If you are facing a Michigan DUI charge, the list of things that can happen to you certainly seems long and scary.  In my role as a local, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County DUI lawyer, I have written extensively (this is my 300th DUI article) about how very few of them will ever happen.  In a 1st offense drunk driving case, for example, and with only 1 possible exception out of the 115 district court Judges in the Metro-Detroit, Tri-County area, jail is simply NOT on the menu, meaning it’s just not going to happen.  In this short article, I want to shift the focus away from fear-based marketing and scare tactics found in so many other places, and look, instead, at the 3 things that WILL happen in every drinking and driving case that goes through the court system.

3-300x262First, there will be at least some restriction to your driver’s license.  Even so, let’s start with the good news: if this is a 1st offense charge (that includes an OWI with BAC .17 or more, also known as “High BAC”), you will NOT lose the ability to drive.  If, however, you are convicted a 2nd DUI charge within 7 years, or a 3rd within 10 years, your license will be revoked (meaning taken away for good, and not simply suspended for a time), unless you enter into a sobriety court program.  The majority of DUI cases in the court system are 1st offenses, so if yours is one of them, this means that instead of worrying about losing your license, you should be looking at the restrictions likely to be placed upon it.

In a 1st offense case, what ultimately happens to your license depends on what your lawyer negotiates as part of a plea bargain, NOT on your initial charge.  Thus, someone charged with OWI or High BAC should not worry about the license penalties that go along with the offense listed on their ticket or court notice, but instead on what sanctions follow the final deal ultimately worked out by their lawyer.  Consider this: In a High BAC case, a person will be required to drive using an ignition interlock, and on a restricted license for 10 and 1/2 months after serving a 45-day “hard” suspension where he or she cannot drive at all.  However, I am able to negotiate most of my client’s High BAC charges down to Impaired Driving (OWVI), and the license sanction for that is merely 90 days of a restricted license, allowing the person to drive to, from and during the course of work, for school, medical treatment and such.  The real upshot of the 90-day restriction is that a person just cannot do any pleasure driving for 3 months.  This is much better than the penalties he or she feared when originally charged with High BAC.

As a Michigan, Tri-County (Wayne, Oakland and Macomb) area DUI Lawyer, I speak with all kinds of people about drunk driving cases.  In this piece, I want to talk about some of the regrets I hear from people who hired the wrong DUI lawyer and payed a lot of money only to say they were “taken.”  I want to keep this article short, so in it, I will exchange some of my usual diplomacy for directness and candor.  To begin, you must understand that merely paying a lot of money doesn’t necessarily get you the best, nor even a good lawyer.  It just means you’re out a chunk of cash.  In addition, one of the biggest sucker jobs going gets people to line up and fork over wads of money in the mistaken belief that paying top dollar will somehow make your whole DUI case go away.  Here’s a simple, ironclad fact that no lawyer can dispute, no matter how rosy a picture he or she paints otherwise: any chance to get your case “knocked out” of court is due entirely to the facts exist within it.  No one you hire can change those facts, and by the time you ever even think of calling a lawyer, they have, for the most part, already been cast in stone.  What you need, instead of fear-based or feel-good marketing slogans, is a competent, honest and thorough examination of the facts by an experienced lawyer who can make the very best of them.

Hear-300x270There is a whole industry of lawyers who make a lot of money by peddling the idea that if you just hire them, everything can be made to disappear because they have some kind of secret, or special magnifying glass that will find the things wrong with your case that no one else can.  The truth, however, is that the actual numbers don’t back that up at all.  In a certain way, many DUI lawyers market themselves in the same way as dietary supplements.  There is one radio ad, in particular, that I think is genius marketing, if not total BS.  It’s for some magic weight loss pill, and at one point, it’s advised that if you’re losing too much weight, you should simply cut your dose in half.  Now, if this stuff worked even 2% as good as that all sounded, I’d certainly remember the name, and you’d know it, too.  As cheesy a marketing strategy as that sounds to my ears, though, plenty enough people are paying out lots of money for it, because this ad has been running for quite some time.  The reason is simple; people buy into what they want to hear, and in the world of DUI cases, nothing sounds better than making it all go away.

