Recently in Probation Category

January 18, 2016

Michigan Probation Violation for Positive Breath or Urine Test Result

As a Michigan criminal and DUI lawyer who is in court almost every single day, one of the most common situations I see involves someone on probation for a criminal or DUI charge testing positive for alcohol or drugs (often, but not always, marijuana). If you're reading this, it's likely that you, or at least someone you care about, is or will be facing a probation violation for a positive test result. In almost every case, there is no dispute about how or why there is a positive test result, except that some people will still try to offer what is known as the "Nyquil defense" and blame the detectable presence of alcohol on the use of something like cold medicine. Let's not waste any more time than necessary on this: There is no sitting Judge who will buy this story (you have to gulp the stuff by the multiple bottles for it to show up) which is why it is has been nicknamed the "Nyquil defense" in the first place. If that's your excuse, then you'll need a new one. The point here is that, almost without exception, a probation violation for a positive test result happens because a person has, in fact, used the substance that showed up. That will be the focus of this article.

!0_0000_MORGUE_DrugTest_UrineSpecimenCup.jpgIn many cases, a person will just take the chance that he or she won't get called in for or will otherwise have cleaned out enough to pass a breath or urine test. Most of the time, it's not like the person has been partying up a storm; failing a test is usually a case of bad luck and bad timing. Even so, the reality for anyone facing a probation violation for a positive breath or urine screen is that you've been caught, and absolutely everyone knows that going back in front of the Judge is not going to be fun. Sure, there are 2 sides to every story, but in the case of a probation violation, unless you can clearly show that the test result is wrong, the Judge's side of that story is the only one that matters. For everything we could say, the bottom line is that the Judge is looking at someone he or she could have put or kept in jail, and who, despite the fact that it was explained that staying out of jail requires not drinking alcohol or using drugs, chose to do so anyway. There is no way to sugar coat or soft peddle this.

At this point, it is tempting to go off on how it's unfair that a person who has never been in trouble before and who got caught in one mistake is penalized to the point of not even being able to have a glass of wine with dinner, or for some special occasion. The thing is, none of that matters. When someone is placed on probation and a condition of that probation is to refrain from drinking alcohol or smoking pot, it basically amounts to a kind of "deal" with the Judge. From the Judge's point of view, NOT drinking and/or NOT smoking pot is the price a person agrees to pay to stay out of jail. A person is perfectly free to reject the terms of that deal, but he or she must understand that by doing so, the Judge is likewise perfectly free to reject the terms that called for the withholding of punishment, like jail. In other words, as much as it may suck to not be able to have a drink while on probation, it is what it is. All the frustration about it is nothing more than hot air that won't help a bit if you've tested positive. Everybody understands this because, as much as they might express these feelings privately, no one is dumb enough to do so to the Judge. So how do we fix this situation?

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December 4, 2015

Michigan DUI Probation - The Client's Experience

In a recent article, I looked at how the court system has an inherent bias regarding alcohol in criminal and DUI cases. The examination in that piece was, of course, from my perspective as a Michigan DUI lawyer. A few weeks ago, I received a nice, descriptive email from a past client in which he detailed his experience of having gone through the DUI process. What a gift! Of course, I was glad to hear from my client (he is a really nice guy, and when you read his email, you'll quickly get a sense of that), but I was even more thrilled at the unexpected gift of a long email that I could use to show what it's like to go through the DUI probation process from the client's perspective, especially in light of how my client related it directly to my recent article about "The Alcohol Bias," where I looked at how the court system is naturally inclined to suspect a drinking problem in just about every OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) case that goes through it. The set up here is important: My client had provided a High BAC breath test result in a drunk driving case that took place in THE undisputed toughest court in the Detroit area, located, of course, in Oakland County.

Thumbnail image for Insiderer 1.2.jpgAs you'll see from the email itself, my client didn't feel like he had been treated too harshly, or in any way treated unfairly. Instead, he felt the full weight of the court system's built-in tendency to "over-diagnose" the existence and/or extent of a person's alcohol problem. The term "over diagnosis" is not some crafty phrase I came up with as a DUI lawyer, but rather something I formally learned about doing post-graduate work in addiction studies. This is a very real concept, well understood in the clinical community, yet virtually unknown in that judicial system that suffers from it. It is relevant here because the facts of this client's case were somewhat unique, and he was very much at risk to be ordered into an expensive and time consuming IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program), and all kinds of other counseling, education, rehab, testing and treatment. We worked hard and intelligently to minimize that, and, as you'll see, my client was able to carry away enough from our time together to help himself from being stuck in AA that didn't "click" with him during his time on probation. AA is great for some people, but certainly not everyone. Unfortunately, the court system is just not in a position to analyze and then act with such clinical precision, so many people find themselves in the cross-hairs of the kind of "over treatment" caused by over diagnosis.

To be clear, I have no dislike for or problem with AA in general, but I believe it is best for those who really need and want it, and will fit well with it. You may go to a particular church and find lots of comfort and inspiration from your Pastor. Good for you. That does not mean, however, that it's the place for everyone. You may hate my favorite restaurant. Some people thrive in AA, while others hate it; some like it, some tolerate it, and some just don't connect with it. As the saying goes, "Different strokes for different folks." The court system, unfortunately, often sees AA as a kind of universal, super-cure-all, even though it is certainly not. If there's one lesson that seems to go perpetually (and curiously) unlearned, it's that sending someone to AA who does not belong there, or who is turned off by it, will almost certainly never produce the desired outcome. In other words, if someone is forced into AA who doesn't like or need AA, then they're not going to get any help from it. That's like sending a skinny person to Weight Watchers. Likewise, even if someone needs help, forcing him or her to get it from AA alone is rather short-sighted, given that modern research has and continues to validate an ever-widening panorama of helpful treatment options, including things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), brief interventions, individual counseling, group therapy and other support groups besides AA (Smart Recovery, Women for Sobriety, ect.). With that as our background, let's move on to my client's email (reprinted exactly as written, including typos, with the exception of the removal of his Probation Officer's name), and get his take on all this:

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October 26, 2015

Probation Violations in Michigan - Missing or Testing Positive for Alcohol or Drugs

As a Michigan Criminal and DUI lawyer, I sit in various courtrooms almost every single day, and often several times per day. I get the chance to watch more cases that you could count. An important part of what I do involves handling probation violation cases. Like so many of my other articles, the inspiration for this short installment is something I observed during the week this article was written. It was a busy week, and I was really all over the map in terms of cases and the various courts I had to visit. For some reason, an unusually large number of the matters I heard last week were probation violations, even though I had none on my own schedule. Again and again I heard people step up to allegations that they either drank alcohol, used drugs (particularly marijuana), or missed a test while on probation, despite having been specifically ordered not to do so by the Judge.

Thumbnail image for Bax 1.2.jpgIn the world of probation violations, testing positive for alcohol and/or drugs, or missing a test, are far and away the most common reasons that someone has to go back before the Judge. In one of the cases I saw, the lawyer, to his subsequent regret, tried what the Judge herself called "The Nyquil Defense." I've written about this, and so have other lawyers, but it bears repeating: No Judge believes that a breath or urine test that's positive for alcohol was caused by using cold medicine. This old excuse has been so universally discredited and rejected that even if someone really did produce a positive test from the use of something like Nyquil or Vicks Formula 44, he or she is screwed. It won't fly. There's a lot to this, but it boils down to the amount of cold medicine a person would need to use to test positive, and the math never adds up. In the real world, it's assumed you'd have to chug a couple of bottles of the stuff, and that, no matter how bad you may have felt, sounds a lot more like "abusing" the stuff than "using" it. You won't even get that far, however.

We can debate the how and why of all this until the stars burn out, but the plain fact is that violations like this just happen. If you're reading this, it's probably because you, or someone you care about is facing a probation violation, and there's a very good chance that it's for a positive alcohol or drug test. The bottom line to looking for a lawyer is to find one who can keep you out of jail because you don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the Judge is not going to be happy when you go in front of him or her for a positive test result. Jail is always a real possibility in any probation violation, but the logic behind it is a lot clearer when you're standing before the Judge for doing something he or she specifically told you not to do. When you stop and think about it (and you probably have done a lot of that), there aren't really a whole lot of good excuses to help you out. This is the exact point where the charisma and persuasiveness of the lawyer you decide to hire becomes the most important thing in your life. Let's put this in context...

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October 5, 2015

Finding "Value" in a Michigan Criminal, Driver's License Restoration and DUI Lawyer

In some of my criminal law, DUI and driver's license restoration articles, I have gone beyond a mere discussion about "the law" and have tried to pull back the curtain a bit, so to speak, in order to help the reader understand the real working role of the lawyer, and not just in the sense in some way that amounts to nothing more than an excuse to say "call me!" If we're going to be brutally honest, all doctors, dentists, lawyers and even funeral directors are in business. At the end of the day, every professional offers his or her services to make a living. Sure, most of us really want to help people, but you're not much of a professional at anything if you're not success driven. For my part, I want to receive a rewarding fee for what I do, and in exchange feel like I'm providing a top-notch service to my client. I want to be the best at what I do. And while this all sounds great, what does it mean, and why should any of this matter to you?

Ing.1.2.jpgIf you are looking for a lawyer for a DUI or driver's license restoration case, then you already know that the field is crowded, and there is a lot to sort through. The same thing goes for anyone facing a criminal charge and looking for a criminal lawyer. Beyond your own inquiries, you may get recommendations from friends and family. In the strongest way possible, I'd advise against just "jumping" at anyone's recommendation, even if the lawyer who gets the endorsement is me. You should always check around on your own, read articles, see what kind of information any given lawyer has posted, and then make some phone calls. There simply is NO downside to being a smart consumer and doing your homework.

