June 14, 2013

Michigan DUI Second Offense - Staying out of jail

This article is going to be a rather direct examination of what most people facing a 2nd offense DUI in Michigan have as their most important concern: Staying out of jail. As a Detroit DUI lawyer who limits his Michigan DUI practice to the metropolitan Detroit, tri-county area, I have a wealth of experience in these local courts and know how to avoid a jail sentence where and whenever possible. This article will NOT deal with sobriety court: That option is only available in certain places and it's a subject that has its own section on my website.

First and foremost, a DUI case is what I call "an accident of geography," meaning no one plans on getting arrested for drunk driving in the first place, so where it happens is never a matter of design. In that regard, certain courts are just tougher than others. Of the three local, Detroit area counties, the courts in Oakland are much less "lenient" than those of either Macomb or Wayne. That's just a fact. Even so, there are certain cities in Oakland County, like Royal Oak and Huntington Woods, that will seem much more "forgiving" than places like Bloomfield Hills or Rochester Hills. The same holds true amongst the various cities of Macomb and Wayne Counties, and, I imagine, for every county in Michigan with more than one District Judge. The essential difference is that if you had a choice, you'd always prefer to wind up in pretty much any court in Macomb or Wayne over as opposed to anywhere in Oakland County

Jail Hands.jpgLet's start with a dose of reality: The undeniable truth in a 2nd offense DUI case is that you look like you're a danger on the road. I defend DUI cases and keep my client's out of jail all day long by recognizing the way things really work. If you're going to have success at staying out of jail, you need a lawyer, like me, who darn well knows exactly what the Judge assigned to your case is thinking, and one thing you can count on is that there isn't a Judge (or really anybody, for that matter) who doesn't see a second time DUI offender as risky. This means that blundering into court and trying to explain that a second DUI charge is only a case of bad luck, and doesn't really represent anything to worry about, is worse than rolling into court with no plan at all.

Here's the rest of the bad news: The law essentially presumes that you have an alcohol problem in a Michigan 2nd offense DWI case. You are legally and technically classified as a "habitual offender." As a result, the court is required to order you into counseling. There's no way around it. In addition, the law requires that your driver's license be revoked and that you cannot even start the process to ask for it back for at least a year, and only then after you attend and win a hearing before the Michigan Secretary of State's Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD). There, in order to win your license appeal, you must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that your alcohol problem is under control and that it is likely to remain under control. There's a lot to all of this. If you're facing a 2nd offense, you don't need me to "rub it in," but surely you know this is a much bigger deal than a simple first offense.

Here, it's important to reiterate the focus of this article: Staying out of jail in a 2nd offense drunk driving case. We could make an endless examination of the nuances of 2nd offense cases, but here, we're only concerned with not getting locked up. The good news is that if you succeed on that score, you will be free to attend to and deal with all these other things. While none of this is fun, avoiding incarceration in a 2nd offense DUI is the first order of business to which I attend as your lawyer.

For the most part, this is manageable. With a few exceptions, going to jail is not necessarily automatic. Even so, you have to have a plan that takes into account the 3 key variables present in every 2nd offense case. That's where I come in...

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June 10, 2013

Michigan DUI 1st Offense -The Drinking Problem you don't have - Part 2

In Part 1 of this article, we began examining the risk of being perceived as having a drinking problem you don't in a Michigan DUI charge. In this second part, we'll continue that inquiry with a closer look at how a 1st offense DWI can lead to a general perception that the person arrested must have some kind of problem with alcohol.

As a Detroit DUI lawyer, I am well aware of, and on guard against this all too common by-product of a 1st offense drunk driving arrest. Just being a Michigan DWI attorney isn't enough, however, and that's why I am formally involved in the University, graduate level study of alcohol and addiction issues, including how these problems, develop, how they are clinically diagnosed, and the various methodologies of treatment. This means I can protect you from being seen by the court system as having a drinking problem and defend you from any such lingering suspicion because I can argue like (and even with) a clinician; I speak their language, and I speak the language of the Judge, as well.

wineglass 1.2.jpgIf there's a flaw in the way Michigan courts process DUI cases, it's that too many people in the process "play" clinician, and none of them are. From arresting cop to Judge to probation officer, everyone has an opinion. The problem is that some of those opinions, particularly that of the probation officer or the Judge, matter. This is where my specialized knowledge can help your case.

When you step back and look at this part of the DUI process, what you really have is a probation officer playing substance abuse counselor. The probation officer has to give you what amounts to an "over the counter" alcohol-screening test, and then score that test. That's the whole of the process by which you are found to have or be at risk for a drinking problem. The probation officer is also tasked with interviewing the person, and then taking all that information and putting it together into a legally required written sentencing recommendation that must be sent to the Judge prior to the actual sentencing date. The law also requires that a copy of that recommendation be reviewed by the person being sentenced, with his or her lawyer, before the judge actually imposes the sentence, thereby giving the person the opportunity to object to anything that needs correcting, and to comment as to the probation officer's recommendation.

This is huge. In fact, this is, without a doubt, the most important part of a DUI case. We're talking about what the Judge is going to do to you. When someone looks around for information about a DUI, it's not because they want to know in case something ever happens down the road. People want to know, as in immediately, "what is going to happen to me?" Well, this is it.

