probation is, first and foremost, an alternative to incarceration. In a DUI case, it is given as an alternative to Jail. To be clear, a person can be put in Jail for a few days and then be let out on Probation, but in most cases, and in this article, we'll be referring to Probation in lieu of Jail. Probation comes in 2 major types: Reporting, and Non-Reporting. You don't even have to know much about Probation to know that Non-Reporting sounds better, and it is; everyone wants Non-Reporting Probation. Probation is usually given in terms of either 12 months (most common), 18 months (more common in Oakland County), or 24 months (usually handed out in 2nd Offense cases).
Non-Reporting Probation simply means that you don't have to show up and report, in-person, to a Probation Officer. Sometimes (although rarely), it can mean that a person has to write-in periodically and either complete a form, or in some other way communicate with their Probation Officer, who is often just called the "P.O."
Here's the real skinny: In a DUI case, Non-Reporting Probation is a possibility in certain Courts in Macomb and Wayne Counties, but will never be given in Oakland County. If you have a DUI in any Court in Oakland County, you are more likely to win the Powerball Lottery AND the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes on the same day than you are to get Non-Reporting Probation.
Reporting Probation is far more common. Reporting Probation requires that you go to the Probation Department (usually in the Court where your case was heard) and meet with a Probation Officer. Most of the time, this is done once a month, although a person can be required to report more or less often than that. Part and parcel of Reporting is that you fill out a form that asks if anything has changed since your last Report. Here, you're supposed in indicate if you've moved, changed jobs, or anything like that. You're also asked if you've had ANY Police contact.
The defining element of Probation is "Conditions." Probation is really a specific period of time during which you must not do certain things, and very often must do others. This is really no different that being hired for a job for a probationary period. The company wants to make sure you do certain things, like meet quotas, and NOT do others, like show up late, or miss time. In a DUI case, the standard conditions require that you pick up no new Criminal Offenses, and that you do not drink or use any kind of drugs. This is often backed up by some kind of breath or urine testing, to insure compliance.
In addition, you may be required to complete some kind of alcohol education class or classes, or counseling. This can range from a one-shot class to a much longer term of regular counseling sessions. I can be particularly helpful in avoiding this.
While this explains the more logistical side of Probation, we can get a much better understanding of what's going on if we take a step back to look at the "bigger picture."
Everyone knows that the whole legal system has been getting "tougher" on Drunk Drivers over the last 2 decades. In that time, the whole idea has been to make things difficult and painful enough that someone caught driving over the limit will make sure to never do it again. And while that has been the intention of the tougher Laws, the results haven't come close. There has been no appreciable decrease in Drunk Driving Arrests over the last 20 years, and, if you consider all the laws and money and time that has been poured into this goal (including the influence of groups like MADD), it seems that these Herculean efforts have failed to produce any real results. Not that that matters...
Yet certain things have become clear as the whole concept of "drunk driving" has been put in the spotlight. Principal amongst them, and key to understanding Probation in a DUI case is that a person's relationship to alcohol is the single biggest, if not really the only factor that determines the likelihood of their getting another DUI. The less of a relationship a person has to alcohol, the less likely he or she is to pick up another DUI. If, for example, a person has a generally healthy relationship to alcohol, such as the occasional consumption of low-proof drinks, like wine, as part of a meal, it means that they are far less likely to get into drinking related trouble than someone who prefers high-proof alcohol and consumes it independent of eating.
However you slice it, the focus of a DUI case, and particularly Probation in a DUI case, centers on the person's relationship to alcohol.
In that regard, the entire Court system has shifted from simply admonishing a DUI Driver to not drink and drive while on Probation to enforcing a strict "no drinking" Order while on Probation. Of course, in the real world, this cramps the normal lifestyle of anyone without a drinking problem, and doesn't really stop an inveterate alcoholic from getting drunk, getting behind the wheel and getting Arrested again. But it is what it is, and this really cuts to the heart of Probation. Probation in a DUI is really about separating the person from alcohol for a while, and making sure they have some context within which to assess their own attitude and drinking practices.
This also makes clear why Non-Reporting Probation is so much more desirable than Reporting Probation. In a few Courts (none of which are in Oakland County), depending on the circumstances, it is even possible to avoid Probation altogether
Probation is, when all is said and done, a gift. Probation is the alternative to Jail. The goal, of course, in any DUI case is to avoid as many of the "Conditions" as possible. Doing that requires being proactive from the very beginning of a DUI case. There is a certain strategy (if not a pseudo-science) to this, and this is my specialty. Either way, if you're facing a DUI, you're at least facing Probation. I can certainly make that much better and easier, and help avoid as much as possible.