I have written rather extensively about how a Michigan DUI case actually works, and about the steps involved. The various sections on the Drunk Driving section of my website provides a thorough overview of that process, and the numerous DUI articles on this blog combine to assemble a pretty comprehensive examination of all the details involved in defending someone against a DUI charge. This article will be very different. Although I want to continue to focus, in a general sense, on how DUI cases are handled, in this installment, I want to zero in on what is really one of the most important, yet least talked about aspects of being a Michigan DUI Lawyer; having a keen instinct about knowing what to do.
As a DUI Lawyer, I have certain, specialized knowledge. This becomes really clear if I have to explain something about DUI’s to a Lawyer who works in a different field, like civil lawsuits. Beyond specialized knowledge, I have rather specialized experience. In my case, I limit my Drunk Driving Practice to Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties. I regularly appear in the same Courts. This means I really know how things work there.
Last week, for example, as a result of knowing exactly how to do and schedule and maneuver things in each particular Court, after having “moved” a case around in just the right way for the last few months, I was able to get a DUI charge dismissed and spare my Client a Drunk Driving conviction. This was a direct result of just “knowing” how things work in that specific Court.
The recipe thus far, then, has 2 ingredients: Specialized knowledge coupled with repeat experience doing the same thing in the same places. If you think about it for a moment, however, it would seem that “repeat experience” should give rise to something more than just a lack of being surprised at what happens. It should mean that a person has developed an instinct, or a kind of “sense” about things. We rather take this for granted in a medical context, like when a Surgeon, talking about what may or may not happen in an upcoming procedure, says something like “I really won’t know until I’m in there.” We understand that to mean that, based upon a mountain of experience, he or she will just “know” what to do. We expect airline Pilots to “know” how to land a plane in windy conditions based upon their “instinct” and “feel.”
“Instinct,” in that sense, isn’t anything learned in a book, nor obtained from studying. Beyond just repeat experience, “instinct” usually involves something a person is naturally good at. Consider this: I like bowling. I learned to bowl as a youngster, and even bowled in a youth league. I bowled a lot, and certainly learned the mechanics and rules of bowling early on. For some reason, however, I just never became very good at it. My high game (I think it was a 178) was lower than the “average” of many people I know. Thus, you could say that I “know” bowling, but I have no real instinct for it. In fact, I remember other bowlers talking about the lanes having been recently oiled, and how that would affect their “hooks,” and how they’d have to bowl a few practice frames to get a “feel” for how to adjust their throws. For me, all that meant nothing.
Fortunately, I am a much better DUI Lawyer than I ever was a bowler. I sometimes wonder about that; am I a good DUI Lawyer because I like it, or do I like being a DUI Lawyer because I’m good at it? I think it’s a little of both, and each feeds the other. This, of course, works distinctly to my Client’s advantage, because it means that I just “know” when to hold out for things to get better, or when to move forward, because they won’t.
In the case I referenced at the outset of this article, there was no real problem or shortcoming with the evidence. It was, in every sense of the word, a garden-variety DUI case, if not a pretty strong one. There was no “Traffic Stop” issue; my Client had lost control of his car, crashed into some parked cars, and then rolled his car over. He had to be removed from an upside down vehicle. There simply was no evidentiary or legal defect in the case that would have provided for a successful challenge to the charge. Yet as I considered the whole of the case, I had a “feeling” that something more could be done with it.
As a result of that “feeling,” I didn’t go to Court in a hurry to wrap the case up. And as it turns out, each Court trip was pretty inconvenient for my Client, who had moved to the other side of the state. He had, after all, hired me to make things better for him. Repeat trips to Court with no resolution does not seem to be much headway in that direction, at least at first glance.
Whatever else, my Fee in a Drunk Driving case reflects that I’m a higher end DUI Lawyer, and I do not compete with anyone on a “low bidder” basis. In this case, it took 4 trips to Court, beginning in May, for me to “work” this case over in order to get the break I was looking for. Things will finally wrap up in late November, when my Client is Sentenced (on our 5th trip) for a non-alcohol related Offense. That’s a lot of time and a lot of driving, resulting in, however, a whole lot of “better.”
The point I’m driving at is that it was purely that “instinct” that told me to hold out, and that the chances of making things substantially better (as in getting rid of the whole DUI charge) were worth the extra return trips to Court. That “instinct,” of course, is in large part the product of over 22 years worth of experience, both in DUI cases and in the particular Court where the case is pending.
By that same token, my “instinct” also alerts me in those situations where I can just “feel” that things will not be getting any better, or, that coming back again later is likely to make things worse. This can sometimes be hard to explain precisely because such “instinct” defies explanation.
Having that “feel” goes beyond just arguing or negotiating the case with the Prosecutor or the Police Officer (often a Detective) in charge of the matter. It also extends to proceedings in the Courtroom. This is part of why I think it’s important to know the Judge, as in having gone before him or her, time and time again. Thus, if a Client keeps urging me to “tell the Judge that the reason I drank so much is because my dog died,” and I know that such an excuse will only serve to make that particular Judge angry, I can at least then tell my Client that such a tactic isn’t a good idea.
In addition, that instinct allows me to “read” a Judge. In general, a Lawyer who makes his or her living in the Courtroom should be able to process non-verbal cues from the Judge. In particular, a DUI Lawyer should be able read a Judge on the spot. This means being able to push things as far as you can to make things better for your Client, and knowing when you’ve hit the limit. It means NOT pursuing anything the Judge won’t be responsive to. As a Lawyer, I “instinctively” know that a Judge has a limited attention span per case. I understand that I will squander my opportunity to do some good for my Client if I start asking for things I know the particular Judge won’t agree to. Thus, if a certain Judge firmly believes in Reporting Probation in DUI cases, it not only wastes time to ask for Non-Reporting Probation (because I know that there’s no way the Judge will go for it), it tests the Judge’s patience to be asked for something that the Lawyer knows, or at least should know will never be granted, and, it causes the Judge to kind of lose interest in the rest of what the Lawyer has to say, and means that something that might have been given some real consideration just gets lost in the noise, and passed over.
In the context of this article, this is about the point where the ability to explain “instinct” just ends, and the reader either gets it, and understands, or not. A DUI Lawyer, in order to really make things better for the Client, has to have special knowledge, lots of experience, and a generous helping of “instinct” to know what to do, and when to do it. As I think about it, and how to describe it, I can only reiterate that it’s just “there.” Sure, I think my instinct has been honed and refined over the years, but it’s always been there.
Anyone looking to hire a DUI Lawyer should keep this in mind. That instinct can show up in different ways, from the ability to talk about things above and beyond the purely legal aspect of a case, to the shake of a head and the gentle “that’s not how it works” attitude about something. In a very real, if not ironic way, a person Lawyer shopping, if they spend enough time at it, will get a “feel” for whether or not a particular Lawyer has this critical ability, or not. Whatever else, you’ll want to avoid the “or not.”