There's an old saying to the effect that "information is power." Actually, it's not. At best, information is only potential power. Any real power comes from using that information to your advantage. If you go back through my blog articles, for example, especially many of those written earlier, I examine just about every legal situation a person could possibly face. Therefore, when I say "information," I mean a lot more than meaningless prattle about being "tough" or "aggressive." Labels, especially those we use for ourselves, fall far short of any kind of useful information. One of first things you should look for in the search for a lawyer is genuine value, and not just in terms of cost, or price. "Value," in this sense, means importance to your life. What is the value of being able to breathe? That's not something on which you put a price. What's the value of winning back or keeping your driver's license, or keeping a criminal conviction (perhaps for something like possession of marijuana) off of your record? And there's more...

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September 21, 2015

Michigan Criminal, Driver's License Restoration and DUI cases - The Alcohol Bias

Whether it's front and center, as in a Michigan DUI or driver's license restoration case, or less obvious, as in many other kinds of criminal cases, the entire Michigan court system has what at times seems like a fixation on alcohol. If you consider a domestic violence case, for example, or a leaving the scene of an accident charge, there is practically a systemic assumption that the person facing the charge was drinking, if not drunk, at the time the incident took place. In this article, I want to explain why, in so many cases, the path through the judicial system leads back to alcohol, and what can and should be done in every case to help with that. Before you dismiss this as just more meaningless prattle by some lawyer, please note that I write this article as a lawyer with very extensive and specialized training in the field of addiction studies. Given the system's focus on the role of alcohol in so many kinds of cases, it is important that, in order to best protect my client from the "alcohol bias" inherent in the judicial system, I walk into a courtroom with more expert knowledge about alcohol and substance abuse than anyone else in there.

alkie 1.2.jpgIt has long been known that alcohol (and drugs) are "involved" in all kinds of criminal cases. You could put the most socially sheltered person in the role of Judge, and it wouldn't take too long for him or her to connect the dots and see how drinking sometimes leads to all kinds of trouble. The day this article was written I resolved a case where a young lady had been charged with indecent exposure in a local, Oakland County court. The short version of the story is that she was at a bar with a group of people and she and a male suitor wound up outside, in a parking lot, where the romance heated up a bit too quickly and they were seen in a very compromising situation. The police were called, and both were arrested and ultimately charged with indecent exposure; I represented the woman. I was able to have things worked out so that nothing will ever appear on her record and the whole thing will just go away, but before the Judge decides on any probationary conditions, he ordered that she be "screened" by the probation department. Realizing this happened out behind a bar, it didn't take much for the Judge to figure the parties here had been drinking. Now, he wants to make sure that this incident wasn't caused, in some part, because my client has any kind of problematic relationship to alcohol.

In the young lady's case, the role of alcohol, and therefore the Judge's concern about it, is pretty obvious, at least in this one incident. Experience teaches anyone in the criminal justice system, from police to Judges to criminal lawyers, like me, that all kinds of bad things can (and often do) happen when drinking is involved. It is basically assumed that anyone who leaves the scene of an accident does so because he or she was drinking. Many, if not most, disorderly person charges occur because someone had a little too much to drink. Statistics show that alcohol plays a role in the majority of domestic violence cases. When kids get into trouble (consider things like mailbox vandalism, for example) it is common to find out they had been drinking. Even stalking type charges, including harassing phone calls, often take place when the actor's inhibitions have been lowered after having had a few. Add all of this up over years, and then decades, and the court system has seen a clear pattern that now has it as concerned about the presence of an underlying drinking problem as the actions that gave rise to a criminal charge in the first place. So what does all this mean to you?

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May 2, 2015

DUI in Metro-Detroit - The cost of a bad Lawyer

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.

request__bad_lawyer_by_ccc7ccc-d542dim.jpgBecause 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.

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April 27, 2015

The Straight Truth About Michigan Probation Violations (Tri-County Area)

As a Michigan criminal and DUI lawyer, the whole notion of "probation" fills a good part of each of my workdays. This article will concentrate on what happens when things don't go as planned, and you wind up facing a probation violation. To frame our discussion, we must remember that at its most basic, probation is an alternative to incarceration. Sometimes, when a person hires in at a company, he or she is placed on "probation" for the first 90 days; in that case, "probation" is an alternative to being unemployed. Back in the judicial world, being put on probation is seen as being given a chance to show that you can follow orders, stay out of trouble, and otherwise be trusted. When it is alleged that you somehow violated probation, the perception flips to your being seen as unable to follow orders, incapable of staying out of trouble, and not being trustworthy. If it is determined that you did, in fact, violate your probation, the Judge must decide what to do, which typically means how to punish you further. The biggest threat within that concept of "punishment" is, of course, getting locked up. And that is precisely what you hire a lawyer to avoid.

Doggy 1.2.jpgThere are only 2 possible answers to the charge that you have violated some provision of your probation order: Either you did, or you did not. Thus, if you have tested positive for alcohol, the bottom line is that you either drank or not. This does not include that incredibly large number of people who, after a positive alcohol test, will claim that they used something like Nyquil or Vicks Formula 44. And if the implication of what I'm saying here is not obvious enough, let me be even more direct; no one buys the cold medicine excuse, so don't make things worse by trying that one. This very situation points to the uncomfortable yet undeniable fact that most probation violations are solid, meaning that they are not based upon false allegations. Whether you're violated because you tested positive for something, missed a test, picked up a new charge, or did not complete something you were ordered to do, it is really only in relatively few, special cases that the whole allegation is just plain wrong.

I can safely say this: Unless you have a "special case," you're going to need a special lawyer. Even if you are completely innocent of having violated your probation, you can't afford to hire some bargain lawyer to stand next to you and mumble excuses; you need a clear, dynamic and sharp communicator to explain to the Judge how the probation officer has it all wrong. And when you actually have violated some condition of probation, which, in the real world of probation violation charges, is more often than not, it becomes imperative to convince the Judge to give you another chance. Here, you need to step up and hire a lawyer who clearly stands out from the pack. It is my intention to be direct and honest here, so let's get to it...

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September 13, 2014

Weekly Summaries: License Restoration/DUI similarities and Probation Violation Outcomes

1. Driver's License Restoration and DUI cases share the same "DNA"

In the first article from this week, I examined the overlapping roles of being a Michigan DUI lawyer and a Michigan driver's license restoration/clearance lawyer. I noted that day-to-day experience in the courts of the Greater-Detroit area handling DUI cases is helpful in my role as a license appeal lawyer, when I appear before the Michigan Secretary of State's Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) hearing officers. While it's pretty much true that everyone has a general understanding that a DUI carries certain license sanctions, particularly in a case beyond a person's 1st offense, or where there is a "troubled" driving record, knowing the finer points of the administrative sanction imposed by the Secretary of State, beyond those that are part of the criminal law, is very helpful, and can sometimes impact the strategy I employ to avoid certain consequences for my client. Likewise, in-depth knowledge of DUI cases is equally helpful in winning back driver's licenses. Here are some of the more important points from the license restoration/DUI article:

  • A Michigan DUI lawyer will understand at least basic driver's license consequences
  • A Michigan driver's license restoration lawyer knows a lot more about driver's licenses
  • Most driver's license restoration cases arise because a person has multiple DUI convictions
  • A thorough understanding of how DUI cases work is helpful in winning a license appeal
  • Comprehensive knowledge of the licensing rules is often critical in a DUI case
  • What will happen to a person's license can impact how a DUI case is handled, and ultimately resolved
  • Beyond just DUI cases, driver's license rules can impact how DWLS and revoked license cases are handled
  • I have saved many a license because my understanding of the licensing rules goes way beyond the criminal law and the consequences the Judge will impose
  • A better DUI lawyer knows the ins and outs of driver's license appeals
  • A better license restoration/clearance lawyer knows the ins and outs of DUI cases
  • It is better still to know both areas well from working with them daily
Now, on to "What will happen to me in a probation violation?"...

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September 12, 2014

Michigan Probation Violation - What's Going to Happen to Me?

There are many possible reasons why a person may wind up violating his or her probation. Most frequently, a probation violation has to do with missing or failing a breath or urine test, picking up a new charge, not completing something the Judge had ordered, skipping out from probation altogether, or just not paying fines and costs. Sometimes, a person may be the victim of a "false positive" test result, or may have had to miss a test for circumstances beyond his or her control. Whether it's for one of those reasons, or any other, the real question anyone facing a probation violation wants answered is "What is going to happen to me."

violation 1.2.jpgIn my other probation articles, I have addressed many different aspects of probation violation cases, but not the ultimate question: What is going to happen to me? Obviously, it would take a fortuneteller rather than a lawyer to give a specific answer in any particular case, but it's probably fair to say that anyone going online to look this stuff up is most interested in what may or will happen to him or her. I know I would be...

We can skip all the discussion about the probation officer. If you're facing a probation violation, all the "could have, would have, should have (coulda, woulda, shoulda)" stuff in the world doesn't matter, because you're already at the stage where you need to go to court and appear before the Judge. It's kind of like a traffic ticket where you feel the cop wasn't fair, or justified in writing you up; maybe not, but that part of the transaction is in the past, and the only thing left is to address the matter in court. Accordingly, our efforts have to be directed forward, into the future, rather than backwards, in rehashing the past. We need to convince the Judge that you have a false positive test result or a legitimate reason for something like missed a test. In cases where there isn't a technical or practical excuse for the violation, we have to convince the Judge to go easy on you.