In the real world, meaning the world where you're actually going to be standing in front of the Judge, what is going to happen to you is pretty much exactly what is recommended by the probation officer. Every Judge in every court, or at least every Detroit area court, follows the probation officer's recommendation as if it were a blueprint for what to do. There is simply no case where the Judge will disregard his or her probation department's recommendation on a wholesale basis. This is, after all, part of the probation officer's job. From the court's point of view, the probation officer is in the best position to decide what kind of counseling, education, punishment and/or supervision a person should get for a DUI. This is certainly the most practical way to handle things, but it runs roughshod over the clinical reality that the probation officer has no more specific training in determining your substance abuse needs as your hair stylist (no offense to hair stylists).

But I do. I work with the diagnostic criteria for alcohol issues every single day, pretty much all day as part of my driver's license restoration practice. I can analyze and discuss concepts of the etiology, diagnosis and treatment of alcohol problems that most probation officers don't even know exist. This means that I can protect you from being seen as having a drinking problem that you don't have.

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June 8, 2013

Michigan DUI 1st Offense -The Drinking Problem you don't have - Part 1

As a Detroit DUI lawyer, I interact with people facing a Michigan 1st offense drunk driving charge practically every day. Almost automatically, and without prompting, many of these people want to explain that they don't have a drinking problem. It almost goes without saying that being charged with DWI at least raises concerns about a person's drinking habits, especially from the court's point of view. At least someone facing a 1st offense can rightfully point out, in response, that nothing like this has ever happened before. That, however, is far from enough.

In this 2-part article, we'll look at how someone facing a DUI in Michigan, and particularly a DUI in the Detroit area, where I practice, will have to be proactive in refuting the kind of built-in, preconceived notion that they have, or at least are at increased risk to develop a drinking problem because they have been arrested for drunk driving.

Drinking Problem 1.2.jpgIn a Michigan DUI case, there is a process, required by law, to evaluate the person charged to determine whether or not he or she has a problem with alcohol, or if that person is at elevated risk to develop a problem down the road. In theory, one would think this would be good enough. After all, if you don't have a problem, then a competent evaluation will prove that, right? So you'd think...

The problem is that "the system," meaning the court system, has a way of functioning somewhat different in reality than it's supposed to in theory. This should make immediate sense to anyone who is required to test for alcohol (and/or drugs) as a condition of bond after a DUI arrest. What happened to your "presumption of innocence"? How did you go from supposedly being presumed "not guilty" to being ordered to not drink, and then having to prove, at your own expense, that you're not? While this isn't the worst thing in the world that can happen to you, it does provide a pretty accurate example of how very different things actually are from how they're "supposed" to be.

A fine, if almost funny example of this occurs if you call the IRS. Once you get on the phone (and on hold), you'll hear lots of messages explaining that your wait is because all available representatives are on the phone with other "customers." Are they kidding? Maybe in their pamphlets they call taxpayers "customers," but no one I've ever met chooses to do business with them. In the real world, we're "taxpayers" at best, and "victims" at worst, but never, at any point, does anyone call himself or herself a "customer" of the IRS.

In the "real world," DUI cases, as most things, can be examined from those 2 perspectives: How things are supposed to be, meaning how they're explained in books and theories, and how things are really done. In driver's training, we're taught to keep our hands on the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 o'clock positions, to keep 1 car length for every 10 miles and hour we're going between our vehicle and the car in front of us, and to never exceed the speed limit. When is the last time you did 70 miles an hour on the freeway and left 7 car lengths between yourself and the car in front of you? In the real world, you're all but expected to go about 40 miles an hour in a 35 mph zone. You get the idea. With DUI charges, it's the same thing; the way things are handled in the real world is entirely different from how it's made out in books and TV. Let's explore how things really work...

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June 3, 2013

Michigan Driver's License Restoration - Substance Abuse Evaluation Preparation

It was recently pointed out to me by another lawyer that the way I begin a Michigan driver's license restoration case makes the way most other lawyers do it seem backwards. I begin every license appeal or clearance case with a 3-hour meeting, the primary focus of which is to prepare you to undergo the substance abuse evaluation. Apparently most, if not all, other lawyers meet with you after you've had it completed. While I can't even begin to understand doing things that way, it perhaps explains why I'm the only lawyer (that I know about, anyway) who provides a first-time win guarantee.

This is a very important point. The substance abuse evaluation that must be filed to begin a license restoration case is really the foundation of a license appeal. If you stumble at this stage, you've lost the case before it has even begun. The information contained in the substance abuse evaluation, as well as the "tone" of that information, shapes your whole case. This is about a lot more than just getting a "good" or a "bad evaluation." The evaluation will provide a glimpse, in a kind of longitudinal way, of your recovery. Yet there is really no way an evaluator can summarize your journey to sobriety if you can't describe it first. That's what I'm here for.

3-o-clock 1.2.jpgThus, for 3 hours, we'll go over the substance abuse evaluation form line by line. I have my own "substance abuse evaluation checklist" where I make notes to give the evaluator to make sure no important details are left out. Details are significant, but there's much more to the story than that. In fact, there's the whole story that needs to be told, and that's where I help.

