As Michigan criminal and DUI lawyers, my team and I deal with both misdemeanor and felony charges every day. Often enough, we’ll be asked by a client to explain the real difference between the 2 kinds of offenses. This happens a lot when the charge my client is facing is one that can be brought as either a felony or a misdemeanor, like DUI’s, embezzlement, indecent exposure offenses, as well as certain drug crimes. In this 2-part article, I will examine and provide an overview of what differentiates a felony from a misdemeanor charge.

download-1-300x126The one thing that most people know right out of the gate is that a felony is more serious than a misdemeanor. Few things in the law are absolute, but the idea that facing a misdemeanor is always “better” than facing a felony is one of them. Of course, the flip side is that facing a felony is always “worse,” and usually more expensive.

In Michigan, the biggest difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is the maximum amount of time a person can be incarcerated. By law, a person cannot be locked up longer than 1 year for a misdemeanor. To be sure, a person can be convicted of a felony and not be required to serve any time at all, or, he or she can be sentenced to less than a year in jail, but in no case can a misdemeanor conviction result in a sentence of greater than one year in the county jail.

You do not need to be in AA to win a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case. My goal in this article is to make clear that AA is NOT required to win a license appeal because we are regularly contacted by people who are clearly under this misconception. They’ll express interest in getting their license back, but then say, in a kind of “aw, shucks” way, that they really are sober, but they don’t go to AA, and wonder if we can still help. Most of them are shocked when we reply that as long as they’ve quit drinking, that’s good enough, and that being in AA (or not) couldn’t matter less.

00006487-NOT-REQUIRED-1-2-300x164I certainly know what I’m talking about, and I put my money where my mouth is because I guarantee to win every license appeal case I take. The majority of my clients are not in AA. In fact, I’d estimate that around 4 out of 5 of my clients do not go to AA meetings. That said, most of my clients have gone to AA in the past, at least for a little while. Even having attended a few meetings can be very helpful in the context of a license appeal.

Often, when I write about AA, I feel like I’m either attacking it or promoting it. My intention is to do neither here, but instead, make clear that while AA is a great program it’s simply not for everyone. That said, I think it’s also true that many people can learn a lot from AA even if they only spend a short amount of time in it. Most of my clients who did some AA will agree that by the time they stopped going, they had learned some important things, and had picked up what they needed from the program. The reality is that while AA is and should be a long-term or lifetime commitment for some folks, most people manage to stay sober without the need to keep attending support group meetings.

In my role as a Michigan DUI lawyer, my team and I are in court all of the time handling OWI charges and actually making things better for our clients. In this short article, I want to talk about money, and why you shouldn’t focus too much on it during your DUI case. To be clear, this is not an article about attorneys fees, but rather the overall cost of a DUI. The bottom line is that if you’re facing a drunk driving charge right now, you’re already on the hook, and there are very few things you can control that will affect how much money you’re going to have to fork over.

How-Much-2-284x300Ironically, one of the few costs you can manage is how much you spend on a lawyer. The best thing I can say about this is that you’ll never get what you don’t pay for. At the end of almost every blog article I’ve published, I tell the reader to be a good consumer, do his or her homework, read around, and then check around. I say that all the time because it’s solid advice and you should never do less than what you would do when buying a new microwave, much less spending several thousand on a lawyer. You learn things as you gather information. One of the most important suggestions I can make, though, is to gather real information. As much as you’ll never get what you don’t pay for, it’s every bit as easy to get sucked into paying too much for a lawyer, as well. Just keep that in mind as you look around.

At any given time, there is some ad campaign running here, in the Metro-Detroit area of Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, warning people not to drive buzzed or drunk. These ads, which I hear on the radio and see on billboards around town, usually note that a DUI will cost you about $10,000 in fines, costs, legal fees, increased insurance and related expenses. I’ve done the math in previous articles, and, to my surprise, that’s about right. Let’s explore the worst 10 grand you’ll ever spend a bit further…

Everybody needs a driver’s license, and anyone who has been without one for a long time feels that need even more. In this article, I want to briefly explain how needing a license, or not having had one for years, and/or just having stayed out of trouble for a long time, doesn’t matter at all when it comes to winning a driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal from the Michigan Secretary of State, and then look at the main requirement for getting it back – being sober.

start-with-why-300x150On average, I file and win nearly 200 driver’s license restoration appeals each year. Every week, my office is contacted by any number of people who explain how much they need a license, or how long they’ve been without one, or how long it has been since they last got in trouble. While it is understandable that those things matter to someone who can’t legally drive, those things do not matter AT ALL to the Secretary of State. As one hearing officer says, “everybody needs a license.” To the state, the key to getting back on the road is proving that you have quit drinking, and are a safe bet to never drink again.