It is important to remember that probation is always an alternative to incarceration. From the Judge's point of view, probation amounts to a kind of bargain, sort of like a contract: You do this, don't do that, and I won't stick you in jail. Think of the bank or finance company explaining a car payment: If you make the payment, you can keep the car. When you don't make the payment, however, the bargain, or contract, is considered breached, and the deal can be called off. The car gets taken back, and you're on the hook for the money. In the same way, if you don't live up to your end of the probation deal with the Judge, the most important part of the deal (staying out of jail) can be called off, and you can get locked up and/or face other consequences. This is exactly what we have to avoid...

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July 14, 2014

Success in a DUI case means what doesn't Happen to You

The best outcome in any DUI case is to get the whole thing dismissed, or otherwise beat the case, so that nothing happens to you. Most people, however, aren't so completely lucky. Short of nothing happening as a result of a DUI arrest, the less that happens to you, the better. In a very real way, success in a Michigan DUI case is judged by what doesn't happen to you.

Less-is-More-Final-1.2.jpgWe can see that sometimes, in a high-profile DUI case, a Judge will order community service in order to remind a celebrity that he or she is not above the law, and subject to the same rules as everyone else. Getting caught speeding in your 2014 Lamborghini after having a had a few too many doesn't entitle anyone to any better treatment that someone caught weaving on I-696 in his or her 2004 Chrysler Sebring. In the real world, less community service (or even none), and really less of everything, is the yardstick by which "success" is measured in terms of a DUI outcome.

You've probably already figured out that unless your DUI gets thrown out of court, you're going to wind up on probation. This is true even in 2nd and 3rd offense cases. Interestingly enough, there are still a few places where, at least in a 1st offense DUI, if everything is done just right, a person can either skip probation altogether, or, at least wind up on what's called "non-reporting" probation. Non-reporting probation means that all you have to do is not get in trouble for however long the Judge orders, and everything will be fine. In a recent 3-part series of articles, I examined what "probation" means, and I reviewed the different "do's and don'ts" of probation. Here, it's more relevant to talk about how you get on probation, meaning the process by which you wind up standing before the Judge and are ordered to follow that list of "do's and don'ts."

Michigan law requires that, in a DUI case, before the Judge can pass sentence, you must complete an alcohol screening (written test). This is handled by each court's probation department, and is part of a larger process called a "PSI," or pre-sentence investigation. The "PSI" can also simply be called the "screening," or "assessment." No matter what it's called, it boils down to the same thing, in every case, and in every court. Once your charge has been resolved, and before you come back to court to be sentenced by the Judge, you have to be interviewed by a probation officer, who will also hand you a written test to fill out. This test is scored, numerically, and the probation office compares your score to a scoring "key" to determine what kind of risk you present in terms of having or developing a drinking problem. This is hardly any kind of clinical assessment, but it is, unfortunately, exactly how the law does things. Even so, we can make it better...

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July 7, 2014

What Things can you Expect on Probation for a DUI? (Hint: It won't be Chocolate)

In the previous two articles, (DUI and Probation in the Metro-Detroit Area and How you get on Probation for a DUI) we have been exploring probation in a Michigan DUI case. In the first article, we outlined that probation is an alternative to jail, and that it really amounts to a series of "do's and don'ts" that are ordered by the Judge. We saw that in a DUI case, probation will always at least require a person to abstain from consuming any alcohol, and, additionally, that a person must otherwise not get in any further legal trouble, either. We then looked at the steps that lead to a person winding up on probation. Here we reviewed the required alcohol assessment that's part of the larger overall process that takes place before the Judge sentences a person. That process requires, in the end, that the probation officer administering the alcohol screening assessment provide a written sentencing recommendation to the Judge to be used in deciding a person's DUI sentence. To come up with that recommendation, the probation officer will meet with and interview the DUI driver, give him or her the alcohol assessment (test), score it, gather whatever other information he or she believes relevant, and then combine all that in the sentencing report. In the final analysis, that sentencing recommendation is really a blueprint for what kinds of things a person can expect as conditions of probation.

Boxcho 1.2.jpgThis third and final article in our loose series will be an overview of what we mean by "conditions of probation," and will explore the things a person can expect for probation in a Detroit-area DUI case. Here, I have to qualify things, because I practice what I preach, and by that I mean that I generally concentrate my DUI practice to the Tri-County area of Metro-Detroit, and will include in my circle DUI cases in Lapeer, Livingston and St. Clair Counties, as well. I won't take a DUI case beyond these areas, however, because I don't have the opportunity to get to any courts beyond these 6 counties regularly enough to be able to offer any real experience there, and it has always been my standard to be able to tell my client what is likely to happen based upon real-world experience.

Let's look at how DUI probation plays out in roughly best to worst-case scenarios:

There are still a few courts left (none, by the way, in Oakland County) that will wrap up a 1st offense DUI without probation, and just impose fines and costs. Anyway you look at it, no probation at all beats the hell of any kind probation. There's not a lot more to say on this point.

If you're going to get probation, however, then non-reporting probation is as good as it gets. Just like it sounds, non-reporting probation means you don't have to report. Most probation is reporting probation, meaning that you have to come in (usually once a month) to the probation department and check in with your probation officer. In non-reporting probation, you never have to check in. Here again, Oakland County proves to be the "toughest," with the fewest number of non-reporting dispositions. The exceptions tend to be allowed in cases where a person lives out of state, or lives far away (this happens with students who will live away, at college). Non-reporting probation usually lasts for a year, although the final decision about that is, of course, up to the Judge.

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June 30, 2014

How you get on Probation for a DUI

In the prior article about Probation in a Michigan DUI case, we outlined how the Judge will require a person to do certain things, and not do others. Chief amongst the big no-no's is using alcohol or drugs. We noted that, as easy as that sounds, lots of people trip up and wind up testing positive while on probation. In this article, I want to look at how the various conditions of probation wind up being ordered in the first place. This subject is rather more involved, so this article will be noticeably longer.

MDOC 1.2.jpgThe conditions of probation a person must fulfill don't just pop into a Judge's head out of thin air. In all Michigan DUI cases, the law requires that that a person undergoes a mandatory alcohol assessment. This means you'll take a written test, sometimes also called a "substance abuse evaluation" or "alcohol screening." At least in the Detroit area (Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties), where I regularly practice, as well as Lapeer, Livingston and St. Clair Counties, where I am often enough called upon to handle DUI cases, the alcohol assessment is handled exclusively by the court's probation department.

The alcohol assessment is part of a larger overall step in the DUI process called a "PSI," which stands for "pre-sentence investigation." The mandate that a person completes an alcohol assessment also requires that the results of that assessment be sent to the Judge. The assessment, then, is really a "test" to determine if a person has, or is at risk to develop a drinking problem. This is huge. In fact, in a DUI case, this is just about everything, and certainly the single most important thing that will determine what does and does not happen to you.

The way it works is this: You take the written assessment (test), and it is scored. In addition, you will be interviewed by a probation officer, who will gather information about you, including any past record (especially DUI's) you have, your upbringing and what you're doing in life right now (gainfully employed or unemployed). All of this, including (and especially) your alcohol assessment screening results are put together in a written report and recommendation that is provided to the Judge for his or her review and use at your sentencing. The law requires that you review this report with your lawyer prior to going before the Judge for sentencing.

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June 23, 2014

DUI and Probation in the Metro-Detroit Area

If you are facing a DUI in Metropolitan Detroit, then you are also quite likely to wind up on probation, as well. As a Michigan DUI lawyer with nearly a quarter century of experience in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, I know how things work in all of the local courts. Because I exclusively concentrate my practice in the Tri-county area, I can speak from a position of authority about what happens here.

Thumbnail image for probation-officer 1.2.jpgThe first order of business in any DUI case is to obtain and examine the evidence. If there is a chance to beat the case, it almost always lies in finding something wrong with the evidence, or the way it was obtained. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that there is always something wrong with the evidence, but rather that it must be examined carefully to see if there are any irregularities regarding it that can be used advantageously. The simple fact is that most DUI cases don't present themselves with all kinds of evidence problems, begging to be thrown out of court. Some people blow an absolute fortune in legal fees chasing the hope that their case will be an exception, only to get a hard and expensive lesson in reality when it doesn't happen.

For the most part, anyone interested in finding out what probation is all about probably hasn't been on probation, so the likely reader of this article may very well be someone facing a 1st offense DUI charge, and who has little or no prior record of any kind. This article will be the first in a loose series about probation in DUI cases. It is worth noting that probation today is different than it was as recently as half a dozen years ago, so anyone who has been on it before might be surprised to find out that things have changed, and not necessarily for the better, either. So what is probation all about, really?

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June 13, 2014

Probation Violation in Michigan (Metro-Detroit)

What should you do if you're facing a probation violation? In most cases, a person knows that he or she has violated before the formal notice of violation ever reaches the mailbox. It's been a while since I've written about Michigan probation violations. I handle a lot of probation violations in the courts of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, and as part of that, I wind up explaining a lot of the same things rather often. When it comes to standing in front of the Judge for violating your probation, 3 of the most important qualities you need in a lawyer are charisma, persuasiveness and scientific/technical knowledge

Thumbnail image for Questioner 1.2.jpgThere are a million ways a person can violate his or her probation, but there are a handful that are by far the most common: Picking up a new charge, missing a breath or urine test (a "drop"), testing positive for drugs or alcohol, violating a tether, or an alcohol (SCRAM) tether, or missing a probation appointment or appointments. If you are being violated for a positive breath or urine test, or for a positive reading or a "tamper" on a SCRAM tether unit, then it's the third quality a lawyer needs to be helpful in a PV case; scientific/technical knowledge.