I call this your "recovery story" because, in every sense of the word, how you made the transformation from drinker to non-drinker is a story. Those who have spent time in AA probably feel a lot more comfortable with the "story" part of this, having spoken of their journey to abstinence at the tables. For others, they'll undoubtedly appreciate the help in setting things out and seeing the chronological progression from their early (almost always teenage) drinking days to the end of their drinking career, right up to their embrace of sobriety.

Make no mistake, there is a story here, and when we start peeling back the onion, it's usually dramatic and profound. In more than 20 years, I've never had anyone sit back and describe, without emotion, how they sat back one day and did a balance sheet with continuing to drink on one side, and no longer drinking on the other, and then just decided to stop because it was the logical choice. When someone decides to quit drinking, there has usually been quite a bit of drama leading up to that point.

Here's where I bring a lot more to the table than any other lawyer, including anyone else who describes him or herself as a "license restoration lawyer." I study the whole process of alcohol problems, from their onset to their diagnosis, and right up through treatment. I am actively involved in the formal University, post-graduate studies of these issues. I know the language of the counselors who do these evaluations. I understand nuances in the evaluation process that some people don't even know exist. Because I speak the language of substance abuse counselors as well as the language of lawyers, I can make sure that the evaluation covers the appropriate and necessary clinical bases, and that it is legally clear, and sound, as well.

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May 31, 2013

Life has a way of Getting in the way of life...

This short article is presented to explain why my blog has gone "silent" these last few weeks. Having maintained a publication schedule of 2 articles per week for the last several years, I have been noticeably absent of late, and haven't put anything up on this blog. Normally, on Memorial Day, I write a short piece of gratitude for those who have served our country, but this time, my thoughts have turned more inward. Still, I think it is important that we not forget the sacrifice made by our wonderful service people here and abroad, past and present:

Thank you all and God bless you for your service.

Rose 1.3.jpgSince around the end of February, my attention has been required to care for my ailing father. As an only child, and with my dad having turned 90 in August of 2012, the demands on my time have virtually exploded since about February of this year (2013).

My dad died on May 23, 2013. He was a veteran, having served in the army. He was proud of the service he gave to our country, and I am proud of him. Because of the Memorial holiday, he was laid to rest on May 29, 2013.

While I am sad beyond words, I was at least able to be with him when he passed. I had prayed for that opportunity, and was lucky enough to have had the honor and satisfaction of having held each of my parents when they passed away. No one wants to see their parents die, but when that inevitability approaches, to know that they had the best comfort and companionship you can provide is reassuring.

My day-to-day world involves working on Detroit area DUI cases, winning Michigan license restoration appeals, and successfully handling the rather specialized criminal cases in which I concentrate, including embezzlement, indecent exposure, marijuana and suspended license charges. My practice is rather similar to my family life, in a strange kind of way. While some lawyers will handle a much wider spectrum of cases than me, I have chosen to keep the number of things I do to just a few. In my own family, I have no siblings, and my wife and I have just one child. In my practice, I focus on just a few things so that I can do them with an unparalleled expertise. My family, like my practice is small and intimate.

Losing my dad did not come as a surprise, or a shock, but it still hurts. I've always been very close to my parents, and as they got older, my role shifted to being more the parent than the child. When my mom died in 2008, my dad was already 86 years old. In the last few years, I've been in even closer contact with him, often seeing him daily and calling him on the phone to speak with him multiple times everyday, and handling doctors and medication and what seemed at the time like a million other things.

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May 3, 2013

DUI in Shelby Township (including Utica and Macomb Twp.)

The 41-A District Court in Shelby Township covers 3 municipalities: Shelby Township, Macomb Township, and the city of Utica. If you're arrested for a DUI in any of these places, your case winds up in the Court a Detroit DUI lawyer like me simply calls "Shelby."

Of course, it goes without saying that no one wants to face a drunk driving charge. I have often called any Michigan DUI charge "an accident of geography" because absolutely no one expects to go out and get a DUI in the first place, much less plans on where to get it. Sometimes, you wind up driving to different and distant places to meet up with others, and might, for example, drive all the way from Westland to Novi to Rochester to New Baltimore. You could get pulled over anywhere along the way, and given the (somewhat unlikely) route used in this illustration, you could find yourself in either one of the toughest or the most "forgiving" (as in "lenient") jurisdictions in the Detroit-area, or anything in-between.

Judge Doug 1.2.jpgThe point is that a DUI just happens where it happens. No one plans any part of it, although some would argue that a rather distinct lack of planning is the reason it happens in the first place. We'll let MADD deal with that part of thing; for now, we'll just stick to talking about "Shelby."

If you were going to plan to get a DUI, however, you'd certainly want to wind up in a lenient jurisdiction where the penalties weren't so severe and the Judge was nice. Shelby is that place.

Let's begin with the Judge. Having come to the Bench after working for a long time in private practice, Judge Douglas Shepherd brings a real world understanding to his position. This is hugely important, because it's a lot easier to understand people, if you're sitting on one side of the table, when you've sat on the other side, as well. Judge Shepherd, having been in private practice, knows that people charged with a DUI are often people who have made a one-time mistake, or even made the same mistake a second time. He knows that a DUI charge cuts across all groups, and that DUI defendants are your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Whatever else, we can't simply describe those charged with a DUI as "them." This is sometimes what the more judgmental amongst us do; these are also usually the first people to change their tune when it happens to them, or someone close to them. We think of that kind of judgmental person as being on a "high horse."

