The straight truth about 1st offense Michigan DUI cases is not what you might first expect. As a Michigan DUI lawyer, I pride myself on doing the very best work an producing the very best outcomes possible for my clients. If there is a way to “knock out” a DUI charge, I’ll find it. Critically important to how I define myself is the whole concept of being honest. Unfortunately, the notion of honesty gets stretched, to say the least, when it comes to lawyers marketing themselves for DUI cases. This article will be a reality check of all the bad things that won’t happen in your DUI case. Although this article is written with a 1st offense DUI charge in mind, most of what is covered applies, at least in part, to 2nd and subsequent DUI charges, as well.
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably looking for a DUI lawyer, and are likely gathering information and checking around the internet. In looking around, you can almost feel bombarded by the competing claims of “tough,” “aggressive” and “experienced” lawyers. If DUI attorney says he’s #1 is good, then DUI lawyer #2 claims that she’s better. If you keep looking, you’ll soon discover that DUI lawyer #3 claims to be the very best, and that DUI lawyer #4 charges more than the cost of good used car. Look harder still, and you’ll find the world’s cheapest lawyer, or even one that will come over to your house on Saturdays just to sign you up.
Successes and testimonials and case summaries are carefully constructed to make it look like the lawyer spends every day in court, fighting DUI cases at trial, and winning. Here’s where the numbers tell a very different story, however. In 2012, there were 52,037 alcohol-related (meaning DUI and MIP) arrests in Michigan. Yet for all of the marketing hype you’ll find, conspicuously missing is that out of those 52,037 arrests, only 40 cases went to trial and resulted in a “not guilty” verdict. No matter how you slice it amongst all the lawyers clamoring for a piece of your DUI business, and out of all the DUI charges brought to court in the year 2012, there were only 40 people who went all the way to trial and won.
The immediate meaning of this should be clear: The statistical chance that any given person charged with a DUI can go to trial and be found “not guilty” is incredibly low. This isn’t hopeful news, nor is bringing it up good for business, if you’re a DUI lawyer. If you’re arrested for a DUI, you want to hear that some sharp lawyer can take your case to trial and win. But that’s not the reality, and I can’t abide the idea that either me, or my client is laboring under a false illusion. If we’re going to make things better, it’s not likely to happen by putting all your efforts into long shot odds of just 1 out of 1300. Instead, you have to be smart, as in realistic about things.
Yet that’s hardly a reason to give up hope in beating a DUI, because “beating” a DUI charge is actually statistically viable. Beating it a trial is unlikely, but there is always a statistically significant number of cases that get thrown out of court because of problems with the evidence. Whatever else, DUI cases don’t dismiss themselves; it takes experience, intelligence and skill to pursue and produce these results. Obviously, the best thing that can happen to your DUI case is that it gets thrown out of court. Yet banking on that outcome is a lot like playing the lottery for your retirement plan.
Here’s the “other” secret about DUI cases, at least in the cities, townships and villages of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, where I concentrate my DUI practice: Things won’t turn out as bad as you probably fear. In 1st offense cases, and really only with 1 exception (cases assigned to Judge Kimberly Small in the 48th district court in Bloomfield Hills), jail isn’t even on the menu. Let me say this again, to make it clear; you’re almost certainly NOT going to jail in the first place. Any lawyer that hawks his or her services as being the difference between you going to jail in a 1st offense DUI case, or not, at least in the Detroit area, is either completely clueless, or downright deceptive. Either way, you should run away from that kind of operation as fast as you can. Now, let’s turn to what really matters…
The goal of the court in any DUI case is to prevent the person from doing it again. If you take a step back from all the drama and scare tactics and analysis of every consequence that can theoretically be imposed, and just look at the big picture for a moment, this makes sense. In a 1st offense DUI case, the idea is to hit the person hard in the wallet, and send him or her to enough classes and/or counseling to make sure that he or she won’t go back out and ever drive drunk again. From that same perspective, and after all the hassle involved in a 1st offense, anyone who does go back out and drive drunk again very likely has an alcohol problem.
The absolute key to success, meaning the way to avoid getting stuck in all kinds classes and counseling of (always time-consuming and often expensive), is to know how to avoid these things in the first place. That may sound a circuitous and inconclusive, but it’s actually very precise. Before the court can sentence you to anything, it must have you “evaluated” and screened to make sure you don’t have, or even have the potential to develop, an alcohol problem. And here is where just being a “DUI lawyer” isn’t nearly enough. This “screening” process, which is required by law, involves a clinical, or at least a semi-clinical assessment of your drinking attitudes, history and patterns. You will take a written alcohol-screening test, and then be interviewed by a probation officer, who must then make a written report and recommendation to the Judge giving his or her opinion about what should happen to you.
I bring a strong clinical understanding to this whole screening process. I am actively involved in the formal, on-campus, University study of alcohol and addiction issues at the post-graduate level. I speak the language of the clinician and counselor. Whatever else, when I walk into a courtroom, I can speak with more authority and formal education about these issues than anyone else there. This unique background separates me from the herd of “DUI lawyers” and means that I can help you in ways that will directly pay off in avoiding unnecessary classes and counseling.
There’s not a lot that can be done to manage court fines and costs in a DUI case beyond making sure that any case good enough to “stick” is plea-bargained down to the lowest possible offense. This, of course, directly affects your driver’s license, especially in a 1st offense case. I’ve taken many “solid” high BAC cases and negotiated them all the way down to a much lesser charge so that my client wouldn’t lose his or her ability to drive to or during work, even for a day.
When negotiating a plea bargain, it helps enormously to be able to clarify some clinical points to a prosecutor who sees a person with a high BAC and just assumes that he or she is another risky, problem drinker out driving drunk. If my client doesn’t have a problem, then I can explain how things aren’t quite the way they look. If my client does have a problem, then I have to deflect enough of the anger, fear and impatience that comes from the “criminal” part of a DUI and show how my client is suffering from a pathology that he or she is taking the appropriate measures to fix. Recognizing these strategies is somewhat obvious, while implementing them requires far more subtlety.
Just because a DUI doesn’t mean jail, it’s not a reason to celebrate – hold the champagne, please. My point is that even in a case where the evidence is rock solid, much can be done to limit the real life negative consequences you do face, like having your license suspended for any “hard” period of time, meaning a period where you can’t even drive with restrictions, and not getting balled up into endless classes and counseling that you don’t need, or otherwise having to test and provide breath and urine samples, and then pay for all that, too, just to prove you’re not drinking. These are some of the more common real world consequences that are on the menu. They certainly don’t mean the end of the world, but even so, many, if not most (and sometimes all) of them can be avoided. Finding the right lawyer involves knowing what you are realistically facing, and certainly does not mean hiring a lawyer whose main sales pitch is to keep you out of the jail you weren’t ever at risk to go to in the first place.
If you’re looking for a DUI lawyer for a Detroit-area drinking and driving charge, and you want honest, realistic answers to your questions, then call my office.