A recent email inspired this article. The writer was seeking DUI advice, but expressed an interest in handling the case without DUI lawyer, or any lawyer, for that matter. Admittedly, my first thought was along the lines of then what are you contacting us for? We’re DUI lawyers; we get hired to handle cases. I imagined someone calling a heating and cooling company and saying “How do I replace my water heater without having to hire you?” As I thought about it, though, I became concerned about the huge risk this person was facing, more than anything else.

A DUI lawyer will make things better in courtHere’s the actual message that was left: “I got an OWI on Friday. The cop said it’s my first offense. I’m most likely good without a lawyer but I’d like advice please.” The big issue here is that this person – and nobody facing any kind of DUI or criminal charge – is “good” without a lawyer. Even a legal aid clinic would decline just emailing someone advice. In fact, when a person is adamant about representing themselves in a criminal proceeding, courts will almost always appoint a lawyer to at least sit with them as “stand-by” counsel.

As we’ll see, there is a lot of truth in the old saying that “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” To be sure, the real risk (especially in a 1st offense DUI) of handling one’s own case is NOT getting locked up in jail for any extended period of time. That’s almost certainly no going to happen. Instead, the big worry is that a person may walk into a conviction that could be avoided, or otherwise miss out on a much more favorable outcome that could be had if the case was properly handled by a DUI lawyer.

An ignition interlock violation is a nightmare. The notice of violation arrives in the mail and informs the person that his or her license WILL be revoked again on a certain, upcoming date. Sometimes, the things that give rise to a violation just happen beyond a person’s control. Other times, however, like when a person was already eligible to file for a full license, but didn’t, the ugly truth is that he interlock violation could have been avoided. The inspiration for this article came from real life case of ours we recently (and successfully) handled.

An ignition interlock violation can derail any plans to get a full licenseThe client had already hired us to appeal for a full license, but was a bit slow getting everything together. Then, an interlock violation occurred. In this case, it was a “Tamper/Circumvent” violation because the person’s battery had died. Sometimes, if we are contacted timely, my team and I can head off a violation by making sure we get full and proper documentation to the Secretary of State (SOS). This is only possible when there is a mechanical problem with the vehicle or the interlock unit.

Taking care of these kinds of problems is something our firm does without charge for our existing clients. In this case, however, the client didn’t contact us about the battery issue, and instead sent something to the SOS that (obviously) didn’t work. For everything we’re going to discuss in this piece, the main point is that staying on the interlock longer the minimum time required is just a risk. The problem is that lots of people don’t see it that way because, knowing they’re not going to drink or do anything “wrong,” they’ll be okay.

Initially, the idea was for this to be a light-hearted “ABC’s of an OWI case” article. I though, why not take every letter int he alphabet and apply to a word relevant to Michigan drunk driving cases? As things got underway, however, it became clear that any such endeavor was both challenging and serious. What follows is a listing of some of the most frequently used and significant words in the DUI world. To be sure, many of the letters could represent several relevant words, so a decision had to be make that struck the right balance between commonness and importance.

THE ABC's of Michigan OWI Cases The DUI process is governed both by law, and to some extent, by local procedure. For starters, the way things are done in any given court must be legally sound. That, however, still leaves a lot of room for differences in how an OWI case can be handled in one court versus another. For example, some Judges are much more patient about allowing lawyers ample time to work a case, while others have what’s called a “rocket-docket,” and want everything wrapped up ASAP.

It’s critical for a lawyer to know such things. This is why my team and I limit our DUI practice to the courts of the Metro-Detroit area or Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and the surrounding counties. This is important for anyone who hires a DUI lawyer. The fees paid should buy the lawyer’s experience in a particular court, rather than provide his or her tuition to acquire it. This is why one of the very first questions we ask anyone who contacts us about an OWI case is “where?” Within a split second, we can size up a lot about a case just based upon the answer.

Letters of support are a critical part of every Michigan driver’s license restoration case. By law, a person must include at least 3 signed, dated and notarized support letters when he or she files a restoration appeal case. Unfortunately, a lot can (and often does) go wrong with them. One of the primary reasons cases get denied is because the letters weren’t done correctly. Accordingly, their importance cannot be overstated. In this article, we’re going to examine some key requirements for and other quirks of practice regarding them.