Specifically, we're talking about understanding, backed by education and experience, about how alcohol that was consumed metabolizes in the human body, and, by contrast, how it things like mouth alcohol (usually left over from something like mouthwash) or other ambient alcohol dissipates. In other words, if a person actually drinks alcohol, his or her blood alcohol level will track a lot differently than someone who provides a "false positive" test after having used something like Listerine or Scope. Equally important is an understanding how any device that's supposed to measure alcohol does so, and what shortcomings are common to it. Every machine is fallible, and some more than others.

Thus, if a person is on the SCRAM tether, all kinds of things can happen that either give rise to a false positive reading, or show up as a disconnect or tamper. If your case involves false readings, or tamper issues, it will take more scientific/technical understanding than legal knowledge to handle properly. In my role as a DUI and driver's license restoration lawyer, I deal with SCRAM tethers and breath and urine alcohol testing issues daily. I sometimes forget how much knowledge I have accumulated until I receive a call from another lawyer who needs help with an issue one of his or her clients face. Nor is this any kind of exaggeration, either; just today, before I started this article, I received a call from a lawyer needing information about the volume (amount) of breath sample required to operate an ignition interlock. I was glad that I could answer his questions...

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March 8, 2013

Probation in a Detroit-area DUI

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 1.3.jpgProbation 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.

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January 21, 2013

Alcohol Testing Violations in Michigan DUI Cases

In the prevous article, we looked at how alcohol testing as a condition of release from Jail after a DUI Arrest is becoming common in the Courts of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. Of course, this is done to ensure (or, some might say, force) compliance with a "no drinking" condition of a person's Bond. Testing does not stop once the case draws to a close, however. Testing is very often ordered as a condition of Probation, as well. In fact, if you are required to test as a condition of Bond, you can pretty much count on being required to test through Probation, as well, although there is room to have the Judge make some changes to that, including cutting down the frequency with which you test.

Alcohol testing comes in several different varieties, but the most popular are breath tests (either through PBT's at a testing site, or samples blown into an ignition interlock system), urine tests, and a contraption called a S.C.R.A.M. tether. In general, testing is a lot like voice recognition software; it usually gets things mostly right, but often gets things wrong, and is never perfect. Unlike giving voice commands to your smart-phone, however, and winding up calling the wrong number, a bad alcohol test result can get you thrown in Jail.

Lab Testing 1.3.jpgAs a Michigan DUI Lawyer, I am contacted almost daily about problems with alcohol testing. I get calls about missed tests, bad equipment and positive tests. To be clear, many times the positive (or missed) test means that the person tested was, in fact, drinking, but even then, they need someone to get them out of a jam. Whether it's a false positive, an accurate positive, a missed test, or trouble with the equipment, alcohol testing brings lots of problems, and I have to solve them.

I am hired just about every week by someone who has run into problems with their alcohol testing. These "problems" are either alleged violations of Bond or Probation conditions. To help a Client facing an alcohol testing violation, I have to wear several hats: I have to be a Lawyer, of course, but I also have to have a working scientific and technical knowledge of what's involved in a particular kind of testing, and what can affect the results. This involves knowing, for example, how certain chemicals or medical conditions affect a person's performance on a particular a test, or why a false positive result occurs.

Beyond that, I have to be able to define the issue at hand (meaning bad equipment, bad result, or bad test) and then translate it to the Judge. Doing that means I need to be a diplomat and a negotiator. There are times when a Judge is going to get it wrong, and when I see that coming, I have know how to react to protect my Client. If a Judge refuses to accept that a test result is wrong, then that part of me with "diplomatic" skills won't press on in a way to make the Judge angry. In a Courtroom, I have to argue my case, but never argue with the Judge. Remember, the job at hand is to make things better; however wrong the Judge might be, arguing with him or her will only make things worse.

This is particularly true if the violation is for a positive test result that is accurate, meaning that someone tests positive for alcohol because they really did drink. This happens a lot, and, truth be told, "correct positive" results are a lot more common than "false positives." An accurate positive test result occurs because no one thinks they'll get caught. Either they try and "time" their drinking, or they take a chance that they won't be called in for a test on a certain day, only to find out they called it wrong. In these cases, my whole focus is on damage control. Let's be honest, when anyone in this situation calls me, they have one thing on their mind - staying out of Jail. Unless I get lucky, and find some glaring evidentiary defect in the test (not likely), I'm going to be the only thing that stands between my Client and a stint in the pokey. I need to find the magic spot in such a mess and use it to keep my Client from getting locked up.

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June 29, 2012

Probation Violation for Positive Test Result - The Science of Persuasion versus the Science of Testing

After nearly 22 years of Practicing Criminal Law, handling DUI cases, and helping people whose Licenses have been Revoked for multiple DUI cases get their Driver's Licenses Restored, I have seen pretty much everything once or twice, and a few things countless times. One "constant" that impacts each of the 3 kinds of cases I handle traces back to a breath or urine test that is positive for alcohol or drugs. In this article, we'll examine that phenomenon in the context of Probation, and how it gives rise to the dreaded "Probation Violation."

Another "constant" mixed up with the whole concept of Probation Violations is that a somewhat significant number of people wind up testing positive for alcohol or drugs during the course of their term of Probation. If, in the larger picture, the number or such positive tests were incredibly small, there wouldn't be any need for continued testing. But it's not. The number of Probationers who get caught testing positive is surprisingly high. This reinforces the perceived "need" for testing to ensure compliance with Court-Ordered abstinence.

PeeTest1.2.jpgProbation Officers learn, early on, that a positive test can come from anyone. Whether the Probationer is the nicest soccer mom, or the most educated corporate vice-president, just an average Jane or Joe, or the most hardened, ex-con, turning up positive on an alcohol or drug test, whether it be as the result of a breath test, urine test, or even while on some kind of alcohol monitoring device, like a "scram" tether, is a daily occurrence.

Anyone who tests positive knows if the result is correct or not. In reality, most positive tests are actually the result of someone drinking or using, and nothing else. Once in a blue moon, a person might work in a chemical factory and be exposed to fumes that trigger a "false positive" on a "scram" tether, or might walk into some testing facility with such chemicals soaked into their clothing, but this kind of exception is rare. Most of the time, however, what really happens is that a person has tried to time a test, and simply gets popped.

These simple facts make for hard cases. Anyone reading this is likely doing so because either they, or someone they care about, is in this situation, and has tested positive. Not many people are that interested in this topic unless it applies to them, and has immediate relevance, and a positive test result is as relevant as it can get. Positive tests happen every day. It's frightening when that happens, but I'm here to help. To do that however, we have to start off being candid and honest, and not sugar-coat anything. Most positive tests are positive because a person drank or used, and not because the test is screwed up, or the person took cold medicine, or Aunt Bertha put too much vanilla extract in Uncle Bob's birthday cake, or whatever other story you can dream up.

What do you do if you're facing a Probation Violation, or know you're going to be facing one, for a positive test? You probably already know you need a Lawyer, but what kind of Lawyer? How much should you pay? Who do you turn to at this critical moment?

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May 18, 2012

What Being "on Probation" for a DUI in the Detroit-Area of Michigan Really Means - Part 3

In Part 1 of this article we drew a rough outline of what "Probation" means. In Part 2, we saw how Macomb, Wayne and Oakland Counties were each different from on another, with Macomb being the best in which to face a DUI, Wayne being not far behind, and Oakland really coming in as the last place one wants to wind up before a Judge after a Drunk Driving Arrest.

In this third and final installment, we will look at both standard and "special" conditions of Probation, and try and get a feel for what being "on Probation" for a DUI case really means.

Probation Star 1.2.jpgAt this point, we can move on from our County-by-County comparison, and examine what "Probation," and being on it (especially for a Drunk Driving charge), really means. Probation begins with the Judge signing an Order, which is a document called an Order of Probation.

An Order of Probation is a list of things the Judge Orders a person to do, as well as some they are NOT allowed to do. All Courts, independent of location, forbid many of the same things while a person is on Probation. Let's look at some "standard" conditions of Probation, beginning with the things a person is Ordered NOT to do:

  • Not violate any criminal law of any unit of government.
  • Not leave the state without the consent of this court.
  • Make a truthful report to the probation officer monthly, or as often as the probation officer may require, either in person or in writing, as required by the probation officer.
  • Notify the probation officer immediately of any change of address or employment status.
  • Not purchase or possess a firearm.
  • Not consume any alcohol.
  • Not use or possess any controlled substances or drugs without a valid prescription (medical marijuana is specifically prohibited by many Courts).
In some cases, a Judge will add "special" conditions. Most often these are things like:
  • Not to be Arrested or Charged with any crime. No conviction is required.
  • Not to enter into any bars, or establishments whose primary purpose is the selling of alcoholic beverages.
  • Not to drive a motor vehicle without a valid License.
Probation is often thought of as kind of an order to just "stay out of trouble," and to a large extent, that is true. However, in a DUI case, a person is quite likely to be required to do certain things beyond just not getting in trouble. Some of these things are pretty standard, while others are unique to either the particular case, or the Judge presiding over it.

Continue reading "What Being "on Probation" for a DUI in the Detroit-Area of Michigan Really Means - Part 3" »

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May 14, 2012

What Being "on Probation" for a DUI in the Detroit-Area of Michigan Really Means - Part 2

In Part 1 of this article, we began to sketch out a general concept of Probation. Here, in this second part, we'll add more detail, and really get a handle on what it means to be "on Probation" for a DUI in Macomb, Wayne and Oakland Counties. Let's refer back to our example from the first part of this article involving Dan the Driver and his 1st Offense DUI, and see how his case would likely play out in a Court from each of the 3 Counties.

First, we'll assumImpaired Driving" (OWVI). e that the evidence against Dan is solid, that the case is not going to be magically dismissed somehow, and that his BAC (Bodily Alcohol Content) was about a .14, which is not too high (remember, .17 and above can trigger a "High BAC" charge).

