A rather large percentage of my DUI practice involves handling second time drinking and driving cases, meaning cases for people that have had a prior drunk driving a long time ago, as well as people facing an actual 2nd offense DUI charge. The reason for this is pretty simple: Those who have been through the process before recognize that my various explanations of the DUI process are pretty much spot-on, and have learned to separate what one wants to hear from what is true and accurate. There is, at least legally speaking, a vast difference between a 2nd offense DUI charge and merely going through the process for the 2nd time after a prior offense many years ago. A 2nd offense DUI charge is one, by law, that is brought within 7 years of a prior such case. Technically speaking, a DUI is a “second” if the arrest date for the current charge takes place within 7 years from the date of the conviction for the first. This does not mean, however, that everything is just peachy-good simply because a prior DUI falls outside of the 7-year window. Sure, a whole boatload of legal problems is avoided when your second DUI is not technically a “2nd offense,” but you still have to deal with the implications and reality of that prior offense, even if it cannot be used to enhance the penalties of the current charge.
Recently, while attending a hearing in a driver’s license restoration case, a hearing officer redefined things for me and my client (who did win his full license back, by the way) after he characterized his 2 DUI’s as “mistakes.” She looked up, interrupted him, and said this: “Those weren’t mistakes. When you drove drunk the first time, you committed a crime. When you did it again, you became a habitual criminal.” That may sound harsh, but it gives a glimpse of how these cases are seen in the larger world. I’m sure one of the reasons I have such a robust DUI practice is that I am unique in pointing these things out, and speak rather candidly, if not at least diplomatically about these subjects. Avoiding real-world discussions and/or sugar coating things doesn’t help anyone. I have no tolerance for being patronized, and, in turn, have no inclination to do the same to anyone else. It is very easy for a lawyer to simply agree with the client (remember, the customer is always right) and not want to offend him or her, but the reality is that if you’re going to do anything good for a person facing a second DUI, it means you may have to get a little uncomfortable and tell it like it is. And it is this way: a person going to court for a DUI who has had a prior drinking and driving conviction is going to be seen by the Judge (and almost everyone else) as having, or as being at a substantially increased risk of having, a problematic relationship to alcohol.
I say this because most people who contact a lawyer for a second DUI, even if the charge itself is not a “2nd offense,” will want to explain that no matter how things look, they don’t have a drinking problem. If you sat in my chair, you could pretty much bank on hearing that in almost every such case, and usually as one of the very first things a person will say, at that. I understand this, but as easy as it would be for me to nod and agree, if I’m going to make things better for my client, then I need him or her to understand that you can say that until the end of time, but, in only a few exceptional circumstances, you’re not going to get the Judge to just go, “Oh, okay, well, I’m glad you cleared that up…” You don’t have to think about this too long or hard to realize that it doesn’t matter what you or I think. In the final analysis, it matters what the Judge thinks, and, when you think about that even a little, you begin to realize that nothing else matters nearly as much….