Similarly, a lot of people think that having stayed out of trouble for a long time makes it look like they’ve learned something, or have somehow become less “risky” than before. From the Secretary of State’s point of view, the only risk that matters is the risk that you will ever drink again. The state, for its part, could not care less about how much someone promises to never drink and drive. The simple reality is that the people who are the safest bet to never drink and drive are those who just do not drink. The idea that a person hasn’t had a DUI or other legal scrape in a long time, no matter how long, means nothing in the context of a license appeal. What you must prove in a license reinstatement case is that you will never drink again, not merely that you won’t drink and drive.

DWLS and DWLR cases all start with one common factor – the lack of a valid driver’s license, but they go in many different directions from there. A person who picks up a DWLS charge after not paying a ticket is going to need different “lawyering” than someone facing a DWLR charge, and who has had his or her license revoked after 2 or more DUI’s, especially if that person has any intentions of every trying to get it back in the future. There is a prevailing misconception that suspended and revoked license cases are all pretty much the same. In fact, the reality is very different.

RD144-Proceed-with-CautionIn general, suspended and revoked license charges provide one of the best examples of the admonition that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Over the course of my career, I have, in many cases, had to explain subtle but important nuances of licensing law to both Judges and prosecutors. Because I am a full-time driver’s license restoration and DUI lawyer, I work with the laws and rules that affect driver’s licenses every single day. I deal with everything, from the most common issues to the most obscure. I’ve had to research license issues most lawyers, including Judges and prosecutors, would never know exist, and then figure out how to resolve them.

A central focus of our work is helping people win their licenses back, which helps explain why my team and I often get a better plea deal in a suspended and revoked license cases. Many of our clients are people who don’t have a license (usually, because of multiple DUI’s), and want to get it back. When someone who is, or will soon enough become eligible to win their license back winds up facing a revoked license charge, or any kind of charge that can legally delay their ability to file a license appeal, we have to work things out so that doesn’t happen, and they can mover forward sooner, rather than later.

One of the most common offenses we handle through our office, as Michigan DUI lawyers, is an OWI 2nd offense. A charge is a “2nd offense” when the arrest for it is made within 7 years of the date of a previous conviction for a DUI. In other words, time isn’t measured from arrest to arrest, or conviction to conviction, but rather from the date of the conviction for the prior offense to the date of arrest for the current charge. In this article, I want to look at the similarity of how 2nd offense DUI cases are treated here, in the Tri-County (Oakland, Macomb or Wayne) area.

around-hereIn Metro-Detroit, 2nd offense drunk driving cases are not like 1st offense or 3rd offense charges. I mean this beyond the mere numbers 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. No matter how you cut it, 2nd offense cases are treated almost uniformly across the local region. Here’s what I mean: the way a 1st offense case is handled, and ultimately worked out, can be VERY different from court to court, so that a person facing his or her first DUI in Rochester or Troy will have a much different experience than another whose case is in Shelby Township, or New Baltimore. Those experiences, in turn will be different still from someone with a 1st offense case in Plymouth/Canton or Woodhaven. In 1st offense cases, location essentially rules.

And it rules in 3rd offense cases, as well, where it’s the particular county that matters most. Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne all have their own ways of doing things. Thus, a felony DUI in any one of them will proceed very differently than in either of the others. This is not to say anything like 2nd offense cases “are all the same,” but rather that the way they are approached by prosecutors and Judges is far more uniform than either 1st and 3rd offense cases. Therefore, as a general proposition, it’s fair to say that 2nd offense cases are often handled similarly, no matter where they’re brought, at least here, in the Greater-Detroit area. Unlike in 1st offense cases, the actual effect of state law is huge, and really overshadows everything that will happen to a person. Let me explain…

If you are facing an indecent exposure, or aggravated indecent exposure case, then you already realize that it’s an uncomfortable situation. If you’re looking for information online, you will quickly run into fear-based marketing tactics from lawyers and reactionary comments from the public. In this article, I want to make clear that no matter how awful you “feel” right now, things are almost certainly not as bad as you probably think, and the best thing you can do is stop freaking out, take a few breaths, and slow down enough to learn that you can get past this whole situation rather painlessly, and often with little or no damage to you or your record.

natural-help-male-infertility-800x600-300x269Let’s quickly separate and explain the 2 indecent exposure (IE) charges: For starters, there’s the plain old “indecent exposure,” meaning a person’s genitals were exposed. This is a misdemeanor charge, and it can be brought for any kind exposure of the genitals, whether outright “flashing,” or even if a guy gets caught urinating. Next, there is “aggravated indecent exposure,” where a person was observed fondling his or her genitals. “Fondling” does not necessarily mean (although it can include) actual masturbation. Thus, any rubbing of the genitals is enough. Aggravated indecent exposure is a felony, but a special kind of “light” (meaning lenient) felony, often called a “high court misdemeanor.” To be perfectly clear about it, although the term “high court misdemeanor” may sound better, it is still a felony.

