Several times each week, I am in court with a client facing a Michigan DUI charge. By the time I walk into the courthouse for our first court date, I usually know my client rather well. Here, on my blog, and on my website, I do my best to let you know who I am, and what I’m all about. The problem is, that’s only half of the equation. Who you are, and what you’re all about, is every bit as, if not a more important consideration to getting the best outcome in your case. After more than 23 years of successfully representing people facing DUI charges I know that getting better results in a Macomb, Oakland or Wayne County DUI case directly correlates to how well your lawyer knows you, and can address the special concerns a drunk driving charge brings to your life situation.
DUI lawyers do a good job of talking about themselves. Take a look around the various websites, and it seems that almost every lawyer claims that he or she is better than the next. For all the space lawyers dedicate to talking about themselves, few, if any, bother to talk about you. That’s not good. There are several very relevant facets of “who you are” that directly impact your DUI case, and really dictate how it should be handled. This article will be a 2-part examination of why who you are, and how your special circumstances and concerns matter to the outcome of a Detroit-area drinking and driving case.
Some time ago, I included a section on my website and an article on this blog about the emotional and personal considerations of facing a DUI charge. Those installments received a lot of positive feedback. Looking back, I think those pieces were amongst first things out there to really address the basic fact that some clients are frantic, anxious and/or worried. Some need reassurance, and some have lots of questions and need answers. Some need both. Pairing this kind of person with a “strong, silent type” of lawyer will only result in frustrated client.
To be sure, some lawyers (not me, obviously) just want to focus on handling the case, and don’t find much of a role for explaining things or soothing fears. That is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, it just doesn’t work particularly well for someone who is worried and/or has questions. A lawyer’s approachability in this regard is kind of the lawyer equivalent of a doctor’s “bedside manner.” It is sometimes described as a “desk side manner.” Today, in the information age, DUI clients want a lawyer with whom they can really communicate. The days of the cold, impatient, “know it all” expert who is short on explanation (and time) are a thing of the past.
The point I’m getting at is that it is important for your DUI lawyer to help sort through the stress you feel and the things you about. It really goes without saying that you hire a lawyer to make things better. My job, in any drinking and driving case, is to avoid or minimize as many negative consequences as possible. It would be great if a lawyer could just wave a magic wand and make everything go away, but that’s not how things happen in the real world. Most DUI cases are not based upon faulty evidence, and most don’t just get tossed out of court. This means that it becomes important to speak honestly and patiently with the client, and make sure that his or her concerns are completely and properly addressed. It also means that, as the lawyer, I have to get to know my client so that I can evaluate perceived and realistic impact of a DUI in his or her life.
Helping reduce a person’s anxiety and stress to overcome irrational fears of consequences that won’t likely happen is important, and beneficial, but it’s also crucial for me to have a firm understanding of my client’s life situation so that I can help avoid those consequences that would be most problematic for him or her. For example, not being able to drive at all for 30 days might not be the end of the world for one person, but could mean the loss of a job to another. And then, there’s the question of jail…
Of all the consequences that get talked (and worried) about, jail is by far the biggest, and the scariest, as well. Everybody frets about going to jail. The truth is, however, that almost without exception, there is essentially no chance that you will go to jail in a 1st offense DUI case in the first place. In fact, in many, if not most 2nd offense DUI cases, jail can be avoided without much difficulty, as well. While a new client may be afraid of getting locked up, it becomes important for me to get through to them that it’s either not going to happen, or is unlikely to happen.
It pains me that some lawyers make a big deal out of “avoiding jail” when they know full well that almost no 1st time DUI offender is going to get jail time in the first place. This is so important, yet so overlooked, that I need to say it again: Almost without exception (the “exception” being a DUI case assigned to Judge Kimberly Small of the 48th district court in Bloomfield Hills), if you have been arrested for your 1st DUI charge, you’re not really at risk to go to jail at all. Since you’re not going to jail in the first place, why would you hire a lawyer whose primary sales pitch is that he or she will keep you out of jail? In fact, if you think about it, such a pitch is either complete BS, or represents a stunning ignorance of the reality of how DUI cases are resolved in the Detroit area district courts.
Either way, any legal operation that runs that way should be avoided at all cost.
Another huge concern that DUI clients frequently have is about what will happen to their driver’s license. This is really one of the most critical aspects of a DUI case and your concern here is not misplaced. Unless you get lucky and it turns out that the police bungled the evidence so badly that the Judge throws your case out of court (banking on that isn’t a very intelligent or realistic strategy), something will happen to your driver’s license. It is real easy for a lawyer to just say he or she will “protect” it, but his or her ability to do that involves a lot more than purely legal considerations.
This is where it becomes important that your lawyer knows you well. A few weeks before this writing, I wrapped up a DUI case that began as a “High BAC” charge, sometimes called a “superdrunk.” We’ll forego a deeper analysis of all that, and just point out that if a person is convicted of a High BAC charge, his or her license will be taken away for what starts with a 45 day “hard” suspension, meaning that the person cannot drive at all, for any reason for those first 45 days. A restricted license then kicks in on the 46th day.
By contrast, the less serious offense of OWI (what everyone calls a DUI) carries a 30-day “hard” suspension, meaning that a restricted license doesn’t kick in until day 31. These are fixed license penalties. There is no way around them, and the court cannot alter them in any way.
My client was a health care professional whose position at a local hospital has her on call quite a bit. If I had only been able to negotiate her charge down from a High BAC to OWI, which is really the “standard” plea bargain in such cases, she would have wound up not being able to drive at all for 30 days. This would have wreaked havoc when her pager went off in an emergency. Her job would have been in jeopardy
By spending time getting to know her, and finding our about her dedication to her patients, and her involvement with continuing education, and how she took a break for a few years from her career to raise her children, I was able to make a convincing case to persuade the prosecutor to drop the High BAC charge 2 levels, down the far less serious charge of “Impaired Driving,” which does not require any “hard” suspension of the driver’s license. I was able to look the prosecutor honestly in the eye and tell him that my client was beyond upset by this situation, and was profoundly remorseful. The “double-dip” plea bargain I was able to negotiate protected my client’s ability to drive at all times, but it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t get to really know her as a person, and not just “another client.”
Every lawyer gets to know his or her client to some extent. Still, I don’t think that a first appointment for a half hour, or even an hour, provides anywhere near the appropriate amount of time to do that. Normally, when I meet with a new DUI client, it takes at least 2 hours at our first appointment. To be sure, I have a lot to go over, but part of that time is just getting to know a person, and where they’re coming from, and where they’re at in life.
We’ll stop here, and pick back up right where we leave off. In part 2, we’ll continue our discussion of why it’s important to the successful outcome of your DUI case that your lawyer gets to know you well. We’ll also examine a few considerations that you should keep in mind as you look for the “right” lawyer to defend you in a DUI charge.