It’s normal to be stressed out after being arrested for a DUI. This is all the more true for people of good standing who never imagined themselves in the backseat of a police car, much less spending a night in jail. Unfortunately, the stress of facing a DUI often gives rise to a desperate urge to “fix this” right away. In this article, I want to make clear that while such feelings are normal, the reality is that things aren’t as bad as they may seem to you right now, and that the first and best thing you should do is to take a deep breath, calm down, and not act out of panic.

qwerty-300x283This is really the opposite message of the fear-based legal marketers you have probably already encountered. For all the things that can be said about that approach (and make no mistake, lawyers use it because it does work to bring in clients), the fact is, reacting fearfully is not any kind of “intelligent” or proper way to handle a DUI case. Better outcomes are the result of experience and the application of careful and deliberate planning, rather than unfocused emotional reaction. Remember, success in a DUI case is always best measured by what does NOT happen to you.

Although facing a DUI may trigger something of a “fight or flight” response, the fact is, once you’re facing a charge, it’s too late to run away from it, and it is not the kind of thing you brawl your way out of, either. Any kind of legal fight needs to be based on sound strategy, not panicked thrashing. A skilled lawyer will meticulously examine all the evidence in a case to look for anything that can genuinely be challenged, rather than just bark about all the things that could, in theory, be wrong with it. The facts of each case need to be assessed rationally, not emotionally.

In part 1 and part 2 of this article, we started an overview of how the real-world consequences of 2nd and 3rd offense DUI cases are very different from those involved in 1st offense cases. We looked at driver’s license consequences, professional licensing reporting requirements, and ended part 2 by pointing out how Sobriety Court programs can be a lifesaver for anyone who accepts that his or her relationship to alcohol has become problematic and wants to do something about it.

IMG_0690-1-300x235Although I don’t want to focus too much on Sobriety Court, there is another facet to this worth mentioning before we move on – kind of the flip side of the coin, so to speak. While it is required that a person admits to needing some kind of help with his or her drinking in order to get into sobriety court, there are plenty of people who aren’t interested in anything like that or who otherwise maintain that they don’t have any problem and are merely seen by the system as being in denial.

If the point hasn’t been made clearly enough so far, then it’s worth repeating here: any and everyone facing a 2nd or 3rd offense DUI is assumed and presumed to have a drinking problem. This is the single most salient aspect of a repeat offense DUI, and it will follow the person through the entire court system, through the revocation of his or her driver’s license, and will be the focus of any effort to get it back later on. Beyond that, this presumption can have profound professional and occupation consequences as well.

In part 1 of this article, we began an overview of how fundamentally different 2nd and 3rd offense DUI cases are from 1st offenses. We noted that while the risk of jail goes up significantly in 2nd and 3rd offense DUI cases, even that’s not a sure thing, and can often be avoided completely. Moreover, even if someone does get a short stint in jail, it’s usually measured in days, while some of the other consequences of a repeat offense DUI can last for years, and even a lifetime, and should really be the main focus of anyone facing them.

bull-with-sign-its-different-2-300x247This led us to explore the things that either will, or are very likely to happen to someone convicted of a 2nd or 3rd offense charge, including driver’s licenses sanctions, as well as the potential consequences to anyone who holds a professional license, or for whom a repeat offense DUI will have an adverse impact on his or her employment. I pointed out that, by operation of law, anyone convicted of a repeat offense DUI in Michigan is labeled a “habitual alcohol offender,” and is presumed to have an alcohol problem.

In the context of a professional license, a person will have to rebut the presumption that he or she has a drinking problem, either by showing that they have gotten help, and are in recovery, or that they never had a problem in the first place, even though that’s unlikely, because of the operation of law. When it comes to winning back one’s driver’s license, there is a legal presumption that any person convicted of multiple DUI’s has a drinking problem, and anyone who thinks they can prove otherwise is wasting their time.

The real world consequences of a 2nd or 3rd offense OWI charge are a lot different and more “real” than anything a person will get from a 1st offense DUI case. This 3-part article will not be some fear-based legal marketing piece, but rather an honest assessment between what are really 2 very distinct classes of DUI offenses. In the following sections, I want to examine 2nd and 3rd offense DUI cases in Michigan and see how they are fundamentally different than 1st offense cases, why that matters, and explore some options for making things better.

skny-300x276To be sure, the biggest and most obvious difference between a 1st offense DUI and 2nd and 3rd offense charges is the seriousness of the matters. While there is a veritable laundry list of potential legal penalties for all DUI cases, with plenty unique to 2nd and/or 3rd offense cases, an important part of our focus in this piece will be on the things that either will, or are very likely to actually happen. Beyond penalties, there is just something fundamentally problematic, in every sense of the word, about a repeat offense DUI that is entirely absent in a 1st offense case.

