After more than 23 years as a Macomb County DUI lawyer, I am convinced beyond any doubt that if you have to face a 1st offense DUI charge, or any DUI charge, for that matter, you’re a lot better off if it’s in somewhere in Macomb County rather than anyplace else. In contrast to most of my other DUI articles, this one will be shorter. The DUI section of my website most of the articles this blog contains tons of in-depth information of just about every aspect of and step in a Michigan DUI case. Here, I just want to make a point that’s a ray of sunshine, at least if the cloud over your head is a Michigan drunk driving (technically called “OWI,” or operating while intoxicated) charge.
Here, we will focus on one simple point: Macomb County is the most consistently decent and forgiving of three Metro-Detroit Counties in terms of being more “lenient” on people dealing with a first time drinking and driving charge. This is not to say that these courts are, in some way, more tolerant of drunk driving, nor are they in any way less aware of the potential dangers posed by driving while over the limit. Yet the truth is that the vast majority of us have, at some point in our lives, driven home when we probably shouldn’t have, and to act otherwise is hypocritical.
Everyone knows that for the longest time, there has been an increase in public attention on drunk driving. Laws are getting tougher, not easier, and it only makes sense that, as a society, we want less, rather than more people getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. It is decidedly easy for any Judge to jump on the bandwagon and get “tough” on DUI cases. Beyond being simple, there is absolutely zero political risk in taking a hard stance against drinking and driving. No Judge risks losing a reelection bid for being perceived as having tried to hard to protect his or her electorate from drunk drivers. Doing the right thing, as opposed to the easy, or politically expedient thing, however, requires both consideration and courage. This is where I give high marks to the Judges in Macomb County.
In Oakland County, a 1st offense DUI driver can expect to be “put through the ringer” much more severely than he or she would be in Macomb County. And while most of the courts in Wayne County, like almost all of those in Macomb, share the belief that a person can make a mistake and learn from it, there are a few others that tend to be more like their counterparts in Oakland County, rather than Macomb. In other words, the courts in Wayne County are not as consistently understanding (if you’re the one facing the DUI, this really means lenient) as those of Macomb; it depends on the city in which the case is brought.
How this really works out, and where it matters to anyone facing a DUI is what actually happens to you. And let’s be clear about any concerns over going to jail; unless your case winds up in the 48th district court in Bloomfield Hills, there is virtually zero chance that will happen. If you really do your homework, then you’ll find out that one Judge in the whole Tri-County area, Kimberly Small, has a policy that sends every DUI driver, including first offenders, to Jail. If she’s not your Judge, and/or your case is pending in any other court, you can breath a lot easier.
I wanted to get this out of the way because I think it’s BS for a lawyer to make it sound like his or her efforts will be the difference between you going to jail or not in a 1st offense DUI case. Instead, the intelligent and well-informed efforts of the DUI lawyer are best directed at avoiding all the other consequences that can be imposed as a sentence in a DUI case. These include what can feel like endless classes, counseling, ignition interlock, rehab, all done on your time, and all of which you will pay for out of pocket. So why is it “better” if your case is in a Macomb County court?
Right out of the gate, there is just generally “less”of a risk for all these things, or at least an excess of them, in Macomb County. To make sure I can protect my clients better than anyone, I have undertaken the formal study of alcohol and addiction issues at the post-graduate, University level. This is no series of online classes, or group of seminars, but rather an actual program of study that requires actual classes, and costs me over $12,000 per year. I point this out because some lawyers highlight that they have gone through the Michigan State Police one-day program to learn how to operate the datamaster breathalyzer machine. That’s great and all, but it really is of limited value; unless your case is dismissed for faulty breathalyzer results, that will be about as much help to you as your lawyer having a black belt in karate.
In every DUI case, however, the court is required to screen a person regarding his or her history with and current relationship to alcohol. Lip service is paid to the idea that this is done to determine if a person has a problem, or even a potential problem with alcohol. In reality, there is an underlying tendency to perceive anyone arrested for a DUI as being “at-risk,” or at least being a higher risk to have a troubled relationship to alcohol. This is why a standard condition of bond or release from jail included a “no drinking” provision. Sometimes, this is underscored by a testing requirement.
Fortunately, Macomb County is less inclined than others to automatically assume the presence of an alcohol problem in a DUI case, but that doesn’t mean the courts fail to look any less intensely as part of the screening process. This is where my clinical training helps in every case, because I make sure my client is thoroughly prepared for that written alcohol screening test so that he or she doesn’t inadvertently get “tripped up.” Beyond that, I am there to deflect any perception of an alcohol problem because of the facts and circumstances of the case.
This may sound confusing, but it is rather simple, and probably the biggest threat anyone will confront in a real DUI case. In just about every drunk driving case, it is almost automatic for the court to look at the “ugliest” facts surrounding the arrest. This means if a person crashes his or her car, or rolls it into a ditch, or falls asleep in the drive-thru (this actually happens a lot!), the he or she will rather quickly be made aware of “how bad it looks.” I spin that notion on its head, and point out that absolutely none of those “ugly facts” has any clinical significance in determining if a person has an alcohol problem, and that, moreover, a really experienced drunk driver wouldn’t make such amateur mistakes. In other words, I take what looks bad and use it to make things look better, meaning that I use those things as proof that my client isn’t some hardcore drinker, but rather an inexperienced drinker that has not developed a veteran’s tolerance to alcohol. This is really what is meant by the aphorism “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”
Macomb County courts just seem to be more receptive to this than courts in other counties not because of some naivete, but because the Judges here do not assume that they are the experts on everything that comes before them. As a lawyer, I have found Macomb Judges exceptionally willing to “refer” matters out for expert evaluation. To their credit, this is a reflection of the Judge wanting to get things right, rather than just get them done quickly. Of course, it helps tremendously that I bring a level of clinical expertise to alcohol issues unmatched by any other DUI lawyer I know.
To bring our discussion back to point, the bottom line is that no matter what, facing a 1st offense DUI in Macomb County is better than having to face it anywhere else in the Metropolitan Detroit area. This is great news if it describes you, but admittedly, not so great if your case is pending elsewhere, and accounts at least in part, for why I’ve been a Macomb County DUI lawyer for more than 23 years, and why I plan to remain headquartered here forever.