Letters of support are important to a license restoration appeal caseFor example, despite the legal mandate for a minimum of 3 support letters, there is one hearing officer who explicitly states a preference for at least 6, and as many as 10. For what it’s worth, our firm will generally not move a case forward with anything less than 4, although we encourage and prefer that our clients to provide more. We require 4 so that if 1 of them is discounted for some reason (like a faulty notarization), then we’ll still have the mandatory minimum of 3 viable letters pending in the case.

One big issue anyone will encounter as they pursue a license restoration appeal case is who to ask for letters. The person filing a license restoration appeal may have a few candidates in mind, but it’s not uncommon for some (or even all) of them to NOT know the full story about the person’s alcohol and/or substance use history. A person may be okay with asking a co-worker who knows they don’t drink, and that they’ve had some DUI troubles in the past, to write a letter. That coworker, though, may not know the person’s entire DUI, alcohol and/or drug use history.

The most important part of a drunk driving case is what actually happens to the person charged with the offense. In that way success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you. Obviously, the best outcome is to get the DUI case dismissed completely. Most of the time though, the evidence isn’t compromised enough for that. The fact is that most cases are resolved through negotiation. Ultimately, a person’s fate is decided at the sentencing. However, what takes just before that is the most critical part of every drunk driving case, and that’s what we’ll examine in this article.

An interview with a probation officer is an important part of a drunk driving caseMost people know that a sentence is the “outcome” of a criminal or drunk driving case. What most don’t know is that, before the sentencing can take place, there is a critical, investigative process done by the probation department. This results in a formal sentencing recommendation being sent to the Judge. It is absolutely key to the final outcome of any case. This recommendation, which we’ll explore below, is pretty much followed by every Judge in every court. It is a critically important component of the DUI process.

Under Michigan law, any person who is found guilty of, or who pleads guilty to any alcohol-related traffic offense MUST, before being sentenced, undergo a mandatory alcohol screening. This is variously called an “assessment,” “screening” or “PSI” in different courts. In all of the courts, at least here, in the Metro-Detroit area of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and surrounding counties, this screening is handled by the probation department. It’s part of a larger process known as a “pre-sentence investigation,” often referred to simply as a “PSI.”

How many witnesses should a person have for a Michigan driver’s license restoration hearing? Understandably, one might think something like, “more is better,” but that’s not true. In fact, the answer is quite the opposite. Almost without exception, the perfect number is ZERO. Calling a witness at a license restoration hearing is an amateur mistake of the first order. My team and I NEVER use live witness testimony in a restoration or clearance hearing, and we guarantee to win every such case we take.

Witness testimony should almost never be presented in a driver's license restoration hearingThis seems counter-intuitive. One would think that presenting a larger amount of favorable evidence is better than submitting less. Why would anyone choose less evidence instead of more? That question, however, misses the key point of this article. Very often, witnesses wind up doing more harm than good. This always comes as an unpleasant surprise to the person or lawyer who doesn’t know better. However, to those of us who concentrate our work in driver’s license restoration and clearance appeal cases, this is an entirely predictable result.

The danger of calling a witness in a license restoration hearing is one of those things that lawyers just learn the hard way, over time. It’s a forgivable mistake for anyone who tries a “do-it-yourself” license appeal, but not so much for an attorney who should be selling his or her experience. Anyone who hires our firm has every right to expect that we will get his or her license back. Nobody should fork over their money for a mere “shot” at winning. That’s exactly why our firm has a guarantee.

In our 30-plus years of work as Michigan Driver’s License restoration lawyers, my team and I had always preferred to conduct our restoration appeal hearings live, and in person. When the Covid pandemic hit, the entire license appeal process came to a screeching halt. Later, when hearings resumed, none were live; all of them were (and still are) conducted “virtually.” A virtual hearing is very different than the video hearings previously used by the Michigan Secretary of State. In his article, we’re going to examine this, and learn why the new way of doing things is actually pretty good.

License restoration appeals are now done virtually, and that's great!First, the reader needs to understand some differences between what was, and what is. The video hearings from before Covid are nothing like the online, virtual hearings in use today. In the past, a video hearing required a person to physically appear at a designated Secretary of State branch office. These offices were equipped with a special room that had a kind of closed-circuit TV on a wall. There was also a large, motorized camera nearby and somewhere, a room mic, as well. The sound was unfocused, boomy, and, to put it bluntly, just plain awful.

