For all the analysis of DUI cases one can find, I have yet to see anything that tries to look at such a case from the point of view of the person facing the charge. Even within the body of articles in the Drunk Driving section of this blog, I have tried to look at these cases from the point of view of the Judge, the Probation Officer, and even the Police Officer, or at least how the person charged with a DUI should “see” those parties. This article will attempt to do a 180-degree turn and try and get in the head of the person facing the DUI as they grapple with the emotional and psychological considerations of being dragged through the Criminal Justice System.
After more than 20 years of handling DUI cases, I have personally met with and handled the cases for thousands of people dealing with this charge. I have, I think, seen it all, from those who seem rather unfazed by the whole thing to those who break down and cry at almost every turn. It’s a safe bet that anyone who has read this far is NOT the kind of person “unfazed” by a DUI, and our focus, therefore, will be on those who feel some kind of emotional burden along with the various practical considerations that come along with a DUI.
From the first moment of Police contact, a DUI driver experiences a sense of loss of control. At first, many people may think they can still “get out” of the Traffic Stop, but they soon begin to realize that is not likely to happen. Once they are told to step out of the car, a person starts to feel less and less in control of their own destiny. By the time they’re in the back of the Police car, they realize that they have essentially no control over what is going to be happening, at least for a while.
Perhaps the first “punch in the gut” comes when a person is placed in handcuffs. At that point, as they often relate to me, they feel “degraded” and embarrassed. Being placed back into the Police car in cuffs often starts a panic response on the inside, even if they maintain a straight face on the outside. Their mind is whirling as they get driven to the Police Station.
Once they start being processed at the Police Station, most people feel a strong mixture of apprehension, or outright fear, and complete embarrassment. Maybe in their day-to-day life they are someone important. Maybe they tell other people what to do, or how to do things, or have a lot or responsibility. Why hasn’t someone seen that they are, at their core, a good person?
Yet as they sit in the Police Station unsure of what happens next, or when, they struggle with the realization that to all the Police Officers milling about, they’re “just another drunk.” It’s a demeaning feeling, and it seems to be experienced, full force, no matter how tipsy a person might have been only a short while before.
Let’s hit the pause button here for a moment. That’s not such a bad thing, if the person can hold onto that feeling and use it as a tool to keep themselves from ever repeating this mistake. Sometimes, we need to be knocked down in order to be set straight. Lessons learned the hard way are never forgotten.
Anyway, back at the Police Station, after being processed, the person is placed in a holding cell. There, they look around at a space reserved for those forcibly removed from society. Murderers, rapists, child molesters, and all manner of social outcasts have used that metal toilet in their cell. Often, my Clients leave Jail the next day not having used the “facilities,” and having touched as little as they could.
As they sit there, just waiting for time to pass, and while each minute seems to grind on like hours, they often feel wrapped in a sense of alienation. They are, after all, being treated like a common criminal. They wish someone could understand that they’re not like that; they’re good people who anyone would be lucky to have as a co-worker, friend, or neighbor. If anyone would take the time to find out a little about them, maybe they’d at least let them out of that cell and use the regular restroom, and sit in a hallway somewhere.
But that does not happen.
Most often, it’s the next morning and they are let out of Jail. Forget about the logistics of getting a ride, and having family find out about this. That becomes its’ own separate nightmare. They leave, most often with a Ticket, or at least a Notice to Appear in Court.
And then they start checking things out, and they learn that, at least potentially, they could be Ordered back to Jail as part of their Sentence. They learn, in short, that they are facing a real, bona-fide Criminal charge.
Embarrassed, humiliated, or at least humbled, they know that they’re a good person, somwone who would never steal from or hurt anyone. Many are involved in their communities in some way or other. Suddenly, a brief lapse in Judgment, which has resulted in the nightmare evening of their lives, casts them in the role of “Criminal.” It just doesn’t feel “right.”
Within their heart and soul, they KNOW that they are not any kind of “Criminal.”
Perhaps because I’ve been doing this, and doing it rather well, for more than 2 decades, and because of my skills and the kinds of Clients I attract, I typically wind up sitting across my conference table from a rather high-end class of Client. My Clients are typically employed in good jobs, from well-paying occupations and are typically smarter than average. I never get hired, with DUI Legal Fees starting at $2000 per case, by those who can politely be described as “hard-luck stories.” Instead, my Clients are almost always people used to being in control of their own destiny. From factory workers to executives, my Clients generally live in nice areas, pay all kinds of taxes, and, as noted before, are typically the kind of people anyone would be lucky to have as a co-worker, friend or neighbor. They have become used to paying their own way, and having the means to do it.
Thus, days, or even weeks after the Arrest, they feel entirely misplaced in the role of “Criminal.” Criminals, after all, steal things, break into your home, and hurt people.
My Clients don’t do that. They go to work, pay bills and taxes, and contribute to society. This is why, I think, it is so hard for them to find themselves in the position of facing a Criminal charge.
On top of that, almost any DUI driver will tell you, quite honestly, that the night of their Arrest was far more a lapse in judgment than anything else. None of my Clients went out the night of their Arrest and planned to get hammered and drive home drunk. In fact, if you asked them beforehand if they intended to drive home drunk, all of them would have said “no.” Absolutely no one plans to get drunk and then drive home.
As it turns out, unfortunately, once a person does become intoxicated, their judgment in all manner of ways becomes impaired, and they often think, obviously incorrectly, that they’re “okay” to drive.
I explain to my Clients that, as they’ve felt since their Arrest, they are not “criminals,” even though the Court system does little to make them feel differently. I help them realize that their lapse in Judgment had no criminal intent, or even criminal disregard for the rights and safety of others, but it does, nonetheless, put them in the position of facing a Criminal charge.
This is often the situation as the Sentencing date approaches, and I prepare the Client for that step. When we meet, they talk about making the point to the Judge that they are not some kind of Criminal.
And that’s when I have to explain that the Judicial and societal view of Drunk Driving has, in fact, changed, and that most people on the “outside” of a DUI understand that while those who get caught driving drunk are not “Criminals,” (Think sports stars and celebrities), the act driving under the influence is very much “Criminal” in nature.
Helping the Client reconcile these seemingly incongruous notions is far more a part of the “Counselor” part of my title “Attorney and Counselor at Law” than the “Attorney part. Nevertheless, it is an important part of my job. If I can help alleviate some of the emotional consequences of a DUI, along with many of the Legal consequences, as well, then I’d doing my job correctly.
DUI crimes are not so much crimes of commission as much as crimes of omission, and what is omitted in any such situation is good judgment.
For all of that, loads of successful people grapple with these concerns and move on. Almost everyday, we hear news of people who have gone through this same wringer. Cream always rises to the top. The key thing is to make it a learning experience, and move onward, and upward.