For example, in Michigan, anyone convicted of 2 alcohol-related driving offenses (DUI’s) within 7 years, or 3 such offenses within their lifetime is legally categorized as a “habitual alcohol offender.” There are numerous implications to this, but 2 things that will be felt very strongly by anyone facing either a 2nd or 3rd offense DUI is the revocation (as opposed to the mere suspension) of the person’s driver’s license, and the practical consequences of that legal presumption that he or she does, in fact, have a drinking problem.

There is no other proceeding in the legal world that involves a dynamic combination of both luck and skill like a probation violation. While there are plenty of situations in which the allegations in a violation are untrue, in the real world, more often than not, it comes down to a person either having done something they weren’t supposed to do, or not doing something that was required of them. The notion that properly handling these cases involves both luck and skill is very real, and makes the whole thing more of an art, rather than anything else.

Iluck-skill-300x195n terms of luck, this means that, on the one hand, if a case has been assigned to the most impatient Judge around who is known for not being interested in any excuses about anything, that’s bad luck. On the other hand, if the presiding Judge is known to be “forgiving,” then that’s good luck. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done about the Judge to whom a case is assigned, other than to make the best of the situation.

And there we get to the skill part of this: the lawyer must make take into account and work around the temperament of the specific Judge assigned to the case. It is critical to have a lawyer who is familiar with the court and knows how that Judge does things. As much as a lawyer needs to talk his or her client out of trouble, knowing the Judge and what will (and won’t) fly with him or her will help avoid talking the client into trouble, as well. For as much as my team and I talk, we also know when to shut up, and that’s important, as well.

This article will focus on and be relevant to anyone who has tried a “do-it-yourself” driver’s license restoration appeal and lost. In some of my driver’s license restoration articles, I point out the potential pitfalls of trying a license appeal on your own, or even with some lawyer who doesn’t really concentrate his or her practice in this area. I also make clear that anyone who is inclined to try a “do-it-yourself” driver’s license restoration appeal should give it a shot, but should at least also understand that chances are, it won’t work out.

1_pPxh12fYgugriRXtGMXHoQ-300x264Here, I’ll make 3 important points: First, it’s far easier for me to deal with people who have already tried and lost than it is to waste time attempting to talk someone out of it in the first place. Second, if someone does win on their own, then good for them, and they can never say I tried to discourage them out of my own financial self-interest. Third, when my team and I take a case, we guarantee to win it, so whether you come to us first, or after you’ve tried on your own, we’ll make sure that win your license back and can drive again.

I’d estimate that about half of our clients are people who have previously tried and lost a license appeal. Some of them contact us right after they find out they’ve lost, and inquire about going to court to appeal. The reality is that, because of our guarantee, my team and I don’t accept cases we don’t win, and therefore, we rarely wind up losing. As a result, we almost never have to contemplate a circuit court appeal for our own work. Accordingly, we have absolutely no interest in taking any such appeal for a case we didn’t handle from the start.

In part 1 of this article, we began examining the rather serious implication that anyone facing a Michigan High BAC charge has some kind of drinking problem. While this is always a concern in High BAC cases, it really applies in any case where a person’s BAC result is elevated. This makes sense, given that it has been consistently shown that, as a group, DUI driver’s have a statistically higher incidence of alcohol problems than the population at large. That makes things worse for anyone facing the more serious “High BAC” OWI charge specific to having a bodily alcohol content that’s more than twice the legal limit.

menu-drinks-background-xxx-300x268We concluded part 1 by pointing out that about the worst thing a person can do is exactly what just about everybody does, in fact do, and that’s insist that they’re not a big drinker, that they don’t drink that much, or not that often, and/or that, on the day of their arrest, they really didn’t have that much to drink. As I pointed out, the people who work in the court system hear this same kind of stuff so much that they don’t really pay attention to it, and, moreover, don’t believe it anyway. This kind of minimization of one’s drinking will do nothing to actually help a case.