PO BADGE Pink 2.jpgSecond, we'll assume that Dan's DUI, meaning his original charge of "Operating While Intoxicated"(OWI) charge will be plea-bargained down to the lesser charge of "Impaired Driving" (OWVI).

Third, we'll assume that I am handling the case. I'll make sure that when we talk about Dan being put on Probation, that means Probation with NO Jail. DUI cases are special, and properly handling them requires specialized knowledge and skill. While I can't speak for any other DUI Lawyers, I can enthusiastically advise the reader to NOT hire some Lawyer who just "does" DUI cases - along with all kind of other stuff.

Finally, we'll assume that Dan has been thoroughly prepared to take his written alcohol assessment test, and undergo the whole PSI interview.

In Macomb County, it can almost always be worked out so that a person would face no more than a year's Probation in any Court. In certain places, like Shelby Township and New Baltimore, I can probably keep my Client off of any kind of Probation, meaning that we might be able to wrap his or her case up with little or nothing more than the payment of fines and costs. In other cities, like Eastpointe, Roseville, Sterling Heights and Warren, I might be able to help the Client avoid what's called "Reporting Probation." Instead of having to show up once a month and meet with a Probation Officer, a person can get "Non-Reporting Probation," and will simply be under the "eye" of the Court for the next year. Obviously, if the person gets Arrested and/or Convicted for a new Offense, he or she will be in big trouble.

In places like Clinton Township, Romeo, and St. Clair Shores, I should be able to keep my Client's Probation to no longer than a year, although these Courts will generally require that the person does, in fact, Report for that year. If my Client's case is pending in one of these Courts, I will shift the focus of our alcohol assessment and PSI preparation from trying to completely avoid Probation, which is not likely, to avoiding the kind of "do this and do that" Probation that is sometimes called "Probation from Hell."

The bottom line is that Macomb County still is the best place to wind up facing a DUI. Now, we'll turn our attention to Wayne and the Oakland Counties.

Continue reading "What Being "on Probation" for a DUI in the Detroit-Area of Michigan Really Means - Part 2" »

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May 11, 2012

What Being "on Probation" for a DUI in the Detroit-Area of Michigan Really Means - Part 1

As a Michigan DUI Lawyer who prides himself on keeping his Clients out of Jail, dealing with "Probation," in virtually every sense of the word, is an everyday thing for me. In many of my other Drunk Driving blog articles, and within the various DUI sections of my website, I examine the rather critical and important role of the Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI) process carried out by a Court's Probation Department, including the vital part that the legally required alcohol assessment test plays in the ultimate outcome of any DUI case. As I have noted, the PSI, and alcohol assessment test that is part of it, determines, more than anything else, what happens to a person as a result of DUI.

This article will shift the focus from affecting the outcome of the PSI process to the very outcome, itself. We'll look at what being "on Probation" really means, how the conditions and terms of Probation are decided, and how that is different from Court to Court. We'll cover this subject in 3 installments in order to really understand Probation, and to make sense of it.

MichiganCorrections Patch 1.1.jpgAt its simplest, Probation is an alternative to Jail. A person is put on Probation with the understanding that they will follow the rules (whatever those rules might be) set out by the Judge, at Sentencing, or else get to Jail for Violating Probation. Beyond this rather simple instruction to look at the obvious, written instructions, we must also read "between the lines" in order to get a complete picture of what being on Probation really means.

Although it is an alternative to Jail, Probation can be handed out along with Jail. The maximum legal penalty in a 1st Offense DUI in Michigan is 93 days in Jail, a Fine of up to $500, plus Court costs. Let's look at a typical 1st Offense case as an example:

If the Dan the Driver gets a 1st Offense DUI, and the Judge sends him to Jail for 93 days, he or she cannot put Dan on Probation. Dan will have "maxed out" his Sentence, and therefore, upon his release, not be subject to any further punishment by the Court. The Judge can also elect to NOT send Dan to Jail, and put him on Probation for a year, or two, with the understanding that if he screws up anywhere along the way, he can be sent to Jail for any period of time up to the whole 93 days in Jail.

A less common, but perfectly legal option is to send Dan to Jail for some period less than the full 93 possible days, and put him on Probation, with the understanding that if he screws that up, he can be sent back to Jail to serve any part of the un-served 93 days. Thus, if Dan is sent to Jail for 21 days, and then stuck on Probation for a year, there are 72 un-served day of Jail that the Judge still has "in the bank" that he or she can hand out, if Dave messes up somehow.

For all of that, "Probation" usually means "no Jail."

Continue reading "What Being "on Probation" for a DUI in the Detroit-Area of Michigan Really Means - Part 1" »

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November 18, 2011

Probation Violations - Staying out of Jail in Macomb, Wayne and Oakland Counties

Within my Criminal Practice, I am regularly called upon to Represent former and new Clients in Probation Violation proceedings. This article will be a real-life examination of that process, and how a person can, in fact, stay out of Jail, rather than a confusing discussion filled with useless legal mumbo-jumbo. Let's start by being candid; a Probation Violation is always a bad situation. While there are a million different reasons why a person can have their Probation "violated," these charges tend to fall into one of only a few categories. In other words, a person will most often face a Probation Violation for one (or more) of 5 reasons:

  1. Missing a urine or other chemical test
  2. Testing positive for alcohol and/or drugs
  3. Missing a Probation appointment, or just stop Reporting
  4. Picking up a new case, or
  5. Not completing some condition of Probation, like community service, counseling, or paying all outstanding Fines and Costs.

Frustrated Judge2.2.jpgAnyone who gets "violated" knows, in the pit of their stomach, that the Judge is not likely to be happy with them. After all, "Probation" specifically means "not in Jail." Even if a person is given an initial Jail Sentence, they had to have been Sentenced to less than the maximum possible Jail term in order to have any Probation left to do. Thus, Probation stands in as a substitute for Jail. And when facing a Probation Violation, the first and biggest concern is staying out of Jail.

Everyone has their reasons for "violating" Probation, and we'll get to those shortly. First, however, a person has to understand that from the Judge's point of view, this all boils down to the simple notion that a break was given, and the person apparently didn't live up to their end of the bargain. This is, understandably, frustrating to the Judge.

That said, there are certain Courts, very often in Oakland County, that seem to "load up" on the Conditions of Probation. While no one ever wants to face a Violation charge, some people feel like they knew it was going to happen sooner or later, especially when they walked out of Court wondering if Jail wouldn't have been easier than having to do all the things that they feel were dumped upon them.

By contrast, plenty of other Courts, most often in Macomb County, dispense with imposing a million conditions and classes and community service and testing and Reporting and whatnot, and instead of almost setting a person up for failure, will rather sensibly and simply Order a person to just stay out of trouble, and maybe report once a month, as well.

The reader can no doubt tell which approach I favor...

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September 19, 2011

How to get a Better Sentence in a Michigan Criminal or DUI Case - Part 2

In part 1 of this article, we began examining the role of the PSI in a Criminal case. We learned that the PSI, or Pre-Sentence Investigation, is a comprehensive process that ultimately results in written Sentencing Recommendation being made to the Judge presiding in any given case. We also learned that the PSI Recommendation could be thought of as a "blueprint" for what the Sentence will be, as almost every Judge out there follows that Recommendation to the letter, or extremely close to it.

Here, in part 2, we'll pick up where we left off, beginning with a look at how the Probation Officer interviewing someone is likely to perceive that person. We'll continue by examining why, in a DUI case, for example, how well or poorly a person scores on the legally required alcohol assessment test impacts what happens to them at Sentencing.

Interviewing2.jpgFirst, bear in mind that everyone showing up for a PSI has been convicted of a crime. Technically speaking, Probation only deals with convicted Criminals. This may seem too harsh or strong a label for someone who has, for example, received their first DUI, and it may not sit well with them, but it does not change the reality that no one is required to meet with a Probation Officer for singing too much in the church choir. A person needs to understand how they are perceived by Probation Officer who will be interviewing them, if they want to positively influence that Probation Officer's conclusions about them.

And make no mistake about it, there is a whole psychological profile to Probation Officers. They are an interesting group, and, whatever else, really are the single most important person in a Criminal case, in that they write the Recommendation that will, in almost every case, be followed by the Judge. Knowing how to deal with them, and understanding things from their side of the desk is an important component in producing a better Sentence.

An example of what not to do in a PSI applies to those first-time Offenders, like the 1st Offense DUI person we mentioned above. Most middle-class DUI Offenders have a hard time thinking of themselves as "Criminals." DUI is, after all, more a crime of bad judgment more than anything else. Almost anyone facing a DUI would never think of robbing or harming someone, or stealing anything. So these individuals, who lack any kind of criminal mindset, are typically horrified at the prospect of being considered, much less treated, as a "Criminal."

Continue reading "How to get a Better Sentence in a Michigan Criminal or DUI Case - Part 2" »

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September 16, 2011

How to get a Better Sentence in a Michigan Criminal or DUI Case - Part 1

When a person is facing a Criminal charge, they usually have lots of questions. First amongst them, however, is some version of "what's going to happen to me?" In this article we'll take a step back, and instead of trying to answer the question "what's going to happen," we'll examine why whatever does happen, in fact happens. In other words, we'll try to find out why a particular Sentence is handed down in a Criminal case.

Having been a Criminal Lawyer for over 20 years, I certainly have learned a lot. And while I hated to be on the receiving end of these comparisons 15 or so years ago, the reality is that I know a lot more now than I did then. I have learned things that go way beyond knowledge of the Law itself. Often, what is most important in predicting the outcome of any specific case has more to do with where the case is pending, or the identity of the Judge to whom it has been assigned, rather than the rule of Law itself.

