Amongst the realities that hit home like nothing else when you’re facing a 3rd offense DUI charge is the realization that it’s a felony, and that alone can stop some career paths dead in their tracks, while completely derailing other career plans. Anyone in this position already has a sinking feeling that asking the Judge for mercy and promising “I won’t do it again” will not work anymore. Surprisingly, if the proper steps are taken, a third offense can work out a lot better than you can probably imagine right now. That’s not to say that you’ll win any kind of prize for your 3rd DUI, but much can be done to minimize the consequences you will actually suffer, particularly any kind of incarceration. The point of this article is to help the reader understand that despite the seriousness of a 3rd offense DUI charge, it does not have to be the end of the world.
If you’re going to have any success in court, you will have to be guided in a way so that you can step up and say, as well as prove by your actions, that this case is TRULY a wakeup call, and marks the absolute end of your drinking. This is important. The bottom line here is that when we’re talking about 3rd (or even more) time offenders, we are not dealing with a population that is “at risk” to develop a drinking problem; we are dealing with a population that already and verifiably has a drinking problem. The sad truth, however, is that more than 90% of people who develop a drinking problem don’t get over it. To put it another way, the recovery rate for alcoholism is less than 10%. Some reliable studies put it at far less than that. There isn’t a Judge out there who is not keenly aware of this, on the one hand, as, on the other hand, he or she hears everyone facing a 3rd offense DUI tells him or her that they’re done drinking. You need to be part of this single digit minority, and your claim to it needs to be believable. This is where my unique skill set is especially valuable.
While the whole quitting drinking thing is just expected part of the overall approach to a 3rd drunk driving charge, you can already figure that it is far from enough. Another promise that “it won’t happen again” hardly separates you from the herd; indeed, it only marks you as part of the herd. As a DUI lawyer, I have to likewise separate myself from the pack. I do so by bringing a lot more to the table than just a law degree and experience (25 years, in my case) handling drunk driving cases. Beyond all that, I have undergone extensive formal training in addiction issues. I have studied the onset, development, diagnosis and recovery from alcohol problems at the post-graduate (as opposed to “graduate”) University level. It is much easier to get better results in a DUI case in court by being “bilingual,” in the sense that I speak the language of the law, while also speaking the language of the substance abuse professional. That’s not to imply that I “play” substance abuse counselor; that’s as foolish as getting involved with a substance abuse counselor who tries to “play” lawyer. Instead, I use my clinical knowledge to make sure we can present the most compelling case to catch one last, big break from the Judge. People familiar with AA have undoubtedly heard the saying “fake it ’till you make it.” That’s sage advice for anyone standing in front of a Judge facing a felony drunk driving case. At least on my end, however, I won’t be faking anything.
The first things to evaluate in every DUI case are purely legal: Is the evidence solid? Are there any challenges that can be made to the traffic stop? Were the field sobriety tests explained, and properly administered? Are the breath or blood test results reliable? Is there anything that can be used to get the case “knocked out,” or otherwise hammer out a much better deal? Those things need to be explored under a microscope, and with surgical precision. This is a very important point. While it is true that most DUI cases aren’t tossed out of court for faulty evidence, the mindset with which a lawyer approaches the case can very much affect its outcome. If a lawyer makes the mistake of assuming most cases are solid, and waits for something to the contrary to show up, then he or she will almost always find confirmation of that initial assessment. To get the opposite result, you need the opposite approach. You find problems with the evidence by looking of them, and you start looking for them expecting to find them. While it may turn out that there is no fatal problem to the evidence, that conclusion should be reached only after everything has been carefully examined. If you’re going to make something into a self-fulfilling prophecy, then at least make it winner!
Here is the bottom line in all of those cases that will not be tossed out of court: In many 3rd offense DUI cases in Macomb and Wayne County, the felony charge can be reduced to a misdemeanor. That almost never happens in Oakland County. In every DUI case (including those in Oakland County), the critical requirement that the case be examined “under a microscope” can really pay off when something is found to drive a hard bargain. This, of course, points to why it is so important to carefully scrutinize every piece of evidence in a case. This is really no different than most things in life; good things don’t come easy, and there are no shortcuts to success. Those who succeed work hard at it.
It would be easy, at this point, for me to jump up and down and shout all kinds of “hire me” slogans, but the reality is that you need to take some time in your quest to find the right lawyer for you. A good starting point, particularly when you’re facing a 3rd offense DUI, is that your search for a lawyer in a felony DUI case should generally begin with a focus on DUI lawyers. Even if a lawyer just won a high profile murder case, it doesn’t mean he or she knows the nuances of alcohol-related driving cases any more than a highly regarded brain surgeon is the right person to set a broken leg, or do a heart bypass. In my case, I spend pretty much all day, every day dealing with aspects of drunk driving issues. Whatever else, at this level you need a lawyer who is exclusively, or at least primarily focused on DUI issues, and nothing else. Beyond that, there are numerous considerations I have addressed in other articles that you should keep in mind as you shop around. Probably the most important is that you should shop around. And you should keep your search local, meaning that if your DUI case is in the Detroit area (meaning Wayne, Oakland or Macomb County), I think it’s best to have a lawyer from the same tri-county area.
