Michigan OWI 2nd Offense and the Issue of a Drinking Problem in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties – Part 2

In part 1 of this article, we began examining how those facing a 2nd Offense DUI either outright recognize they have an alcohol problem, are beginning to sense something is amiss with their drinking, or are just plain in denial regarding their use of alcohol and the problems it creates.

What’s all this got to do with a 2nd Offense DUI? More than you might imagine.

drinking_problem3.jpgEarlier, I noted that except for those very few 2nd Offenders who really do not have an alcohol problem, all the rest fall into 1 of 3 categories: Those who get it, those who are starting to get it, and those who simply don’t get it. We began by examining those who seemed to have the light switch flipped, and who suddenly seemed to “get it.” Next, we talked about those who seemed to be starting to get it. Whatever their level of discomfort about their drinking, these individuals are struggling with the consequences created by their drinking behavior. Whether they make accommodations, or just plain cover their tracks, there is at least a restless sense that something’s not right.

It’s those who simply don’t get it that help put things in perspective. In the local Detroit area, there isn’t a Judge on the Bench who isn’t keenly aware of the fact that, statistically speaking, the overwhelming majority of DUI 2nd Offenders have a drinking problem. Some Judges will go so far as to outright tell anyone with a 2nd Offense that it is a fact that they have a problem, citing the statistical improbability that they DON’T have a problem as about the same as alien abductions. They say, in short, that “if you’re in front of me for a 2nd Offense, you’ve got a problem. If you think not, then you’re about the only one who believes that.”

Those who don’t get it, and who insist that they’re just unlucky, have the almost impossible task of convincing the Judge that they really don’t have a problem. It’s not a strategy I would use, at least if I wanted to make things better, and not worse.

In essence, this means that getting popped for a 2nd DUI puts a person in the position of being presumed to have a drinking problem. To put it another way, at least as far as standing in front of a Judge is concerned (and nothing else matters nearly as much in a DUI case), it’s a foregone conclusion that picking up a 2nd Offense DUI means you have a drinking problem. To argue otherwise is not only an exercise in futility, but quite likely to make things worse.

So who do you think is likely to have it easier? The person who comes to Court, already in the appropriate Counseling or Treatment, and who say’s “I’m addressing my problem,” the person who says “I think I might have a problem here,” or, the one who maintains “I don’t have any kind of problem, I’m just unlucky, and used poor judgment in driving that day?”

Do you really have to think that hard about it?

The more astute reader might observe that there is a catch-22 here: The more a person tries to explain that, at least theoretically speaking, their case could be an exception to the likelihood that a 2nd Offense DUI is obvious evidence of a drinking problem, the more it looks like they’re in Denial. And the more they try to explain, the worse it looks. And the more they say…the deeper their Denial. Get the point?

There isn’t a Judge sitting who is not at least generally familiar with the concepts of Alcoholism and Recovery. Some Judges, however, have spent a considerable amount of time and energy to become far more than just generally familiar with these concepts. Some of these Judges are real standouts, having started Drug Courts, Sobriety Courts, often on their own time. They can almost “smell” true Recovery. In an upcoming article, we’ll examine that phenomenon in detail. For our purposes here, however, it is only necessary to point out that there is a decent chance that any Judge a 2nd Offense DUI Driver winds up before can likewise “smell” Denial.

And even if that “smell” is misplaced, or wrong, do you want to be the one at the wrong end of that perception? I think not.

Which brings us back to those who’ve had the “light switch” flipped. They come into the process of resolving this 2nd Offense with a lot more on their plate than just the DUI itself. They have gotten into some kind of Counseling or Treatment. Sometimes they have started attending AA, or some similar program. They are working on their Sobriety, and the DUI charge, while important, is just part of that program.

There is essentially zero chance that this kind of person will be misjudged for anything less than sincere. That said, there is always the chance that anyone might take a “wait and see” attitude regarding the long-term viability of their commitment. Recovery is a process, sometimes fraught with relapses (nicely called “slips” for those “in the program”) and re-starts.

Those in the 2nd group, who are struggling with that restless sense that something’s not right will have lots going through their mind. Often, they will accept that the whole world, in general, and their Judge, in particular, is convinced that they have a drinking problem. At the very least, they won’t fight the need to work around that assumption. While the internal fight rages on regarding having a drinking problem or not, those on the outside usually observe that the seeds of change have been planted.

Think of it this way: have you ever heard of anyone so much as wondering if they had a drinking problem, who in fact did not? Have you ever heard of anyone getting 2 DUI’s who subsequently learned to control and limit their drinking?

In part 3 of this article, we’ll finish our discussion of 2nd Offense DUI and how a person’s recognition or denial of their alcohol problem can affect the outcome of their case.