Spotlight copy.jpgThis is why, when we speak of Doctors and Lawyers and other professionals who have around 20 years experience, we say they're "hitting their stride." This is also why you'll never see a rich and famous person being represented by a newbie Lawyer. Think of any celebrity Criminal case; the Lawyer who stands in front of the microphones is always a seasoned veteran.

Yet for all that, I began to figure out certain truths about why cases turned out the way they did pretty early on in my career. Here's where anyone who has ever had a prior Criminal case will instinctively understand what I'm about to say, while everyone else will simply have to believe the logic of it:

What happens, meaning the Sentence that a person receives, in any case, is always either identical to, or nearly identical to the Sentencing recommendation sent to the Judge by the Court's Probation Department.

This bears some explanation.

In all Felony cases, and in many Misdemeanor cases (such as DUI), the Law requires that, prior to a person being Sentenced by the Judge, they go to the Court's Probation Department for an evaluation and interview, called a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI), and that the Probation Department, as a result of that process, generate a written Report and Sentencing Recommendation to be used by the Judge in Sentencing the person.

Continue reading "How to get a Better Sentence in a Michigan Criminal or DUI Case - Part 1" »

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April 15, 2011

DUI in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties - How Things Have Changed

As a DUI Lawyer who has been in practice for over 20 years, I have seen the landscape of the whole Drinking and Driving field change considerably over that time period. Within the body of articles in the Drunk Driving section of this Blog, I have covered many aspects of DUI cases, from the Traffic Stop, to the Field Sobriety Tests, to the actual Breath Test, right up and through how a DUI case is handled in Court, including the Alcohol Assessment Test, how and why that is so important, the steps in the DUI process, through what actually happens to the Driver in Court.

This article will not be as informational as are most of my others. Instead, my aim here is to look at how the DUI world has changed in the last 2 decades. I don't do this because I'm getting long in the tooth, or anything like that. Recently, a number of my DUI Clients have come to me with a prior DUI conviction or two from many years past, and can hardly believe what I'm telling them about how these cases are handled today.

The Past1.jpgTo start with an example, I remember well when many Judges, in Sentencing someone for a DUI, would Order, as a condition of Probation, that the person simply NOT drink and drive. Today, there isn't a single Judge who does not, as a matter of course, Order a person to not drink at all during the term of Probation. In the overwhelming majority of cases, including most 1st Offenses and all 2nd and 3rd Offenses, this is backed up by an order for breath and/or urine testing. Sometimes this testing is done at random, other times it is carried out more regularly.

A number of years ago (okay, at this point I'll admit I've been doing this so long that I don't remember exactly when) a few Courts would order someone with a DUI to complete an "Impact Panel," often called a "Victim's Impact Panel." Now, every single Court, without exception, includes this as part of the punishment for a DUI. If the Pope got a DUI, the Judge might kiss his ring, but he or she would next order His Holiness to complete an Impact Panel.

Similarly, there has been an explosion of "Classes." With names Like Alcohol Highway Safety Class, to Alcohol Awareness Class, to what's called the ARM (which stands for Accepting Responsibility is Mandatory) Class, there seems to be no end to the kinds of Alcohol Education Classes a DUI Driver faces.

Today, just paying Fines and Costs is a relatively rare exception. 15 or 20 years ago, it was far more common.

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May 28, 2010

The Best Legal Strategy in a Michigan Criminal Case

This article is in response to a number of inquiries I have received asking me to outline what I would do for someone in their particular Criminal case. It's a fair question. If you're about to drop $1000, $2000, or $4000 in Legal Fees on a Lawyer, it's probably a good idea to know what they expect to give you for your money, beyond a polite "thank you."

Unfortunately, the answer to that question, in any particular case, is not so clear cut. Some might find a Lawyer's reluctance to answer such a question with specific information to be a reluctance to "give away the store." In some cases, that may be true. After all, that no one wakes up every day for a week with a stiff knee, then starts calling Doctors and asking them exactly what they'd do to make it better and expects to get a detailed answer. Any Doctor who would take such a call, however, would likely have the same answer any competent Lawyer would have in responding to a question about a person's Legal situation: It depends.

There are really 4 significant parts to any Criminal case, at least once the case is active:

1. The person's story. Their version of what happened, and why, and what they think the Police saw, or learned.

2. The Police story. Their version of what happened, what they were told, and what they learned. This is often well summarized in the Police Report.

3. The Prosecutor's position. While this is largely based on the Police position, different Prosecutors have different personalities, and which one handles any particular case can have a profound effect on how it is resolved.

4. The Court in which the case is being heard. Beyond the fact that the different Counties have different approaches to cases, Judges, like Prosecutors, have different dispositions. Some Judges are especially tough on this or that type of offense, while other Judges might be more lenient toward the same offense, but tougher on another.

Thus, when a person calls and tells me their story, I have precisely ΒΌ of the information I need to get a clear picture. Going back to the Doctor analogy, after hearing the Patient's complaints, the Doctor probably has figured out that whatever the problem, and ultimate solution may be, it most likely involves the knee. Great. But he or she will want x-rays, blood work, maybe an MRI and an exam, as well, before forming a plan.

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April 2, 2010

Finding the Best Lawyer for a Probation Violation in Macomb, Oakland or Wayne County, Michigan

In previous Blog articles, I have written about various aspects of Probation Violations. In some Courts, these are termed "VOP," meaning Violation of Probation. Other Courts schedule them as "Show Cause" Hearings. Whatever the name, the purpose of the Hearing is the same: A reckoning for either doing something prohibited under the Probation Order, or for NOT doing something that was ordered. This article will examine how I do Probation Violations, why I think I'm so good at them, and how much I charge.

In almost every one of my other Blog articles I have steered away from sounding like a salesman, opting instead to describe the various legal processes, and how they work, at least locally. This article will be a departure from that. I write this in response to a number of calls and e-mails inquiring about retaining my services in Probation Violation cases.

Suit2.jpgI have been asked any number of times if I have ever handled a case like this, or that, or have been in front of some Judge or other. Likewise, I have often been asked what kind of strategy I would employ in handling someone's case. I want to answer all these questions in one fell swoop.

I have observed that Probation Violation Hearings are typically less "legalistic" than other kinds of Criminal Proceedings, because the only issue before the Judge in a Violation Proceeding is to determine, by what's called a "Preponderance of the Evidence" (in other words, that there is more proof that Probation was violated than there's proof it was not; think 50.01% -vs- 49.99%) whether the person either did something that was prohibited by the Order of Probation, or failed to do something that was required by it. Thus, many of the Rules of Evidence, which govern criminal Trials, don't apply, and all that "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" stuff goes out the window. Being a "legal encyclopedia" does not mean even the most knowledgeable Lawyer can effectively handle a Probation Violation.

When it comes to Probation Violations, you should be looking for a Lawyer who's Professional in appearance, and charismatic in disposition. If you really want to get specific, you should be looking for someone whose personality seems magnetic. Forget anyone who comes off as arrogant. Same with Rude. Ditto for cold. And, above all, you should look for someone who's "local."

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February 17, 2010

Michigan Drunk Driving - What Happens in a DUI Case

Most Lawyers who write anything at all about DUI cases tend to focus on the Evidence and ways to beat the case. However optimistic those sales pitches may be, the plain truth is that the overwhelming majority of DUI charges result in some kind of conviction. In most cases, after the Arrest, and after a person has been Arraigned, their Lawyer will work out some kind of "Plea Deal" that either reduces the severity of the offense or results in a Sentencing agreement or bargain.

This article will focus on what I consider to be, by far, the most important (and least talked-about) aspect of a DUI case. If the case is not dismissed on some technicality, or unless a person has gone to Trial and been found "Not Guilty," some kind of Plea deal will have been worked out by the Lawyer. By law, after a Plea (or conviction, if a person has gone to Trial and lost), but before the Sentencing can be imposed by the Judge, a person must undergo a mandatory alcohol evaluation.

Judge_C_bench.jpgThis consists of a written alcohol-use questionnaire, along with an interview by a Probation Officer. This whole process is called the PSI, or Pre-Sentence Investigation. The end product of this process is a PSI Report, or Sentencing Recommendation. Michigan law requires that this Report be provided to the Judge at or before the time of Sentencing to help him or her decide what to do. On the date of Sentencing, both the person being sentenced and their Lawyer are required to read this Report before going in front of the Judge.

It is accurate to say that, almost without exception, whatever is recommended by that Report is exactly what the Judge is going to order. In other words, it is less accurate to call that Report a Recommendation than it is to call it a "blueprint" for what's going to happen.

I know that anyone reading this who has ever been through the DUI process before, (whether for themselves of with someone else) knows this to be true. In fact, I can safely say to anyone who has been through the DUI process before that whatever was recommended in that Report was, likewise, ordered by the Judge.

This means that unless a person is charged with a DUI where the Evidence is weak enough to be dismissed by the Judge, or otherwise has a Defense to the charge strong enough to "beat" it at Trial, they will be undergoing this PSI. And it also means that when the test has been taken and the interview with the Probation Officer completed, the final outcome of their case will have pretty much been determined. The Probation Officer "scores" the person's alcohol test. All of these test are "graded" with a numerical score; generally, the higher a person's score, the more likely they are to have or to develop and alcohol problem. Conversely, the lower a person scores, the less likely it is that they have an alcohol problem, or have the potential to develop one.

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February 12, 2010

Probation Violations in Michigan - I Stopped Reporting

In previous Blog articles, I have discussed various aspects of Probation Violations, from the simple desire to stay out of Jail, or the imposition of too many conditions, to picking up a new charge while on Probation for another, to dropping a dirty urine. Since Probation Violations are a significant part of my Practice (at least my Criminal Practice), I very recently encountered another scenario that comes up quite frequently. This involves someone who simply quit Reporting to Probation, for one reason or another.