The picture on the hearing room’s TV wasn’t much better. It was wide-angle, as the camera was positioned all the way across the room, in order to capture a long front row desk. This was done so that the picture could include the person appealing, his or her attorney(s), and a witness. The camera could not provide a close up of anyone, so nuances of body language and facial expression were completely lost. It was like early 90’s technology. There simply was no detail in the picture, and the sound was so poor that trying to make out what was being said was both difficult and distracting.

The biggest hope of any person facing a Michigan DUI charge is for the whole thing to just go away. It’s very common for someone in that position to go online to see if there is some way to get their DUI case dismissed. People will search around in the desperate hope of finding out the police screwed up somehow. They want to discover a way to challenge some, or even all of the evidence. Of course, the best way to get out of a DUI charge is to successfully challenge the evidence. In this article, we’re going to look at the 3 most likely areas to find problems with it.

The 3 best places to challenge the evidence in a Michigan DUI caseTo be sure, any discussion of legal evidence can get very deep. We’re going to skip all of that here. Instead of some long, boring legal treatise that few will understand (and even less will want to read), we’ll do an overview. Our focus will be on the big picture. That means zeroing on the 3 most common areas where evidence can be successfully challenged to get a DUI charge dismissed. There are a million things that can go “wrong” with a case, but for now, we’ll confine our examination to those that come up most often in real life.

The first of them, of course, has to do with the traffic stop. Under Michigan law, the police need some kind of “reasonable suspicion” to pull someone over. Obviously, that doesn’t apply if the police show up following an accident, or if someone has slid down into a ditch. There are literally volumes of law books and hundreds, if not thousands of cases, about the legality of traffic stops. Even the most cursory examination of them would take forever, so here, we’re going to stick to generalities.

It goes without saying that the best result when facing a criminal charge is to get out of it completely. Everyone hopes the whole thing can just go away. That can and does occur sometimes, but only when the lawyer uses an intelligent defense strategy. Before that can happen, however, the whole situation, and every piece of evidence within in, must be carefully examined. This all sounds great, but beyond that, what does it really mean? In this article, we’re going to explore that.

Fighting a criminal charge requires an intelligent planWe live in the Information Age. Police body-cam video is in widespread use as we begin 2023, and that’s growing. Soon, it will be largely universal, and that’s good. No matter what, there are 2 sides to every story. Even a routine and polite citizen-police interaction can be perceived differently by either party. Video evidence is neutral. To be sure, video is far from perfect, but it can certainly be beneficial in a criminal case. Sometimes, that can just mean providing a person with the clarity to know that the case against him or her is solid.

That shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. It would be impossible to count the number of times my team and I have heard one thing from a client, and then seen another on the video. In DUI cases, for example, people will often say things like the officer “said I swerved.” Sometimes, people disagree, genuinely believing that their driving was fine. Later, when watching the police dash-cam video, they’ll see that their driving wasn’t fine, and at least not feel so bad about the traffic stop. Of course, that’s not as good as finding a way to beat the criminal charge, but even merely erasing doubt is a good thing.

You must be genuinely sober – and then prove it – to win a Michigan license appeal case. That sounds simple enough, but what does it really mean to be sober? Everyone knows the difference between being intoxicated as opposed to being “stone-cold sober.” Here, though, we’re talking about sobriety, meaning when a person decides to quit drinking for good. As we’ll see, there is more to sobriety than merely not drinking, although that’s certainly the starting point for it.

Sobriety is required to win a Michigan license appeal caseIn a Michigan license appeal case, it is, of course, the hearing officer’s understanding of sobriety that matters most. As we just noted, to win a license appeal, a person has to prove his or her sobriety. The Michigan Secretary of State hearing officer presiding over the case is the one who decides whether that’s been done satisfactorily or not. Although different people can have varied understandings of it, there are certain foundational characteristics that are always present in real sobriety. That’s what we’ll be looking at in this piece.

To be sure, there are some people whose sobriety is just plain obvious, like a neon sign in the dark of night. Often, they follow the old-school model of attending AA and are very “public” about their recovery. That’s fine for them. As an old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, that kind of recovery process is NOT for everyone. In fact, it’s probably not the right fit for most people. More important, it doesn’t really matter what anyone “thinks” of someone else’s recovery. Instead, the only thing that matters is that the person manages to become and then stay sober.

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