Except it doesn’t work like that.  Can you guess what the overall success rate is for beating a Michigan DUI at trial?  It was .15% in 2015, down from .21% in 2104.  You read that right: point-one-five percent and point-two-one percent, respectively.  That means less than one-quarter of one percent of all people arrested for an alcohol-related traffic offense were acquitted if they fought the case at trial.  These are the verified, official numbers required by law to be gathered by the Michigan State Police as part of its Annual Drunk Driving Audit that tracks every alcohol-related traffic arrest in the state.  These dim figures go way beyond some kind of “results not typical” disclaimer you see in the fine print of get rich quick ads, but even more worrying, I have never seen this information talked about on any other lawyer’s website.  No one really wants to get into this because it’s not good for business, particularly if that business relies on emotional, rather than well-informed, decisions.  In the real world, those decisions become the the biggest source of regret for the trusting DUI client too focused on buying his or her way into what they want to hear and not enough on the realities of all this.

I was recently asked how many Michigan driver’s license restoration cases I handle every year, because the person making the inquiry was being a smart consumer and doing some “comparison shopping.”  Off the top of my head, I indicated that I wasn’t exactly sure, so I took out my date book at looked back over the preceding 2 months.  As it turns out, in March of this year (2017), I handled 25 driver’s license restoration and clearance cases, and in April, I handled 22 license appeal cases; that’s about average for me.  While that much experience is certainly a lot, and should give any potential client a sense of comfort about hiring me, I think it’s even more important, however, that I provide a first-time win guarantee in every license appeal case I take.  Seriously, if all that experience is worth anything, then I should have no reservations about putting my money where my mouth is, and I don’t.  For all the talking that could be done, the importance of my guarantee says far more than anything else ever could.  In this article, I want to take a candid look at what that experience really means, and why, more than anything else, getting good at license appeals means learning from one’s mistakes.

experience-276x300Let’s start with this blog.  Over the years, it has really grown, and this will be the 377th driver’s license restoration article I’ve published, bringing the total number of articles I’ve put up so far to almost 800.  Writing these articles has made me a much better lawyer, because I’ve not only had to research all kinds of things, including the most minute details of more legal issues than you could imagine, but also because I’ve also had to take the time to make sense of it all.  You can’t explain something very well unless you understand it first.  Heck, even if I wasn’t a lawyer, I’d be something of an expert at license restorations just through the effort of writing nearly 400 articles on the subject.  And in the spirit of candor, it hasn’t been lost on me that, since this blog began, a whole crop of new lawyers has swarmed in to claim some piece of the license restoration pie.  Now, I see website names with some variation of “license restoration” all over the place.  I’ve also seen some of my blog subjects “borrowed” on various websites (it’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery), and I am well aware that plenty of lawyers read and use my articles to learn various aspects of the license appeal process.  I’ve had numerous calls and emails from lawyers with all kinds questions, and honestly, I’m glad to help.  Yet for as much as I know, the cold, hard truth is that I learned much of it the hard way, by having gotten it wrong at some point before.

I would, of course, caution anyone, but especially any lawyer, that although I have certainly put out more relevant information about license appeals than you can find any and everywhere else combined, my primary purpose it to educate and enlighten people about the license restoration process, not train anyone how to do it.  You can’t learn to ride a bike or perform surgery by reading; these are things you have to actually go out and do, and no matter how smart you may be, you learn the most from the things you get wrong.  The light bulb wasn’t invented on the first try.  Instead, it came about after countless failed attempts.  It was gotten right because it was gotten wrong so many times first.  Ditto for the airplane.  Perhaps what I bring to the table more than anyone else is that in my career, I’ve learned all the things NOT to do in, or not to leave out of, a license appeal case.  The sheer number of cases I’ve handled means that some lawyer knocking out 50 license cases a year is going to need 26 years to encounter all the situations I have in just the last 5.  In other words, I’ll see and handle more cases in less than a decade than he or she would in more than half a century, and I’ve been at it for over 26 years already…