Here’s the thing most people fail to understand: minimizing one’s drinking, both overall and on the day in question, isn’t any kind of strategy that will help in a High BAC charge. Although it’s almost instinctive for people to make self-declarations that they’re not a big or frequent drinker, that they only had a few, or that they weren’t “that drunk” when they were driving, such statements are actually counter-productive to the outcome of a case.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s also true.

While everyone worries about staying out of jail and losing their driver’s license for a High BAC charge (technically called OWI with a BAC of .17 or Greater), there is another key concern often overlooked, or that even goes unnoticed, by a person scrambling to avoid the legal penalties in such a case; the perception that he or she has some kind of troubled relationship to alcohol. Anyone arrested for a High BAC is very much at risk to be seen within the court system as having an alcohol problem, and it is important to understand why that’s the case, in order to be able to do something about it.

breathalyzer-3-300x287In order to keep this article of manageable length and on point, we won’t get into some big, general examination of High BAC cases, but rather why the very term “High BAC” generates an extra-negative perception, and what can be done to counter that. It is important to begin by noting that even though the main component of a High BAC charge is the elevated BAC result itself, that’s really just “the icing on the cake,” so to speak, because it builds upon the long-established fact that, as a group, DUI drivers have a higher rate of drinking problems than the population at large, meaning people who don’t get a DUI.

This ties into something so important, I recently completed an 8-part examination of it, and have even dedicated an entire topic section on this blog: the alcohol bias. We won’t re-examine it in much detail here, but the foundation of the bias is based upon that statistical reality that DUI drivers do, in fact, have a higher incidence of troublesome drinking than everyone else. This means that anyone walking into court for a DUI charge is seen as a member of that at-risk group. This is only exacerbated when you add a BAC result that practically screams “big drinker!”

Every Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance appeal is decided by a hearing officer. Technically called an “administrative law examiner” (for all practical purposes, the same thing as an “administrative law Judge”), a hearing officer is a licensed attorney employed by the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office of Hearings and Administrative Oversight. Because they decide all license appeal (including implied consent and ignition interlock violations) matters, SOS hearing officers serve an incredibly important function.

fairness-278x300For as much power as they have to approve or deny license appeals, hearing officers are constrained to exercise it within very strict rules. This is important, because even many lawyers don’t know the ins and outs of these rules, and fewer still work with them enough to really understand how they are interpreted and applied by each hearing officer. People who lose a “do-it-yourself” license appeal (or who lose with some lawyer who does not concentrate in this field) often become frustrated at their lack of success, and wrongly blame the hearing officer, without understanding how the application of the rules controlled the outcome of their case.

Although the governing rules are written in black and white, the way each hearing officer interprets certain parts of them can vary, essentially meaning that there is a lot of gray area. This is where the uniqueness of the various hearing officers matters, and why it is very important for us, as driver’s license restoration attorneys, to know each one, and how he or she does things. Something that one hearing officer couldn’t care less about may be a complete deal killer with another. If the lawyer doesn’t know how this applies to every part of a case, then he or she is not properly prepared to move forward with it.

Who is the best DUI lawyer? What about the best singer, baseball player, or runner? Any serious attempt to answer a question like this must be qualified in various ways; whoever might be the best opera singer probably won’t make the cut for best R&B or rock and roll singer. In baseball, the best pitcher is a much different player than the best batter. In looking for the best, context matters. The “best runner” in the 100-yard dash is no doubt the fastest in that event, but is a lot different from the best marathon runner, who must pace him or her self for 26.2 miles.

download-7This means that finding the “best” DUI lawyer is really about getting the best person for your case, more than anything else. This, in turn, is dependent on things like the facts of the case, where it’s located, and how well the lawyer and the client “fit” and work together. Some people get along better with the kind of legal “buzzsaw” who, taking a shotgun approach, challenges everybody and everything within a case, while most others do better with a more thoughtful approach. And as much as someone might prefer one personality type over another, the lawyer has to be the right fit for the case itself, as well.

Specifically, nobody can be all things to all people. Certain lawyers are better at some things than others, and even do better in some locations than others. For example, my team and I limit our practice to the Metro-Detroit area, where we know, from repeat, day-in and day-out experience how things are done in each of the various courts in which we work. Location is important in a criminal or DUI case. Some Judges are “easier” than others, but however that shakes out in any particular case, a lawyer has to know how to deal with it, and we make sure we do.