I certainly believe in the importance of the “local” aspect of things. I don’t handle DUI cases all over Michigan. Instead, I limit where I practice, and thereby simultaneously increase my relevant experience in the same Macomb, Wayne and Oakland county courts. I don’t take money to go to a court somewhere far away where I’ve never been before. To me, that makes it seem like the client is paying my tuition to learn the ropes there, rather than paying for my experience to skillfully navigate him or her through the maze that makes every court, and, indeed, every Judge, different. Whatever else, I like being a local, Detroit area DUI lawyer in familiar Metro Detroit area courts.
Someone facing a felony DUI has to think about the implications the charge has for his or her job. Getting shipped off to jail can be a deal breaker in that regard. This is why, if the case against you is solid enough to withstand any challenges, you need to be properly guided into the right kind of treatment, and otherwise be carefully steered through the each and every step of the whole DUI process. Nothing astounds me more than someone telling me some lawyer gave them some vague, general advice like, “get into counseling.” That’s not much better than someone telling you “Call the fire department” if they see your house in flames! It doesn’t take Einstein to come up with that. In other words, you need a plan, and not just an idea.
What, in the larger picture, is the “right” kind of counseling? The short answer is that it depends. For anyone who has been to counseling, it is easy to think of going back to what is familiar. The problem with that, at least on the surface, is that it doesn’t look like it worked too well in the past. Moreover, if that previous counseling included AA, and you hated AA, then going right back to it isn’t likely to produce any different result. AA is great, but we now know that AA is the “right” fit for only about 1 out of every 3 people who maintain some kind of long-term abstinence from alcohol. That means that 2 out of 3 people don’t get better with AA. This has been empirically validated in study after study.
It will NOT work, however, to show up in court having done nothing. Everyone says they are willing to get into counseling when they get charged with a 3rd offense drinking and driving charge. Just saying so puts you right back in middle of the herd. Finding the “right” kind of counseling or treatment requires balancing things: What is good for you (this takes into account your money, insurance, if any, schedule, and whether you do better in group settings or one-on-one situations) and what will do good for you in your case. This is where I balance both the clinical and legal side of things. I am hired to get my client out of a legal jam. Helping the client in every way possible is always the goal, but saving him or her from getting hammered in court is still job number one. Being able to shift the Judge’s focus from the criminal consequences of a 3rd offense DUI to the clinical implications is extraordinarily helpful in making things better.
After all, it is the end result that matters. I get felony DUI charges reduced to misdemeanors all the time. It takes work and perseverance to do that, but that’s what I charge for. My first meeting with a new client usually takes about 3 hours. How else can I get to know you, or your case, much less your history, in just an hour or two? I put my heart and soul into my work. I make sure that the end result is the best result humanly and legally possible. When you’re facing a 3rd offense DUI, it can seem like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, this situation can seem grave, but with work and effort, we can always make it a lot better. How that is done depends on a multitude of factors, but identifying and then prioritizing them are the first steps to putting together a plan. Above and beyond everything else, you need a plan.
For those a few steps ahead of the “fake it ’till you make it” approach, we can use the way this event has changed your relationship to alcohol to your advantage. At the end of the day, just about everyone stands before the Judge, promising not to drive drunk again, and swearing that he or she won’t pick up another drink. For those who have really had an epiphany moment, that jolt of having truly hit bottom and the steps taken after dusting yourself off from that fall can have a decidedly positive impact on how you are seen by the Judge. When it comes to those situations, I truly believe that I am without equal in my ability to make sure every important facet of that transformative experience is brought to the Judge’s attention. While modesty is an admirable quality, in small doses, one who underestimates his or her talents is really no better than someone who overestimates them. If I was in this situation, I’d a lawyer with my exact background and abilities to speak to the Judge for me. Given the old adage that the lawyer who represents him or herself has a fool for a client, I’d hire the best speaker I know and tell him or her what to say word for word. In this regard, the voice of the lawyer is manifestly important to the outcome of the case.
If you’re facing a 3rd offense DUI, do your homework as you look for an attorney, read the articles other DUI lawyers have written. Then read some more. When you narrow things down, pick up the phone and start calling. Ask questions. When you get to my office, I’ll be glad to give you answers. My office is open M-F, from 8:30 to 5, and can be reached at (586) 465-1980.