Not so with Judge Shepherd. He is, first and foremost, a decent and likeable man. You can't miss this. Look, it's no secret that when you encounter someone who is a real jerk (think of another 5-letter word that begins with the letter "a" and rhymes with "eggroll") it's a big turn off. Power is best used by those who use it the least, and that describes Judge Shepherd. I've been a regular in his Court since his election in 2000, and never once have I ever seen him make a case about him. Instead, he directs his attention to the matter before him, where it belongs. Intelligent and compassionate, he runs an efficient Court that pays homage to the first rule of everything: Common sense.

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April 29, 2013

DUI and the HGN ("follow with your eyes, not your head") Test

There is probably no sinking feeling that matches getting pulled over after having had a bit too much to drink. As often as people will have thought, only moments before, that they were okay to drive, there is a sudden concern, if not realization, that their own assessment may have been off a bit as they put the car in park and wait for the police officer to approach. No one can really smell alcohol on his or her own breath, but everyone knows when he or she is unable to walk a straight line.

There is, of course, a lot to a Michigan DUI traffic stop. As a Detroit DWI attorney, I've written rather extensively about many, if not most, aspects of the traffic stop. The fact is that you could fill several volumes about the various facets of being pulled over for suspected drunk driving. To keep our mission manageable here, and to keep your attention, as well, we'll limit our ambitions a bit and take a brief look at one small part of a DUI traffic stop and the field sobriety tests, the horizontal nystagmus gaze (HGN, or as often referenced by the police in the Metro-Detroit area of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, the "horizontal NSG") test. This is the test where the officer asks a person to keep his or her head still, and follow an object (often a finger, or a pen) using only their eyes. This test has a remarkable capacity to detect that a person is impaired by alcohol.

HGN 1.2.jpgThe HGN test measures how smoothly a person's eyes follow an object moved from one side of their field of vision to the other. As it turns out, absent any of a few particular medical conditions, a sober person's eyes will follow such an object rather smoothly, like a perfectly round marble rolling on a piece of glass. Alcohol affect the movement of the eyes, and as a person becomes more inebriated, his or her autonomic motor functioning likewise become impaired, meaning that they eyes will "jump" (kind of like that same marble being rolled over a sheet of grainy sand paper) and not track smoothly. This is completely outside of a person's conscious control, and no matter how sober or drunk someone may become, they never notice this from their own perspective.

It would be impossible to appropriately summarize the science behind the HGN test beyond pointing out that even the American Optometric Association has passed a resolution endorsing it as an effective test for alcohol impairment. The HGN test is generally believed to be the most reliable of all field sobriety tests. The flip side is that it is also almost generally impossible to independently verify, leaving proof of a person's performance on the HGN test as almost entirely a matter of believing what the police officer says (or writes in his or her report), or not. Not every police officer can administer an HGN test, however. In order to do so, the officer has to be specially trained to administer it. Given it's high degree of reliability and ease of administration at the side of the road, it's little wonder that more and more police officers are receiving this training.

The few exceptions to the scientific reliability of the HGN test as evidence of alcohol impairment don't often occur in real life DUI traffic stops. If you have a brain tumor (and then you'd have to prove that it's the kind that would affect your performance on an HGN test), a brain disease, or an inner ear disease, then this should be explored as a defense. Most conditions that would affect a person's performance on an HGN test would likewise prevent them from driving in the first place. Even then, the likelihood that such a person would be driving, and also drinking (remember, it's not illegal to drink and drive, it's only illegal to drink too much and then drive) is rather remote.

For a moment, let's skip all the lawyer-talk exceptions and exclusions and limitations and focus on the "real world." In the real world, if you're pulled over, and the police officer has you out of the car taking field sobriety tests, it's rather likely you've had something to drink. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has sanctioned, or validated only 3 field sobriety tests: The HGN, the heel to toe walk, and the standing leg raise. While many police officers do alphabet and counting tests, neither of them, nor any other test beyond the 3 approved by the NHTSA, really have any real legal weight.

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April 26, 2013

Michigan Driver's License Restoration - Changes in the DSM Diagnosis

In the previous article, I examined the new Request for Hearing form required as of April 1, 2013, by the Michigan Secretary of State's Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD). This new form must be filed along with a Substance Abuse Evaluation and Letters of Support in order to begin a formal license appeal. I pointed out that the form only serves to make the license appeal process less clear, and in any number of places, asks for the same information provided by the substance abuse evaluator in the Substance Abuse Evaluation itself. As if that wasn't enough, the DAAD has (once again) completely missed the boat about alcohol and substance abuse issues by failing to prepare for an upcoming and dramatic shift in that field.

In just a few days (May of 2013), the American Psychiatric Association will release the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition). This will replace the current edition (DSM-IV TR) and will change the entire landscape of alcohol and addiction diagnosis and treatment. The DSM is the "bible" of diagnoses. If a person is diagnosed as having anxiety disorder, autism, bi-polar disorder, depression or even schizophrenia, it is because he or she meets the specific criteria set forth in the DSM.

questionmark 1.2.jpgThe DAAD requires a DSM diagnosis as part of the Substance Abuse Evaluation form. Only a trained professional can make such a diagnosis. As it stands now, the Substance Abuse Evaluation form has a section that requires the evaluator to provide a DSM-IV diagnosis. That's perfectly fine, but it won't be once the new manual comes out in the coming days. Once the new manual is published, current diagnoses of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence won't exist anymore.