Let's define who we're talking about: a person on Probation who fails to report for some time, and is considered an "absconder" (kind of like a runaway). There are many reasons why this can happen. Sometimes, a person just plain misses, and then becomes afraid. Sometimes, a person has had Police contact, and doesn't want to either report it, or lie about it and not report it. Other times, a person may know they're going to test positive for drugs (or alcohol) and rather than face that music, just decides to bail out and deal with it later. The list could go on forever, but the point is that for some reason or reasons, the person has stopped Reporting to Probation. It doesn't take long, of course, for a Warrant to be issued charging the person with a Probation Violation.

Girl Arrested.jpgFor all of the reasons this can happen, and for all of the stories behind those reasons, there are really only 2 ways people resolve this situation:

1. Voluntarily turning yourself in to take care of things, or

2. Getting picked up by the Police on the Warrant.

Most often (but not always) I am called by people in that first group. They know they have some serious unfinished business to take care of, and they want the burden of this outstanding Warrant and all that goes with it to be lifted from their shoulders.

I think it's important to understand something about those people in the second group, who get picked up on the Warrant and brought before the Judge. Having sat in Courtrooms day after day after day for about 20 years, I know how these things work, and I know how Judges view them. And if there ever was a time to use the term "Bulls**t," it probably could never be more accurately applied to anything like it can to the excuses given by those Probation Absconders when the Judge asks them where they've been.

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February 8, 2010

Probation Violations in Michigan - I Missed a Urine Test

In other Blog articles about Probation Violations, I have pointed out that the person facing the Violation faces an uphill fight. By and large, a person gets Violated for doing something they shouldn't have (like pick up a new charge or test positive for drugs), or for NOT doing something they were supposed to (like fail to show up for a urine test, or "drop").

This article will focus specifically on those cases where a person has missed a urine test. If this applies to you, hopefully you're reading this before you ever receive notice from the Probation Department of a Violation or Show Cause (another fancy name for Probation Violation).

chemist1-2.jpgI say that because there are some things to do to minimize the damage caused by a missed "drop." If a person has waited until they hear from the either the Court or the Probation Department, the ability to take protective action diminishes considerably.

To begin with, it really doesn't matter where the urine test was to be provided. Many Probation Departments have a person go take their tests at a "facility" such as JAMS, Drug Testing Services, Inc., or Michigan Court Services, Inc. JAMS is by far the most popular facility in the Tri-County area. Other Probation Departments will administer their own breath or urine tests, and send the urine out to a laboratory for analysis. Some Courts even order people to report to their local Police Department to have a breath test done on a daily basis, but that's not the subject of this article.

Whatever the scheme, a miss is a miss.

In my practice, I hear all kinds of stories about how a person called their Probation Officer to explain why they missed, or called beforehand to tell them they couldn't make it. Sometimes, a person will tell me that they left a message for their Probation Officer explaining the situation, and because the Probation Officer didn't call back, they assumed that everything was okay. Other times, the person tries to contact the facility to "make up" the missed test, only to be told that there's nothing that can be done, and the Probation Officer has been notified of the miss. While many of these stories are true, we come back to the same point made above: a miss is a miss.

And that point really hits home when that miss is the reason for a Probation Violation.

So what should a person do when they miss a test?

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January 25, 2010

How a Michigan Felony Case Works

This article is the companion piece to the last Blog installment about Misdemeanor Cases - From Start to Finish. To begin with, its scope is limited by my experience in the types of Felony cases that I handle (what I call "light-to-medium severity"), as well as the fact that I limit my practice to Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties (with the occasional exception of a trip to Lapeer, Livingston or St. Clair Counties). In other words, this article will describe the typical chain of events in a Metro-Detroit area Felony charge for crimes less severe than murder, armed-robbery, and the like.

Just as with Misdemeanors, most, but certainly not all Felony Cases begin with an Arrest. An example of a Felony that often begins without an arrest is the charge of Embezzlement. Usually, these crimes occur in an employer-employee relationship, or something similar, and the Victim goes to the Police. Often during the investigative phase, the Police will call the person suspected of Embezzling, and want to speak with them. Whatever does or doesn't happen, once the case gets to the point of Charging the Defendant (which means obtaining a Warrant, signed by the Prosecutor), the Police will often again contact the person named in the Warrant and try to make arrangements for them to voluntarily turn themselves in.

gears_Elsie_esq2.jpgWhether by Arrest or voluntary turn-in, the person to be charged is "booked" (mug shots and fingerprints) at the Police Station and then brought before a Judge or Magistrate in the District Court of the Municipality where the Offense is alleged to have occurred, to be Arraigned. The Arraignment is the first step in a case, and serves several purposes. It allows the person being charged to be told exactly what they are being charged with, what the maximum possible penalty is that can be imposed (as well as any mandatory minimum penalty) and to be informed of the Constitutional Rights. In addition, there is the setting of Bond, and the imposition of any Bond Condition (like a GPS tether, or a provision requiring the Defendant to have "no contact" with the alleged Victim).

By Law, within 14 days from the date of Arraignment, the next step, called a Preliminary Examination, must be held. This is unique to Felony Cases; there is no Preliminary Exam in Misdemeanor Cases. The Preliminary exam phase requires that the Prosecutor be able to come forward on that date and present enough evidence to the District Court Judge to prove 2 things:

  1. That there is "Probable Cause" to believe a Crime has been committed, and
  2. That there is "Probable Cause" to believe the Defendant (the person charged) committed it.

In practical terms, the Courts have interpreted this as meaning that the Prosecutor must be able to show the Judge that there is "Probable Cause" to believe a Crime has been committed, and that there is an honest, debatable "question of fact" that the Defendant committed it. This means that unless the Judge is satisfied that the case is so weak that Justice demands it's dismissal, the matter will be "Bound Over," or transferred to the County's Circuit Court.

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January 8, 2010

Probation in Michigan - Everyone Wants Non-Reporting

No one wants to go to Jail. In my Criminal Practice, I try everything possible to make sure my Client doesn't wind up there. In the overwhelming majority of Cases I handle, my Clients avoid any incarceration. In fact, it is, fortunately, a rare occurrence when my Client doesn't walk out of Court with me.

At the beginning of any Criminal Case, the person charged generally has one concern above all others; staying out of Jail. When a Client is told that Jail can be avoided, and they will, instead, likely be placed on Probation, they are usually very pleased. Really, would you doubt me when I say that pretty much everyone charged with a Crime says they'll do anything to stay out of Jail? I'd say the same thing if the situation was reversed.

probation-officers-1-320x240.jpgSomehow, though, as both time and the Case march on, some Clients become secure in the idea that they're not going to Jail, and then their thoughts turn to the details and Conditions of Probation. What will I have to do? Will I have to report? How often? When and where? What if my boss won't let me get that much time off?

To fast-forward a bit, all this thinking usually winds up with the Client asking me if we can get "Non-Reporting Probation." And although the final decision in any case is up to the Judge, there are certain generalizations we can make about whether or not Non-Reporting Probation is likely to be ordered in any particular case.

First, when a person pleads guilty to or is otherwise convicted of a Felony, Non-Reporting Probation is highly unlikely. Even someone with no prior Criminal Record, and who works out some kind of a deal in a non-violent type of case can pretty much bank on getting Reporting Probation. It's kind of like asking "why do we shake hands with our right hands, rather than our left?" And the short answer is "because that's the way it is."

Misdemeanor cases, by contrast, run the gamut of possibilities, from "absolutely not" to "perhaps." Geography plays a role in all this, as well. Because I only handle Criminal Cases in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, my observations are limited accordingly.

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December 21, 2009

On Probation in Michigan - Too Many Conditions to Handle

The issue of Probation Violations has been coming up more frequently in my Practice as a Metro-Detroit Criminal Defense Lawyer. Sometimes the person Violated is unable to attend all the counseling that was ordered as part of the their sentence, or provide all the urine samples required under the terms of the drug testing ordered by the Judge. Often, the person's problem has more to do with not having enough money to keep paying and paying for what seems like endless testing and classes rather than an unwillingness to comply with the Court's Orders.

A test is missed, or a class is skipped, and the person is told that they are being "Violated" and must re-appear before their Judge. Not good news. To make matters worse, the person is in need of a good Lawyer, but if a lack of money is the underlying problem, they realize that calling around to hire a Lawyer without money is like going to the Grocery store, having all your food rung up, and then asking to make payment arrangements. Perhaps reluctantly, some of these people ask for a Court-Appointed Lawyer figuring something is better than nothing. Others will find a way to scratch up enough cash to hire a Lawyer of their own choosing.

angry judge.jpgThen, on the day of the Probation Violation Hearing, the person is finally asked to admit or deny that they missed a test or test, or a class or classes. Usually, they admit the miss or misses, and seek to have their Lawyer convince the Judge to not just lock them up.

That's done, of course, by trying to explain to the Judge that any miss or misses were truly because of a lack of money, or a real threat of losing their job, and not some disregard of the Court's Probation Order. And it's at this point where the person is walking a very fine line between sympathy and impatience, at least from the Court's point of view. Let's face it, times are tough, and a lot more so here, in Michigan, than anywhere else. People are cash-strapped, and there just isn't enough money to go around. Those lucky enough to have a job need and want to keep it.

When someone is standing in front of a Judge to be Sentenced in a Criminal Case, they are pretty much worried about 1 thing; not going to Jail. No matter what else the Judge Orders, most people feel pretty good when they know they can walk out the front door of the Court, rather than being taken away through the back. Whether testing has been ordered once a month, once a week, or even 3 times per week, human nature leads people to believe they'll figure out a way to do whatever the Judge requires, despite perhaps already knowing that money is a problem.