In part 1 of this article, we began examining an appeal for a “full” Michigan license, and how a person gets off the interlock after having initially won his or her driver’s license restoration case.  We noted that simply not losing your restricted license in the intervening year(s) isn’t anywhere near good enough to win back your full license, and that there’s a lot more to this than just coming  back and asking for it.  Most people (I estimated more than 80%) will experience a “glitch” or two on the interlock device while using it, and those issues will have to be addressed at the hearing for a full license, even if none of them results in a formal ignition interlock violation.  We noted that, just as in a first-time license appeal, every hearing officer is different, and that some have more patience than others, the flip side being that some are more prone to “violation fatigue” and begin to shut down when a person shows up with an final ignition interlock report that has too many “glitches” for his or her liking.  We’ll pick up in this second part right there, at the point where a person shows up at his or her full hearing with an final report that has more “violations” than the assigned hearing officer is willing to excuse.

maxresdefault-300x211This is somewhat unfortunate, because some people are just plain luckier than others.  I’ve seen cases where people have had a real tough time with the interlock unit, but were also firmly committed to their sobriety.  Some people wind up getting a faulty unit and have nothing but trouble, while others never have any kind of difficulty with the machine.  There is, no matter what else, an element of luck to all of this.  In fact, it is rare for a person to make it a whole year without at least a glitch or two along the way.  One of the big problems is that not every glitch results in a formal violation, so when an incident occurs, and as long as the car starts again, or something like that, a person may have figured everything is fine – until they get to their full license hearing.

Let’s look at a common, real world example of this:  Lots of people will have a positive breath test result at some point, either at start-up or while driving (rolling retest).  The notice of interlock use in the back of a winning order and interlock companies’ instructions advise that, when this happens, a person rinse out his or her mouth and promptly try again.  When someone who is and has been stone-cold sober for a number of years blows into the machine and sees a positive result, what crosses his or her mind is usually something like, “WTF?”  The person knows he or she hasn’t been drinking, so when they rinse and/or try again a few minutes later and the test comes back negative, they figure all is well, and their innocence has been proven.  They forget the instruction in the notice of ignition interlock use to get a PBT or EtG test, and, because they were able to provide a clean sample, assume all is well.

In this 2-part article, I want to examine removing the ignition interlock unit and getting a full license after a successful driver’s license reinstatement appeal.  If you’re a Michigan resident whose license has been revoked for multiple DUI’s and you win your license back, you must start off with a restricted license and drive with an ignition interlock for at least 1 year.  You can drive forever on that restricted license with the interlock unit if you want, but you can’t seek a full, unrestricted license without an interlock until you’ve used it for at least the first year.  The process for moving from a restricted to a full license (the Michigan Secretary of State’s technical term for this is “change or removal of restriction”) is exactly the same as it is for an initial license restoration appeal, and requires a new substance use evaluation (everybody calls it a substance “abuse” evaluation, so we’ll just go with that), new letters of support, and, additionally, a final ignition interlock report from the interlock company for the past year. For my part, I charge my returning clients 2/3 of the initial fee in these cases, primarily because I already know the client, his or her history, and everything else relevant to the case.

fe4cd6a8f7d07156017b970b0e163329-300x291Perhaps the biggest misconception about going from a restricted to a full license is that all you have to do is NOT lose your license in the meantime and it’s practically a done deal.  It is certainly easy, but also wrong, to think of the restricted period with the interlock as a kind of “probation” wherein if you don’t get in trouble, then all conditions just go away.  Of course, if you violate your restricted license (ignition interlock violations are a whole world unto themselves) and get it taken away, then it’s game over.  Anyone who loses his or her restricted license has to start all over again from square one, and must complete a successful year on the interlock  device and with the applicable restrictions before he or she can even think about appealing for a full license.  But even someone who sails through the first year on the interlock and the restricted license without a hitch will still have to come back and prove the relevant legal issues all over again on top of demonstrating their compliance with the interlock requirement.  This may seem a bit confusing, and may not make a lot of sense at first, but it is what it is, so if you want to eventually drive without the interlock and without restriction, you’re going to have to follow the state’s rules.