This is worth repeating: The DSM-5 is expected to eliminate the diagnoses of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. In their place, a new category, called alcohol use disorder, will take over. This is really heavy stuff, and I will likely examine the implications in upcoming articles. This is, of course, very relevant to me, not only as a lawyer, but also as someone who formally studies, at the post-graduate University level, the diagnosis and treatment of alcohol and substance abuse issues. For now however, we'll just focus on how the DAAD missed this, and what that means.

To put this in perspective, one of many other anticipated changes in the DSM-5 will be the elimination of Asperger's syndrome as a separate diagnosis. Somewhat related to autism, anyone who has a child receiving treatment for Asperger's syndrome will suddenly find that their insurance company will no longer pay for such treatment once the new manual is published. After all, how can you be covered for a condition that no longer exists? Of course, most of those with a diagnosis of Asperger's will be re-diagnosed under the expanded continuum of Autism disorders, but the point is that, until that's formally done, there will be no insurance coverage.

In the same way, we may expect some fallout for anyone receiving outpatient treatment for alcohol abuse when that diagnosis is eliminated. Sure, such a person may very well be thereafter diagnosed as having "alcohol use disorder," but the one thing we can say for sure is that once the DSM-5 comes out, "alcohol abuse" will no longer exist. How then, can the state ask for and make legal decisions based upon clinical criteria that no longer exist?

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April 22, 2013

Michigan Driver's License Restoration - New Form

The requirements for winning a Michigan driver's license restoration or clearance case changed on April 1, 2013. The Michigan Secretary of State's Driver Assessment and Appeal Division, known as the "DAAD" (and formerly known as the "DLAD") has added a new form that must be filled out and filed as part of a Request for Hearing, Substance Abuse Evaluation and Letters of Support in order to begin a license appeal. As is always the case when the state changes something, the result is usually more red tape or increased costs. At least in this case, there is no cost increase. The same cannot be said about red tape, however.

This new form will undoubtedly cause problems for anyone trying a license appeal on his or her own. While only a few pages long, it would take several installments to cover the requirements and potential pitfalls of this new form, so I'll save a more in-depth analysis for a potential future series of blog articles. For now, we can at least look at a few key points.

paperwork 1.2.jpgHaving already worked with this new form for nearly a month, I can safely say that it represents a stunning achievement in lack of intelligent thinking. While I can understand that there may be someone simple and uniformed enough to draft something rather dumb, I am, frankly, surprised that anyone reviewed it and approved a form this idiotic.

In one place, the form asks for beginning and ending dates for any term or probation or incarceration a person had as a result of a DUI conviction. A few sections down, it asks. "Have you ever abstained from alcohol or controlled substances while incarcerated, on probation or on parole?" We all know plenty of people drink while on probation, but I'm not aware of any Jail that serves alcohol. Are you kidding me? Who is the genius responsible for that question?

In another place, it asks about the date a person last used alcohol. It goes on to ask for the "Name of alcohol consumed." This might seem to mean "what kind" of alcohol, but only a few sections earlier, as it asks about a person's former drinking habits, it specifically requests the "kind" of alcohol a person used to drink, and how often. Already, I'm seeing people describe the night of their last drink as having been a combination of beers and shots and/or mixed drinks. For many people with a few years of sobriety to their credit, thinking back to their last drink doesn't produce a crystal clear memory of what they last consumed. "Kind" of alcohol is one thing, but how many people name their drinks? "This one is 'Charles,' and that one is 'Kathy.'"

These are just a few examples amongst many. Instead of providing clarity to the process of license restoration, a person filing an appeal is asked about things already covered by the substance abuse evaluation, as if the state is just waiting for someone to say something that doesn't exactly match up so they can deny the appeal. Remember, the whole point of a driver's license restoration is to prove, by what the state calls "clear and convincing evidence," that your alcohol problem "is under control and likely to remain under control." This means that you have to prove you haven't had a drink for the statutorily required minimum time (that can range; in my Office, I require at least 12 months of sobriety), and, more importantly, that you have the tools necessary to back up a commitment to never drink again. Winning a license appeal means proving that you're sober, and also proving that you're a safe bet to remain sober for life, meaning that you'll never drink again.

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April 19, 2013

Guaranteed win in your Michigan Driver's License Restoration case

I guarantee that I will win any Michigan Driver's License Restoration or Clearance case that I take. As I describe it, "it's that simple." Despite the clarity of my guarantee, and the fact that, rather unlike the stereotype of a typical Lawyer, I do not have some long list of exceptions or a bunch of fine print limiting how it works, my office still gets call from people who essentially ask, "what's the catch?"

There is none; it's that simple. In fact, the only limitation I place upon my guarantee is if someone lies to me, or holds back essential information. And to be very clear on that point, I spend 3 hours with a new Client at our first face-to-face meeting, not only going over every line of the state's Substance Abuse Evaluation form, but also completing my own Substance Abuse Evaluation Checklist form, as well. Essentially, this precludes anything from being "forgotten," or "not clear."