Then, when the person is back home, settled into a routine, and there's just no money to go to testing or classes, they skip. When they feel they'll lose their job if they keep showing up late, or missing days, because they need to test, they skip. We know the rest of the story from there. So, how does the Court see these Violations?

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December 18, 2009

Michigan - Picking up a new Offense While on Probation for another

I doubt anyone I represent in Court has any intention of ever getting arrested again. As a Criminal Defense Lawyer for nearly 20 years, I can honestly say that I've heard the "it won't happed again" story thousands upon thousands of times. At the end of the day, however, a larger-than-you-might-expect number of Cases that I handle involve someone who is on Probation for one Offense getting arrested and charged with a new Offense.

And of course, they're afraid. In some cases, "freaking out" may be a more applicable term. Let's try to ease some of that apprehension by taking a look at what's really going on when this happens.

jail tour 002.jpgFor starters, unless the new Offense involves some kind of Peace March, things are not going to be particularly good with the Judge to whom the person is on Probation. Generally speaking, any new criminal activity triggers a Probation Violation. It is beyond the scope of this article to define what does and doesn't constitute a Violation. On both my web site, and in another Blog article, I discuss Probation Violations in considerable detail. For our purposes, we'll assume the person arrested again is going to have to accept some kind of Plea deal on the new Case, thus guaranteeing a Violation on the old Case.

Okay, so when they call they're nervous. Often, however, I find that a person's concern is misplaced. In other words, while many individuals with whom I speak first express concern over what will happen in the new Case, it falls upon me to explain that the real cause for concern is with the old Case.

The plain fact of the matter is that Judges spend all day dealing with people who have prior Records. They're inclined to give a fresh look to someone who's new to them, unless of course the person has such a long prior Record that it begins to define who they are (think habitual offender...).

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October 19, 2009

Michigan Probation Violations - The Short Version

As part of my Blog-wide effort to publish a "Sort Version" of my various longer articles, this entry will tackle the matter of Probation Violations. In an earlier Blog Post entitled "Probation Violations - Staying out of Jail," we examined, in considerable detail, what happens when someone who is on Probation is charged with a Violation of its terms.

As a Criminal Defense Lawyer, I limit my Practice to Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. Thus, the information related in this Blog comes from my handling cases day-in and day-out in the local, Tri-County Courts.

angry judge.jpgAlmost every Probation Violation comes about because the person on Probation is accused of either not doing something the Judge ordered them to do, or they did something they weren't supposed to, like picking up a new charge or testing positive for drugs.

When the Probation Department "violates" a Probationer, the Court is told what the person either did or did not do which gives rise to the violation. There is an Arraignment, at which the Defendant should plead "Not Guilty," and a Bond is set. The Arraignment is followed by the actual Probation Violation Hearing, which by law must be scheduled within 14 days from the date of the Arraignment.

On the Hearing date, the Defendant and his or her Lawyer appear in Court and go before the Judge. In some Courts, the Defense Lawyer will meet with the Probation Officer before going in the Courtroom, in an attempt to see if some kind of agreement, kind of like a Plea-Bargain, can be worked out. In other Courts, both sides simply stand before the Judge. The Defendant has the right to a full-blown hearing, but the standard rules in Criminal Cases do not apply. Hearsay evidence is allowed. The Probation Department must simply convince the Judge, by what's called a "Preponderance of the Evidence," (simply put, that it's more likely than not, or 50.0001% "Yes" to 49.9999% "No") that the Probationer either did something he or she was not supposed to, or didn't do something they were ordered by the Judge to do.

Most cases don't go this far. Usually, the person being Violated pretty clearly did something they weren't supposed to, or didn't do something they were ordered to do. Thus, most cases are resolved by a Plea of Guilty to the Violation. It's at this point that the Lawyer's ingenuity, persuasiveness and skill come into play.

The Defense Lawyer's job is to convince the Judge to NOT put the client in Jail. This means being able to present viable alternatives (like tether) to simply pounding a non-compliant Defendant with some time in the "Pokey."

The last thing a Judge wants to hear from someone who has already messed up is "I'm sorry" or "It won't happened again." From the Judge's point of view, we've "been there, done that."

Instead, the Judge needs to hear that no matter what did or didn't happen, it was not out of a lack of respect for the Court or a disregard of its orders, but rather because of a regrettable lapse in judgment. A Lawyer handling a Probation Violation better be charismatic, dynamic, know the Court, and be convincing enough to sell air conditioners to Eskimos. To find that Lawyer, a person needs to do some shopping around. Anyone who sounds as subdued as an Undertaker is probably not the person for this kind of job, nor is someone who doesn't know the Judge very well. A Probation Violation Hearing is the last place for a Lawyer to first meet the Judge (who is already impatient with the Defendant) for the first time.

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September 23, 2009

Michigan Arrest Warrants - What is a Bench Warrant?

As a Criminal Defense Lawyer who appears in Detroit and Suburban Courts almost every day of the week, I hear and see Judges issue a "Bench Warrant" often. Most people have a general understanding of what a warrant is, but many are not clear on the meaning of the term "Bench Warrant" and how it relates to Warrants in general.

A Bench Warrant is, as you can imagine, a Warrant that is issued "from the Bench," meaning by the Judge sitting at his or her "desk" in Court. A Bench Warrant can only be issued in certain, limited situations. While a Bench Warrant is a kind of "Arrest Warrant," not all Arrest Warrants are Bench Warrants, in the same way that a baseball is a kind of ball, but not all balls are baseballs. The focus of this article is upon Bench Warrants, when they're issued, for whom, and how they're dealt with.

MI Judge.pngA Bench Warrant is issued when a person who is subject to an order of a particular Court does not comply with it. One of the most common situations in which Bench Warrants are issued is as good a place as any to look for an example.

Assume a person has been arrested for an offense (it can be any offense: Drunk Driving, Possession of Marijuana, Domestic Violence, etc.) and is sent a notice by the Court to appear on a certain day. If that person does not appear on the date required by the notice, when the Judge calls their case and they don't respond, he or she will issue a Bench Warrant. This means that a warrant is put out through the LEIN (Law Enforcement Information Network) and if and when the person comes into contact with a Police Officer, they will be arrested.

Actually, the Bench Warrant itself is an order of Court commanding a Police Officer to arrest someone and bring them before the Court. The Officer cannot ignore an active Warrant. This is one reason why, upon pretty much any contact with the Police, an Officer will want ID from a person so that he or she can run their name and see if they have any outstanding Warrants.

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September 7, 2009

Michigan Criminal Charges - Avoiding a Conviction with HYTA

One of the first questions that I ask any caller, as a Criminal Attorney practicing in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, is "how old are you?" I ask this because there is a provision of Michigan Law, Called the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, or HYTA, which allows a person who commits a crime after their 17th, but before their 21st birthday, to keep the whole thing off their record.

confidential1.gifIn an earlier Blog post, we examined how Drug Possession charges can be kept off anyone's record, regardless of age, if they have no prior Drug Record, under something known as a "7411." The HYTA law can produce the same result, but two features make it very different from 7411:

1. HYTA only applies to people charged with a crime which occurred after their 17th birthday, but before their 21st birthday. That age range is inflexible; if someone is charged with a crime that occurred one day before their 17th birthday, or on the very day of their 21st birthday, they are ineligible. Section 7411 does not have any age limitations.

2. HYTA applies to all kinds of Crimes, not just Drug Possession charges, like section 7411. There are certain exceptions: Crimes punishable by imprisonment for life (Capitol Offenses), Major Drug Crimes and all Traffic Offenses.

The reasoning behind this law is the recognition that young people, on occasion, do dumb things. An instance of bad judgment before one has the chance to mature and think like an adult should not necessarily handicap that person for life with a Criminal Record, which can have all kinds of negative consequences for future advancement. HYTA is equally applicable to Felonies and Misdemeanors, with the exceptions mentioned above. HYTA status allows a person to prove to the Court that they can stay out of trouble long enough to warrant dismissing the whole case without ever placing it upon their Public Record.

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July 27, 2009

Probation Violations - Staying out of Jail

As a Criminal Defense Attorney in the Metro-Detroit area, I handle a pretty large number of Probation Violations. With jails overcrowded, Courts in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties are more likely than ever to give someone a chance to avoid taking up a jail bed by serving a term of Probation, instead.

I'd venture to say that pretty much everyone who is put on Probation plans on completing their term without any problems along the way. That is to say, I doubt anyone plans to deliberately screw it up.

Prisoner in Cuffs.jpgEven the best plans don't always work out as well as originally thought. Unfortunately, a pretty fair number of people who had been placed on Probation receive notice of a Violation and have to go back to Court and face the Judge who originally gave them this break, and answer for either doing something wrong, or not doing something they were supposed to do.

I'd likewise venture to say that anyone who has to face a Probation Violation Hearing knows "that sinking feeling" in the pit of their stomach when they think about facing that Judge again.

Now I wish I could say that there is some "magic" solution which will make the whole thing all better, but the truth is, there is not. That said, it does not mean things are hopeless, or even bleak. Lots can be done to avoid jail. As we'll see, it's all about "alternatives."

Imagine for a moment that you were the Judge who sentenced you. Whatever else you did or said, there was an understanding between you, the Judge, sitting on the bench and the person standing before you (the Defendant). Whether spoken or not, it comes down to something like this: "Stay out of trouble, and do these things that have been ordered, and I won't put you in jail. If you get in trouble while on Probation to me, or don't do any of the things I've ordered, you'll be back in front of me to be punished further, and that means I might well lock you up."

Continue reading "Probation Violations - Staying out of Jail" »

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