When someone comes back to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) to have his or her restricted license made “full,” the hearing officer is going to look and see whether it was proper to grant that license in the first place.  In other words, and this is one of the main points of this article, it is not automatic that if you won the first time, you’ll win again.  For example, assume Dan the Driver has appealed for a full license, and hearing officer # 2 is deciding his new case.  In reviewing the documents, hearing officer # 2 concludes that he or she wouldn’t have even given Dan a restricted license in the first place, or would have imposed some condition(s) on Dan not imposed by hearing officer #1.  Does this mean that Dan will lose his license altogether?  Probably not, but it does mean – and this does happen in the real world – that Dan may not win his full license this time around, and instead be continued on a restricted with the interlock for another year, and may even some additional conditions imposed on his restricted license.  The goal, of course, is to avoid all of this…

In part 1 of this article, we began looking at the benefits and growth of DUI sobriety courts in Michigan.  We examined how these programs can help someone facing a 2nd offense DUI, and even a 3rd offense DUI, not only to get sober, but also to NOT lose their driver’s license.  I pointed out that in my practice as a DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyer, I deal with alcohol problems on both sides of the equation; from those facing a drunk driving charge and struggling with their drinking, to those who have gotten sober and are ready to win back their driver’s license.  In addition, I bring a clinical background and education to my practice, which initially made me a bit skeptical of sobriety courts.  However, because of the many success stories I have seen, I have been won over and think everyone facing a 2nd or 3rd DUI should at least consider sobriety court, if it’s an option.  We ended the first installment with 1 of 3 real-life examples of sobriety court success from my own case files.  Let’s move on now to the others, and then look closer at the what sobriety court really is all about.

Happy-Joyous-Free-214x300My second example is a situation I have dealt with many times since, but this driver’s license restoration case, from a few years ago, connected me to one of my first sobriety court graduate clients.  In these cases, I am hired to get the person’s restricted sobriety court license changed to a “full” license.  Normally, exploring a person’s recovery and the depth of his or her commitment to sobriety is the “meat and potatoes” of a driver’s license restoration appeal.  When I walked into the room to meet this fellow (he had not been my DUI client, so he was a new to me), I was a bit skeptical of his sobriety credentials, considering that they were exclusively from his participation in the sobriety court program and that they were only a few years old, at that.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.  This guy told a story about having been dragged kicking and screaming into sobriety court, figuring he could live for a year or a year and a half without a drink and somehow get through it.  Cloaked in denial and filled with resistance, the light switch flipped for him early on in the program and he just had an epiphany that he could and would never drink again.  He said that there were 2 sayings from the AA program that hit home with him: “I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but every time I got in trouble, I was drinking,” and “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  Counseling helped him get honest with himself, and when he could no longer believe his own lies, he just knew that he had to put the plug in the jug and quit drinking for good.  But for him, like my other client, it was a lot more than just not drinking that changed his life; he got sober.  His whole life changed, and he was happy and upbeat and making money because he became a much better version of himself.  He ditched his anger and resentments and if you met him, you’d have seen and felt just how magnetic a person he was (and still is).  He too, credited sobriety court for helping him break through his denial and achieve real sobriety.  The most obvious thing about the guy was that he was a happy, positive and radiant person.

The third example comes from another DUI client of mine who I got into a sobriety court.  In this case, the court where his 2nd DUI was pending had (and still has)  a sobriety court program.  This client is amongst the very nicest of people you could ever meet, with a flair for the artistic and dramatic that makes him fun to just be around.  Although he acknowledged early on that drinking had become a problem for him, and he wanted the help from sobriety court, he wasn’t quite ready, early on, to quit drinking for good.  In other words, he struggled a bit.  It happens.  This is what people mean when they say that relapse is part of recovery.  Fortunately, my client just happened to wind up in an awesome sobriety court program, and the Judge didn’t give up on him.  Just like everybody else, the decision to finally stop drinking for good – the one that “stuck” and really marked the start of his sobriety – came as the all-too-cliched, but also very real “light bulb” moment.  Part of his sobriety court program was to see a therapist, and at first, he didn’t much like the guy because the therapist wasn’t buying any of my client’s BS and excuses for drinking.  As my client explained it, the therapist challenged him in a way that had him thinking even after the sessions ended, and it was that “food for thought” that eventually tipped the scales in his mind in favor of NOT drinking anymore.  Although the decision to quit drinking was ultimately my client’s, he credited the dialogue with his therapist for helping him get to that point.  On a side note, this client did not fit in well with the AA program, and to his Judge’s credit, he was allowed to use alternative community supports instead.  At any rate, this dynamic fellow really came into his own and blossomed in his sobriety.  More important than the external changes, however, was the fact that, internally, he was happy.  He found the joy in life again, and it all came about because of his participation in the sobriety court program.