Guaranteed 1.2.gifA few months ago, I had a case that, to be polite about it, involved a "fib", and it served as the inspiration for the article immediately before this one. I represented a guy in a License Appeal who first told me, and then the Evaluator that completed his Substance Abuse Evaluation, that he had gone to AA for about 8 of the last 9 years 3 to 4 times a week, and then reduced his attendance to 1 or 2 times a week for the last year. He was adamant about that, and even brought a letter from his AA "sponsor."

When we "prepped" for his Hearing, I was clear about how his AA attendance would play a role in his case. Then, when we got to the Hearing, the particular Hearing Officer that was deciding his case asked him about a few of the AA steps. Not only couldn't the guy repeat one word of any of the steps the Hearing Officer asked about, but when the Hearing Officer asked if he could repeat any part of any of the steps, he choked. Later, he admitted that he had really overstated his involvement with AA (that was not a surprise). He was, however, really and truly sober, and while that's far from enough to win, I'm certain the Hearing Officer knew that, whatever else, at least my Client was not still drinking. This would have been the classic case where I could have explained that my guarantee doesn't really apply, but that's not how I do things. I'm sticking with my Client, and will handle the next License Hearing without additional charge. I know my Client is really sober, but I'll just have to make darn sure that he is far more accurate in describing his involvement with AA next time.

The larger point here is that, absent something really profound, when I take your case and put my name on your paperwork, it becomes personal. I accept my Fee with the explicit understanding that in exchange for you paying it, I'll get you back on the road. This is not the kind of agreement that needs to be riddled with disclaimers and exceptions and all that bologna. That's half the problem with our world, anyway. When someone looks you in the eye and tells you something, you should be able to count on that. If you buy a new car, it comes with a warranty. The modern idea is that if you plunk the money down to buy or lease a new car, you shouldn't have to worry about it working or not; if there's a problem, it's covered. I work the same way. If I take your case, you'll only pay me once, and you're getting back on the road, period.

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April 15, 2013

Michigan Driver's License Restoration - Don't lie about AA.

I have pointed out in numerous articles on this blog and on my website that you don't need to be in AA to win a Michigan Driver's License Appeal. I guarantee I'll win every case I take, and the reality is that less than half of my Clients are active in AA. That translates to mean that more than half of my Clients, all of whom are guaranteed a win, are not involved in AA. Yet there exists a lingering notion that you have to be in AA to win your license back, or that it's "better" if you are. While active involvement in AA is never a bad thing, and can usually be made to work to your advantage, in the context of a Driver's License Restoration case, such involvement is absolutely not necessary.

This means that not being in AA doesn't present any problem in winning a License Restoration or Clearance case. Problems do arise, however, when people don't believe this and claim to be involved in AA when they're not, or otherwise exaggerate the extent of their involvement in and knowledge of the AA program. You can't fake this stuff.

pinocchio 1.3.jpgAt a Driver's License Restoration Hearing, you will likely be asked about your AA involvement. If you don't go, or haven't gone for quite a while, then you won't be pressed on the subject any further, except that some Hearing Officers may ask why. This isn't a bad thing, but as anyone who has ever gone to AA knows, the AA program teaches that once you begin attending meetings, you should always keep attending. While I entirely disagree with this sentiment, some of the program's more vocal advocates will call someone who no longer attends meetings, but is also no longer drinking, a "dry drunk." That's not only wrong, it's counter-productive. Fortunately, most people active in AA know that what works for one person may not work for another, and don't hold such a misguided view.

If you never went to AA, then you'll have to explain to the Hearing Officer what you learned about your relationship to alcohol and how you internalized that. You'll have to describe the tools you've developed to avoid triggers and relapse and what changes you've made in your life to insure that happens. While this might sound like a tall order, it is precisely the stuff that I help with to insure you win. Remember, I guarantee you'll win, so I'll do whatever is necessary to make sure you're fully prepared for your Hearing.

If you did attend AA in the past, but no longer attend now, then the Hearing Officer is going to want to know why you stopped. This is not an accusatory question. Instead, the Hearing Officer will be looking to see if you simply got what you needed from your time in the program, or had some "issue" with it (many people complain about the "religious" aspect of AA) or simply found something better. Plenty of people find that, by the time they ever get to AA, they've just "moved on" and have established a busy, sober lifestyle.

One of the worst things a person can do, however, is to think that they've spent enough time around AA to make it seem like they are active in the program, or that they learned things that they cannot articulate very well. This may work for someone who has a few years of attendance to their credit, and only recently quit going, but not for someone who only went for a short time and hasn't been back for a long while.

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April 12, 2013

Predicting the Outcome of your Detroit-area DUI case

Almost every week, I get an email or two from someone who wants to know what's likely to happen in his or her Michigan DUI case. As a Detroit DUI attorney, I know how things work in all of the local Courts I go to, based upon over 20 years of experience. I don't handle drunk driving charges outside of Macomb, Oakland or Wayne County, and by limiting my practice in that way, I have increased my relevant experience almost exponentially.

