Why a Michigan 3rd Offense (Felony) DUI is not the end of the World

In Michigan, a third (3rd) offense drunk driving is a felony offense. There is no higher Michigan DUI charge. This means that whether you have 2 prior DUI convictions, or 7 DUI convictions, any DUI charge after your 2nd will be called a “third” (3rd). It goes without saying that a 3rd offense is a big deal; I deal with these issues almost every day, and I see how profoundly upset it makes the person charged with it. However, unless someone has been hurt, or killed, and despite the very real implications of a felony DUI charge, consequences can be managed, and you need to know that facing a 3rd offense is not end of the world. With the right lawyer, things can be made much better than you can probably imagine.

If you’ve taken the time to read any of the other DUI articles on my blog or the various DUI section of my website, you know that I am typically more refined than this, but here, we need to talk money, first. If you’re facing a 3rd offense DUI charge in Macomb, Oakland or Wayne County, this is not the time to be looking for the budget DUI lawyer. That’s not say that you should be forking over legal fees of $10,000 or more, unless you’re paying for a trial, either. But going to trial is seldom a winning bet, anyway.

close-glass-whiskey-and-ice 1.2.jpgAccording to the Michigan State Police Annual Drunk Driving Audit for 2102, there were 52,037 DUI/alcohol related arrests in Michigan, and only 40 of those cases went to trial and won a “not guilty” verdict. That translates to a .076 % (as in point zero seven six percent) acquittal rate. This is hugely important before you hand over enough money to make a down payment on a home to some lawyer for the slim chance to wind up being part of that super-small (.076%) and super-lucky group of 40 people.

Those numbers only tell part of the story, however. The first order of business in every 3rd offense DUI is to examine the evidence very closely, because a rather sizable number of DUI case can and do get tossed of out court. This doesn’t happen by itself; rather, it is almost always the product of good work by an experienced and sharp DUI lawyer. I get DUI cases “knocked out” all the time, but it is always done through a combination of effort, intelligence and skill.

Still, pursuing a challenge to the evidence should not cost a king’s ransom. The point to be taken here is that while there are no “bargains” when you’re looking for quality DUI representation, that doesn’t mean you should get taken for a ride, either. Normally, your best options lie in the middle of the price range. Beyond just telling the reader to “call me,” the best advice I can give here is for you to do your homework. Look around at different lawyers. I believe it’s always best to stay local, and that’s why I ONLY handle Detroit-area DUI cases, meaning drinking and driving cases brought in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb Counties.

As you do your research, you should read and compare the articles and other information written by the lawyers you’re considering. Honestly, you have to read more than a little to get a sense of the lawyer’s “voice.” If you read enough of what he or she has put up, you can get a sense of how conversational or friendly a lawyer is, and whether or not he or she is a good “explainer.” Of course, if there’s not much to read, then you might want to take that as a clue, as well…

And while the advice of family and friends can be well-meaning, if you are facing something as complex and serious as a 3rd offense drinking and driving charge, keep your inquiries focused on “DUI lawyers,” or lawyers for whom DUI cases are a primary part of the practice. Given space limitations, I have to be direct here: You’re not going to find anyone that even resembles a real “DUI lawyer” handling divorce cases, estate cases, or personal injury cases as part of his or her day-to-day court practice. In fact, there are many top-notch criminal defense lawyers that could do a great job defending a murder case, but wouldn’t otherwise know the first thing about properly handling a DUI case.

It’s important to take the time to find a good DUI lawyer, but even more important is making sure you find the right lawyer for you. This involves the deeper considerations about your own needs. In a 3rd offense DUI case, no matter what happens, you are going to have to make some very important decisions about your life. You need to feel very comfortable with your lawyer so that he or she can help you with these decisions. For example, in every 3rd offense case that’s not otherwise thrown out of court for faulty evidence, you can count on going through counseling and/or treatment because, even if you don’t recognize the benefit and need for it, the court is required to assign it, anyway. This is certainly a subject that should be discussed between the lawyer and the client; but to what extent?

For me, this topic is critically important, and I will spend a lot of time going over every aspect of counseling and/or treatment with my client. Here, I’m more than just a lawyer, or even just another DUI lawyer; I have and am continuing my formal clinical education (in actual classrooms) at the post-graduate, University level. Given that the kind of counseling and/ore treatment you do will become the focus of your case, even if you do nothing and just let the court decide where you will go, I cannot imagine just advising my client to “get into counseling.” Nor can I imagine just handing him or her a card for some facility and saying something like “call this place.” I’ll help my client figure out what kind of counseling and/or treatment works best for him or her.