It’s not uncommon for someone facing an IE charge to panic when they hear the word “felony,” but the good news is that here, that reaction is mostly unfounded. Sure, an aggravated indecent exposure charge is in some ways, “worse” than plain old indecent exposure, but that has more to do with procedure and, yes, money. A felony can involve way more court appearances and legal work than a misdemeanor. Even so, at the end of the day, most aggravated indecent exposure cases can be wrapped up rather simply, and without a lot of negative consequences (like jail). There are, however, certain important potential issues that must be addressed in both indecent or aggravated indecent exposure cases to make things go more smoothly. Let’s look at them…

In this article, I want to zero in on that feeling – that special moment – when a person caught up in a DUI (or really any other legal mess) just “knows” his or her relationship to alcohol has become troubled, or at least is no longer able to deny to themselves that their drinking is causing problems. In that context, one of the best observations I’ve ever heard is that “anything that causes a problem IS a problem.” This kind of dovetails with a well-known AA slogan: “I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but every time I got in trouble, I had been drinking.” If you’re facing an OWI, or some other kind of criminal charge or problem (like a probation violation for alcohol), and you’re wondering if your drinking might be part of the reason, the answer is almost certainly “yes.”

Alcoholism-Who-Does-It-Hurt-How-Does-It-Affect-Loved-Ones-300x272You haven’t spent much time wondering if something else is the problem, have you? Did it ever cross your mind that you’re sitting in the back of a cop car because you eat too much pizza, or work out too often, or watch more TV than you should? The point I’m driving at is that once you get any kind of nagging feeling that something’s up with your drinking, it almost always is. The simple truth is that alcohol screws more lives up than you could ever imagine. I see it every single day. If you could do my job for any length of time, you would have a front row seat to watch people going out and getting in trouble again and again, all because of drinking.

It’s often said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.” When it comes to racking up DUI’s or other criminal charges after drinking, people frequently live in a state of denial, while everyone around them sees their use of alcohol as the real problem. Whatever else, there has probably NEVER been an occasion, in the history of the world, where someone has had that sinking feeling that their drinking has become a problem and been wrong about it. So how do we deal with this?

The idea for this article came from my associates after a week where we saw how things go bad the minute someone starts talking to the police without a lawyer. What I want to make clear in this article is the one universal piece of legal advice that holds true in every situation: shut up. If you are being questioned by the police, always exercise your right to remain silent. In fact, of all the rights we have as Americans, none is waived so freely, so frequently, and so much to a person’s detriment, as the right to remain silent. In the real world nobody ever talks themselves out of trouble – it’s just the opposite. If you haven’t talked to the police yet, then don’t. If you already have, then we are simply left with the reality of that.

smiley-zipping-mouth-300x210We’ll begin by restating what is far more overlooked than obvious: you have an absolute right to remain silent. We’ll get into this more later, but the day before this article was written, I met with a client who hired me after he spoke to a police detective and was subsequently arrested and charged with a crime. Because he is a nice guy who has never been in trouble before, my client naively asked the detective if it was a good idea to be talking to him, and if he should get a lawyer first.  The detective, for his part, answered the question rather diplomatically, and replied, “I can’t tell you what to do.”  Of course, my client now understands that he should not have said a word.

People often feel obligated, or in some way “pressured” to answer questions when asked by the police. Most people are good by nature, and even though they may have broken a law, they don’t want to appear uncooperative, and because of that, they “cooperate” themselves straight into more trouble, only to later realize they should have just kept quiet.

In my role as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I have tried very hard to explain the legal process within the hundreds of articles on this blog. I think I’ve done that rather thoroughly within the 430-plus license restoration pieces I’ve written and published. In this article, I want to try to do a very brief summary of how things are done in my office. My previous attempts to outline the driver’s license restoration or clearance process have always traded brevity for completeness, and have almost always wound up being published as multi-part installments. Here, we’re going to exchange details for economy of words and get through everything in one reasonably short write-up.

Lesson-Summary-300x300First things first: the ENTIRE driver’s license restoration and clearance process is based upon the idea that you are sober, meaning you have quit drinking, and also have the ability and commitment to remain alcohol-free for life. Getting your license back is intended to be difficult as the rules governing Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) license appeals are written in order to deny a license to anyone who cannot prove they are a low to minimal risk to ever drink again. Practically speaking, you must have been alcohol-free for the better part of 18 months before filing, and need to make clear that you harbor no idea that you can ever take another sip of alcohol, for any reason, at any time for the rest of your life.

Beyond being sober, you must be legally eligible to file a license restoration or clearance appeal, and that time frame is set by law. It does not matter how much you need a license; you must wait until your minimum period of revocation is over, including any additional time that has been added-on because you got caught driving. And no matter what your circumstances, there is no legal way to shorten your period of revocation by going to court.