Sometimes, I see a long email waiting to be read. As things work out in the real world, it more often than not it is the case that the more someone writes, the less interested they are in retaining my services. Like so many of my blog articles, this one was inspired by a recent experience. The day before this article was written, I found a long, descriptive email asking my thoughts on how the writer's DUI case would work out. The writer had hired a Lawyer at the recommendation of a friend, only to find out that the Lawyer wasn't very familiar with how things are done in the suburban Detroit Court where his case is pending.

making-predictions.jpgWithout fail, people will take the time to point out to me those things they think are important, or, they'll repeat what they've heard from their Lawyer, and now believe to be important. I don't know this guy's Lawyer from Santa Claus, so what he and I think is important could be miles apart. As I read on, I immediately formed some questions. What about this? What about that? I needed more information to even begin to form any kind of picture, and that's with all the detail this writer had already supplied.

Let's rewind for a second: This writer already has a Lawyer. At the end of my very long day, when I'm looking at maybe two hours of time for myself, how important is giving a second opinion to someone who is not, and certainly not going to be, my Client? Beyond that, before I could form any solid opinion, I'd need to see the evidence. I'd need to read the Police Report, and, if the other Lawyer was smart enough to obtain a copy of the Police in-car video, assuming it was relevant, watch that, as well.

I had to tell the guy that of course I can give a very accurate assessment of what's likely to happen, but I'd have to review all of the evidence to do that, and that would mean he'd have to be my Client. I didn't go on to tell him that I really have no interest in taking over a DUI case that's moved very far along because, in all truth, unless the previous Lawyer just happens to be a "DUI Lawyer," like me, chances are it wasn't handled in the same way I'd have handled it, anyway. To begin with the guy had taken on a case in a Court he wasn't familiar with, and that was a huge mistake, already causing problems. That's my rather lame attempt to nicely say that, more likely than not, his current Lawyer has already done other things I would consider mistakes, as well. DUI cases are hard enough, but to take one that's been botched up is a huge headache.

At least this guy had a Lawyer. Another source of frustration (or, more accurately, "time waster") are those long emails with all the details the writer thinks are important that begin with "My boyfriend..." or otherwise end with some mention of money "being tight." As I noted, I can't really offer any kind of fair "prediction" about anyone's case without all the facts, and to get a hold of all the facts, I have to be the Lawyer. Even so, I'd never email a Doctor with a long description of how something hurts, and when, and what makes it worse, and then ask for medical advice. That doesn't stop some people, though...

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April 8, 2013

How to Measure "Success" in a Detroit DUI Case

Sometimes, I like to pull the curtain back a bit on the whole Law business and give the reader a peak at some of the things that really go on behind the scenes. Depending on how you read this, I'm either giving an inside look at how Lawyers work, or I'm just putting my own spin on things to make myself look good. This article, focusing on Detroit-area DUI cases, might turn out to be a little of both...

It's no secret that the internet has "taken over" many aspects of our day-to-day lives. Newspapers are dropping like flies while online reading has soared. Video stores are disappearing faster than friends of Kwame Kilpatrick as streaming video displaces DVD rentals. The legal profession is migrating to the net as part of this rather seismic shift. Five years ago, websites for Lawyers were an afterthought. While not amongst the very first, I was certainly an early adopter. Now, everyone has a website, and a whole cottage industry to push those sites onto your browser has grown beyond belief.

Measurer 1.2.jpgThis can be a very deep topic, but the bottom line is that, as a Lawyer, you want a highly ranked site that gets Clients. To accomplish this goal, one must navigate the "rules" established by the search engines, with Google being the biggest player of them all. Thus, when designing or redesigning or optimizing a website, the real goal is to come up high on relevant Google searches. Google refines its rules from time to time, and when it does, every one follows suit. Where it used to be that having a basic but simple "Lawyer website" made you stand out from the crowd, now that everyone has a site, having good content is more important than ever. While that should always be the case, and given that about 60% of all internet searches are conducted through Google, this means that as a Lawyer, you want to make sure your site is "liked" by Google. Now that Google is screening for good, relevant and plentiful content, there are specialized companies offering services for Lawyers to have such content professionally written. Just Google "legal content writing" and see for yourself.

That kind of scares me.

I write all of my own content on both this blog and my website. That's not a boast, because I'm sure there are plenty of better writers than me out there, but the more important point is that I write for my particular Clientele. I know every word of my site and blog, because I've written every word of it. I certainly cannot compete with the "experts" who know how to lace such content with specialized "keywords" that make a site more highly ranked by Google, but I don't' think any one of them can compete with me when it comes to talking in real terms about DUI charges, and how they play out. There's no guy in LA who can write about the Court in Rochester Hills, or Troy, or Shelby Township, or New Baltimore or Detroit, first because as much as he might be a legal writer, he's not a Lawyer, and second, because he's not from Michigan, anyway.

One of the biggest things internet marketing specialists push to Lawyers is to load up your site with testimonials, or success stories. I have some real, honest to goodness testimonials on my site culled from the emails of grateful Clients, but I feel funny about asking people to write them. I have a few more "in the bank," so to speak, ready to use when the current batch gets old, but I'll only take them if they are spontaneous. When I see a boatload of testimonials on any site, I cannot believe that they're all spontaneous, or so well written, either.