Make no mistake about it, either. What works best for you has to really be a good fit. In other words, you can easily enroll in the most intense program out there, but if you wind up hating it, or it takes way too much time from your work, or your life, then what good is that?

I know that there are numerous, effective approaches to alcohol and substance abuse treatment. Some of these are more expensive, intense or time consuming than others. For some people, the old-school approach of an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) coupled with AA attendance works best. For many, if not most people, that’s not the right fit. “Counseling” can be individual, group, or a combination of the two. One of the more effective and growing areas to demonstrate success in helping people with a troubled relationship to alcohol is CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This is one-on-one counseling that helps a person change his or her thought processes to stop drinking. In some cases, a person may not need extensive counseling or AA, and may benefit most from what is called a “brief intervention.” Beyond these options there is a growing movement in the judicial sphere toward the use “sobriety courts.”

My point here isn’t to explain what each of these options mean, or to help you figure out which is best for you, but rather to point out that if you’re the kind of person who wants to do that, then I’m the kind of lawyer for you. If, however, you’d prefer a lawyer who is more of the silent type, and then you’d be better off without someone like me. I’m not the kind of lawyer who works well with a person who simply brings in a retainer and wants to get out the door quickly. While I am in business to earn a living, I don’t pair well with someone who is just too busy to participate in his or her case. For my part, I fit bet with clients who are “detail” people.

A primary, if not the ultimate goal of all of this is to avoid, or at least minimize jail. The number of prior DUI convictions you have matters. In the legal world, a 3rd offense is called a “true 3rd” if a person ONLY has 2 priors. If a person has more than 2 prior DUI convictions, then the new charge, while still called a “3rd,” is not called a “true 3rd.” You can probably guess that it’s better to be facing a “true 3rd” than a 3rd offense with more than 2 prior convictions.

It is also important when those convictions occurred. It may seem counter-intuitive, but a person who racks up 3 DUI convictions in a shorter period of time may be in a better position to do damage control than someone who seems to get one every 6 years or so. Then again, a person who’s “stretch” is longer, but who also had some real sober time, particularly between the new offense and the last one, may be better able to characterize the most recent as the end result of a “slip,” or a full relapse. Different variables have to be taken into account to properly “handle” your case. And while it may sound clich├ęd, dealing with a 3rd offense DUI in the Metro-Detroit area really calls into play the meaning of the aphorism “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

Of course, where your DUI occurs is also important; location matters. The county in which your case is pending is really an over-arching consideration, but even then, particularly in “true 3rd” offense cases brought in Macomb and Wayne Counties, the particular local district court handling the case can play a key role in how things turn out. In some courts, even if a 3rd offense felony DUI is reduced to a 2nd offense misdemeanor, and even the person enrolls in its sobriety court, some jail time is required; often, work-release can be negotiated in those situations. In other jurisdictions, jail time can be completely avoided. Also, it should be pointed out that part of the whole incentive for sobriety court is that a person can avoid the mandatory 1 or 5 year revocation of his or her driver’s license.

I’m not trying to paint a 3rd offense DUI as a good thing, but it does pain me that some legal websites seem to go out of their way to focus on all the scary stuff. I don’t think that, if you’re trying to find an attorney for a 3rd offense DUI charge, you need to be frightened any more than you already are. Sure, there are ugly details we must cover, like what happens to your driver’s license, but instead of tallying up all the bad things that can or might happen, lets direct our attention to what we can actually do to make things better, and keep in mind that most of really bad things can be avoided, and won’t happen. I suppose that’s a nice way of me saying to avoid any law office operation that tries to “scare” you into hiring it/them. Whatever else, I don’t see such an outfit as a good fit for anybody.

Finding the right lawyer means finding the right lawyer for you. Do your homework, and invest the time to make the best decision. Don’t get sucked into any high-pressure tactics, either; I avoid that by offering all of my consultations over the phone, rather than dragging a person into the office. You can learn a lot about an office through a simple, convenient phone call. If your case is pending in any court in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb County, whatever else you do, make sure you call my office as part of your search for the right lawyer and find out how I can help you.

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