The landscape of 2nd offense DUI cases is changing rapidly in Michigan due to the growth of sobriety courts.  The sobriety court law was enacted several years ago as a test, or pilot project, but it really took off, and now, more and more courts are getting in on the act.  At first, I was a bit cautious toward the whole idea, in part because of my clinical training in addiction studies.  In addition, some of that reticence was due to the fact that my practice is kind of split between handling DUI cases and driver’s license restoration appeals for people whose licenses have been revoked for multiple DUI convictions (in that sense, you can think of my practice like a “Q-tip,” with my role as a DUI lawyer on the one end,  a license restoration lawyer on the other, and alcohol as the stick that holds them both), so I deal with real sobriety even single day.  Early on, the most noticeable impact of sobriety courts was a large spike in ignition interlock violation cases before the Michigan Secretary of State.  And if you looked at just that data alone, you’d have gotten a limited, mostly negative, and completely inaccurate view of sobriety courts.  As it turns out, the sobriety court program has done a lot of good, and we are really only at the starting gate with respect to its larger potential.  In this 2-part article, I want to outline some reasons why anyone facing a 2nd, or even 3rd offense DUI should consider the sobriety court option, and look at bit at what’s involved.

meeskonnakoolitus-enesemotiveerimise-kunstSobriety court is a functional example of the “carrot and the stick” approach because the programs provide a huge incentive to the participant by way of overriding the automatic revocation of his or her driver’s license (meaning a person can get a restricted license where it would otherwise be impossible), while balancing that with zero tolerance for any further drinking, backed up by all kinds of testing to insure compliance.  The court system, for its part, automatically (and by operation of law) concludes that any person with a  2nd (or 3rd) offense DUI has a drinking problem.  For all the arguments to the contrary the reader may have, it is a given within the court system that if you’ve picked up a 2nd or subsequent offense, your drinking is a problem.  Period.  We have to begin from there.  The goal of sobriety court is to provide intensive rehabilitative services and help a person overcome that problem.  Obviously, this won’t work at all for someone who feels that his or her drinking is not troublesome.  Anyone convicted of a 2nd DUI offense within 7 years will automatically have his or her driver’s license revoked and, realistically speaking, won’t be able to legally drive again for at least the better part of 3 years.  It’s worse for someone convicted of a 3rd DUI within 10 years, because the mandatory revocation there is at least 5 years, and this applies no matter what the final conviction offense (like even if a person gets a great lawyer for a 3rd offense felony DUI charge and has it negotiated down to a 2nd offense misdemeanor, something I do all the time).  In a stunning exception to these set-in-stone license sanctions, a sobriety court Judge has the power to override a revocation after a 45 day suspension and grant a restricted license to anyone in the program.

This is huge, and coming from me, that means a lot.  Since about 1/2 of my practice is driver’s license restoration cases, having any 2nd or 3rd offender get a sobriety court license means one less potential license appeal for me.  If I was entirely self-interested, my analysis would end there.  But the reality is that if you can save your license and avoid having to hire me (or someone like me) just to win a restricted license years down the road, you’d have to be crazy to at least not think about it.  From my point of view, this is a no-brainer.  The problem, however, and where I still pause, is that I am not in favor of looking at sobriety court ONLY as a means to keep your driver’s license.  Part of my DNA as a lawyer and a person is the strong clinical focus that I bring to my cases.  Beyond my post-graduate matriculation in addiction studies, the entire focus of driver’s license restoration cases is on sobriety and recovery, topics that have been central to everything I do for more than 25 years.  Nor is this just some academic or professional interest, either, as I have had close and direct personal interaction with addiction issues and those struggling with them.  As a result, I want my clients to get help, and I want to assist as much as I can in that, but I have a strong aversion to just “gaming” the system and wasting sobriety court resources on someone whose only interest is in his or her driver’s license.