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April 5, 2013

Detroit Criminal Lawyer Defined and Redefined

Recently, a number of social introductions have had me explaining what kind of Lawyer I am, meaning the kind of work that I do. No one asks a polite question like that and hopes for a long, boring answer. Accordingly, I have been forced to generally define myself as a "Criminal Attorney" and then quickly point out the things I don't do, in order to quickly "explain" myself. I do not, for example, handle rape or murder cases. I have a rather specialized Practice. I only handle Criminal and DUI cases in the Detroit-area, meaning Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties. Moreover, I stick to DUI's and cases like drug possession, suspended and revoked license charges, embezzlement and indecent exposure charges, as well as probation violations. This means I have decades of experience handling the same kinds of cases in the same group of local Courts, working with the same Prosecutors and appearing in front of the same Judges.

This allows me to charge my Fees in exchange for providing services based upon twenty-plus years of related, meaning relevant, experience. When you think about it, anything less and you're just paying your Lawyer's tuition. I've been fortunate to cultivate a practice that keeps me busy enough to be able to only have to work within my comfort zone, and years ago I marked that off as the kinds of cases I have handled regularly and that I like doing. I like handling embezzlement and indecent exposure cases; I don't feel the same way about domestic violence cases.

Lawyer Shadow 1.3.jpgDoes this mean that I don't handle "other" kinds of criminal cases? Of course not! Not too long ago, for example, I was called upon to represent a college-bound high school senior who, along with a few fellow teammates from his school, found himself running by some local railroad tracks. Well, "boys will be boys," as the saying goes. Taking a break from their running, these young guys got the idea that if a train cuts a penny in half rather cleanly, it could probably cut a few other things in half, as well. Looking around, they found a few things that seemed, at least at the moment, way more interesting than a penny, like a discarded car tire and some other debris near the tracks. Clearly thinking more like the kids they were rather than the adults they'd eventually become, they lined up some "stuff" on the tracks to see what would happen when the train ran it over. When they heard a train approaching, they hid nearby.

As he approached, the train conductor was afraid the train could be derailed as it ran over all the debris the boys had placed on the tracks. Unfortunately, by the time he saw it, there was no way to avoid running over it. He radioed ahead for the Police, who showed up, rounded up the boys, and charged them with Felonies, including attempting to derail a train. As serious as the consequences might have been, none of these boys, including my Client, ever thought about doing such a thing (which, of course, was part of the problem).

I was contacted by the family and hired to represent their son. I managed to keep the whole thing completely off of his Record, and about 9 months after the case began, it was closed out and my all-the-wiser Client headed off to college, conviction-free and no longer on Probation.

The "attempted derailment" charge in that case was a first for the Judge, who has been on the bench a long time, and first for the Prosecutor, who has been at his job for over 20 years, as well a first for me. Even so, this case fell precisely within my range of experience, even though the exact charge is rarely ever brought. My point is that while it did not fall precisely within the description of the kinds of cases I regularly handle, it was something squarely within the scope of my broader experience and well within my "comfort zone."

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April 1, 2013

Winning a Michigan License Appeal Requires "Getting it."

In order to win a Michigan License Appeal after multiple DUI's, you have to "get it." I've written countless articles about how and why Sobriety is a first, and necessary requirement to win a Michigan License Appeal. I've made it clear that, in order to win your case, you must have really quit drinking, first. Despite all this information on my site, and the numerous articles saying much the same thing on my blog, I still get calls every day from people who admit to still drinking. Of course, once we ask about that, every one of them tries to qualify it by noting that they only drink "once in a while," or "occasionally." This misses the point that the whole first requirement of a License Appeal, or at least one that has any chance of actually winning, is that a person has stopped drinking for good.

"Getting it," means coming to the realization that you can no longer drink. It means having been beaten up by your drinking so badly that you can truly say you've had enough. In fact, if there's one thing that really separates those who get it from those who don't, it's that those who really "get it" have hit bottom.

gotItGuy 1.2.pngTo put his in perspective, the rules of the Michigan Secretary of State's Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) require that, in order to win a License Appeal case, a person must prove, by what it calls "clear and convincing evidence," that his or her alcohol problem "is under control and likely to remain under control." That means a person must essentially convince the Hearing Officer that they are a safe bet to never drink again. There is no middle ground or qualifier here: Either you've quit drinking, or not.

The truth is that any person who still hangs on to the belief that he or she can have the occasional glass of wine has not yet hit bottom. That belief conflicts with reality, as well. I "occasionally" light fireworks, usually on the Fourth of July and on New Years. I "occasionally" eat at McDonalds, maxing out at about 3 or 4 times a year. Those struggling with the belief that they can somehow find a way to control or manage their drinking will inevitably define "occasionally" with a much greater degree of frequency than everyone else.

However you cut it, "occasional" is a lot less frequent than "weekly." The larger point is that once a person's drinking reaches the point of becoming a problem (and the State presumes that's the case once a person racks up 2 DUI's within 7 years), the only accepted way of getting over it is to completely eliminate alcohol from the picture. Forever. Sober people understand this.

There is an identifiable starting point from which everyone gets sober. AA people sometimes describe it as "being sick and tired of being sick and tired." Substance Abuse Counselors characterize it as "hitting bottom." You can also think of it as a kind of "final humiliation," because in every case where a person throws down the gauntlet and declares that, "enough is enough," they have already felt humiliated, even if just privately, by the consequences of their drinking. I've heard people say that they realized their drinking had become problem when they kept on (in some cases "couldn't stop") drinking even though they recognized that it was causing them to live well beneath their own potential. For such people, drinking wasn't fun anymore...

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