Tying in with my last article about probation violations, the inspiration for this installment comes from a recent experience handling a DUI probation violation in a case that also involved a possession of marijuana charge. I was in one of the indisputably "toughest" Courts in Michigan, and certainly in the Detroit area. My client, who, after being charged with both drunk driving and possession of marijuana, had used a court-appointed lawyer, was facing his first probation violation. It became clear to me early on that much of the problem, and "problem" will become an important word here, was the utter lack of proper representation in the underlying drinking and driving and marijuana cases, which, when coupled with the tough court where the case was pending, combined to exacerbate a potential nightmare. The remaining background here is simple; the client had tested positive for drinking while on probation.
Because he used a court-appointed lawyer, his "representation" essentially consisted of a few minutes' conversation in the hallway with the legal defender who, as is usually the case, had sat down with the prosecutor before the Judge took the bench and gone through his or her whole pile of cases, quickly agreeing to a "deal" for each. In this client's case, the "deal" wasn't any kind of deal at all. He wound up pleading straight up guilty to both charges. Had a retained lawyer been involved, things would almost certainly have worked out better. At a minimum, had I handled his case, I would have gotten rid of the marijuana charge, or at least kept it off of his record, and the DUI charge would have almost certainly been worked down to something less severe. This assumes, of course, that the evidence against him was solid in the first place. I have no way of knowing whether the case against him was good or bad; I came in at the point where the charge had long ago been resolved and he was already on probation, ordered to not drink, and regularly tested to make sure he did not. Despite all that, he did pick up a drink, test positive, and then get violated.
The whole bias of the court hearing this case, with respect to DUI cases in general, and, by extension, this client in particular, is that every DUI is strong evidence of an underlying drinking problem. There are some courts that seem to try to outdo other courts in terms of making it seem like any and every DUI offender had a troubled relationship to alcohol, but the court on this case takes the cake in that area. One could argue that the whole judicial system has some degree of this bias, and I certainly agree that there is more than a little truth to this characterization. Beyond all that, however, my client found himself in a court that simply doesn't recognize that a DUI can sometimes be an out-of-character, one-shot deal for someone.