In my role as a Michigan DUI lawyer, examining the evidence is a critical step in every drunk driving (OWI) case I handle.  Can you imagine a doctor or dentist treating a patient without first conducting a thorough examination?  It’s essentially the same thing for a lawyer to properly (emphasis on proper) represent someone facing a DUI charge.  As much as any doctor, dentist or lawyer will want to know what the problem is, he or she will also want to know what it is not.  In the context of a DUI arrest, a driver’s contact with the police and what follows, including the stop (was the car, in fact, swerving?  Did it cross the yellow line?  Did the driver commit some other traffic infraction?), the field sobriety tests, and the arrest itself aren’t just important to the case, they essentially make up the case.  As a result, it is standard practice in my office to obtain and review the video evidence in almost every drinking and driving case that crosses my desk.  In this short article, I want to make clear why it’s always prudent to obtain and review the police car dash-cam video.

Copper-2As a general rule, there is never a good reason to NOT get a copy of the in-car police video.  Many “cut rate” legal operations and court appointed lawyers skip this step, principally because they don’t have enough time to do it, especially for what they’re (often not) paid.  Bargain, flat-fee law offices make their money on the quick turnover of cases, and court appointed lawyers are expected to wrap up a case in just a few minutes after meeting their assigned client in court.  When you hire a good lawyer, however, you should be paying for him or her to do everything necessary to insure the best outcome in your case without wasting time or money on things that won’t.  Reviewing the dash cam video is always the smart thing to do.  Moreover, even in those cases (the majority of them, really) where the dash-cam video does not reveal some catastrophic police mistake that will get the case tossed out of court, or otherwise demonstrate the the driver was not over the legal limit, just knowing that to be the case provides clarity and removes any doubt as to the best way to proceed.

Sometimes the dash-cam video can lay a golden egg, and be used as the basis to challenge the evidence.  Whatever else, DUI cases don’t dismiss themselves, and one thing is for sure: you will never find a reason for a case to be “knocked out” without looking for it, first.  The mindset with which the evidence is approached has a lot to do with this.  If you watched almost any DUI dash-cam video with the instruction to find confirmation or evidence that the subject was driving drunk, you’d probably find some.  Because you were focused on confirming something, you would almost automatically overlook anything that indicated the contrary.  This is known as “conformation bias.”  As a DUI lawyer, I have to assume a contrary conformation bias perspective, namely, that my client did NOT do anything wrong, or anything too wrong, and that if his or her performance on any of the field sobriety tests was something less than optimal, there is a good and rational explanation for it.  Even approaching these videos with an “open mind” isn’t good enough; they have to be watched with an eye to finding those things that help the client.

A substantial portion of my driver’s license restoration practice involved obtaining the clearance of a Michigan hold on someone’s driving record that prevents him or her from getting a license in another state.  The very same evidence is submitted to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) for both a clearance and a driver’s license restoration appeal.  Although just about everyone (understandably) wonders about doing an administrative review, often called an “appeal by mail,” most learn that 3 out of every 4 such cases lose, and that a person will have to wait a whole year before he or she can file again.  Those with better luck read and understand this before they try, while the less fortunate have to find out the hard way.  The simple truth is that the best and surest way to win a clearance of the Michigan hold on your driving record is to do a full appeal and come back for a hearing.  For my part, I put my money where my mouth is, because when I take a license clearance and restoration appeal case, I guarantee to win it.

Mitt-276x300There are several reasons why I will only handle these cases for clients who come back to Michigan, despite endless offers to hire me for help with these ill-fated and ever-doomed administrative reviews.  The first is control.  When a client hires me, I control every part of the case, from the preparation to the evidence to the hearing itself.   My clients will go my evaluator to have his or her substance abuse evaluation (technically, it’s called a “substance use evaluation,” but everyone alive calls it a “substance abuse evaluation,” so we’ll just go along with that) completed.  The first meeting with a new client takes about 3 hours in my office, and takes place prior to the evaluation.  In fact, the main point of that meeting is to prepare the client for the evaluation.  If someone wants to have an evaluation completed by some unknown person in another state, I have absolutely no control over any part of that process.  Beyond my input, it takes a LOT of time and effort for a substance abuse counselor to learn to complete the evaluation in the way the hearing officers of the Michigan Secretary of State’s administrative hearing section expect.  Although just about any clinician can look at the form and figure he or she can complete it, there are literally countless little things that are not obvious and that are learned either by direct instruction or, as is usually the case, by getting it wrong the first time.

The reader needs to understand that a winning license appeal takes a lot of experienced effort.  There are no shortcuts to doing things right.  As a driver’s license restoration lawyer, this cannot be done by just sending someone out to “get” an evaluation and then looking things over (including the critically important letters of support) to make sure they’re good enough.  I have to spend the time with and learn about my clients recovery, meaning his or her transition from drinker to non-drinker, at our first meeting.  I also have to try and summarize that whole story within the paperwork I create.  As it goes, every client leaves my office with a packet of information to give to the evaluator, including a form of my own creation called a “Substance Abuse Evaluation Checklist,” a specially marked-up copy of his or her driving record, and any other documents that need to be reviewed by the evaluator before the evaluation is completed.  This is part of that control I have when the client comes to my office first, and then goes to see my evaluator.  It is NOT the evaluator’s job to read your driving record, figure out your conviction history and learn the most details of your recovery story that would be most relevant to the hearing officer.  Instead, it is MY job to make sure that this information is clearly presented to my evaluator, and I do exactly that because of the control I exercise and maintain over the case.

In the course of every DUI case that goes through the court system, and before ever being sentenced by the Judge, a person must, by law, complete a mandatory written alcohol screening test and meet with a probation officer for an information-gathering interview.  The results of that screening test (it is calculated using a numerical scoring system) and probation interview are used to prepare a sentencing recommendation (this too, is required by law) that is sent to the Judge to be used in deciding exactly what sentence to hand out.  In the real world, this step is THE most important part of a drunk driving case because it directly impacts what will happen to you more than anything else.  Accordingly, being prepared for both the written screening and the probation interview is critical to producing the best outcome possible.  In my DUI practice we’ll spend several hours (at least) in preparation for this, including having a separate appointment and prep session a few days before you go for your interview with the probation officer.  Among the herd of DUI lawyers, I am uniquely qualified to help with this, having studied and worked with alcohol and drug issues for over 2 decades as well as having completed a formal University post-graduate program of addiction studies.  The development, diagnosis, treatment of and recovery from addiction disorders is at the core of everything I do, every single day.

Tester-2-300x265Preparation for the alcohol screening test begins at our very first meeting.  I typically use about an hour at that first appointment to going over (or, as I say, introducing) the questions you’ll be answering because I believe this information is best absorbed by being presented twice; initially at that first meeting, and then again, typically at our second office appointment right before you go in for the meeting with probation.  This whole process of alcohol screening and meeting with probation is variously referred to an assessment, a PSI (for pre-sentence investigation), and/or a screening.  Whatever it’s called, it refers to the procedure and process wherein a person completes the written alcohol screening test (to confuse matters more, the testing instrument itself is sometimes called a “substance abuse assessment”), meets with, provides information to, and is also interviewed by the probation officer.  All of this is used to formulate that written sentencing recommendation given to the Judge.  It is a critical mistake to allow the client to take the screening test and/or walk into that probation meeting without having gone over everything in order to make sure he or she is thoroughly prepared.

Perhaps the biggest and most common miscalculation I see lawyers make is assuming that, when they speak at the sentencing, they can somehow convince the Judge NOT to follow the probation department’s recommendation in some significant way.  It doesn’t work like that; it never has, and it never will.  When you walk into court on the day of sentencing, your lawyer is required to get a copy of the sentencing recommendation from the court clerk and review it with you.  In fact, the Judge will specifically ask if you’ve seen the recommendation, and if there are any errors within it that need to be corrected.  Later, you and your lawyer will be asked for any comments about the recommendation itself.  This is more a formality rather than anything else, because in the real world, pretty much every Judge, in every court, follows the recommendation, if not to the very letter, then damn close to it.  To put it another way, the sentencing recommendation is really the blueprint for what’s going to happen to you, and there is simply no Judge who is going to disregard any substantial part of it.  This means, then, that the best and only real chance you have to influence what’s recommended, and, in turn, to affect what ultimately happens to you, is to be prepped and ready for the screening and the probation interview.  It is a fool’s errand, really, to just show up in court and start arguing against the recommendation as it sits in the Judge’s hands.  That’s no better than pissing in the wind.  Indeed, if you are not carefully readied for the whole PSI process, then you are stumbling blindly through your DUI case without any kind of plan.