DUI 1st Offense in Michgan – Not the end of your World

As a Michigan DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyer, I handle the whole gamut of drunk driving and driver’s license related work, from 1st, 2nd and 3rd (felony) drinking and driving offenses, to restoring driver’s licenses for people after those 2nd and 3rd offenses. The name of my site, www.macombduidefense.com is a big a clue regarding my day job. Of all the people that I encounter, however, probably the most emotional and nervous are those facing a 1st DUI offense. Most of the time, these clients present as people who have never been in trouble before, and now they have to hire a lawyer and go to court for what is, at its core, a criminal charge.

fear 1.3.jpgMy practice is unique in that I generally work with a more cerebral, educated and genteel client base. My clients are usually people with more at stake – meaning more to lose – than the average person. Many of my clients have professional licenses, good jobs, and a high degree of accountability and responsibility. Certainly, there is no one at my level of clients for whom a drunk driving is any kind of badge of honor. To a person, all of my clients want to make this whole DUI thing go away as much as possible. I can certainly make that happen to the extent factually, humanly and legally possible, but all the reassurance in the world won’t completely obviate a person’s concerns or trepidation as he or she moves through the DUI process.

Therefore, lets’ begin this discussion on a positive note: Almost without exception, you do not really face going to jail for a 1st offense DUI. That means you should probably reconsider hiring any lawyer whose primary sales pitch is that he or she will keep you out of jail; that’s about as meaningful and skilled as a dentist who tries to lure you in by promising not to drill through your skull when doing a filling. This is worth repeating: No jail in a 1st offense DUI case (the single exception being one Judge in the Bloomfield Hills 48th district court). Since Jail is, far and away, the biggest fear most people have, take a deep breath now that we’ve cleared that up. How sure am I of this? I have been handling DUI cases for 25 years. Thinking back over the last 10 or so of those years, I honestly cannot count the number of 1st offense cases I have handled, except to put that figure in the thousands. Out of all of them NOT ONE of my clients – meaning ZERO – went to jail. Now, has some of your tension finally dissipated?

Handling the legal side of things is obviously a core function of my job, but part of the whole title “attorney and counselor at law” implies help beyond the courtroom, as well. That calls upon the “counselor” part of the title. This is understandably lacking when a lawyer is young, or has limited experience with DUI cases. One would hope that changes with time. In my case, after a quarter century of working in this field, I have pretty much seen it all. I haven’t yet had an astronaut as DUI client, but I’ve had scores of doctors, lawyers, nurses, endless numbers of engineers, and plenty of people for whom a DUI is not a career booster. In fact, I’ve had people who depend upon a commercial driver’s license (CDL) for a living, and those for whom any criminal conviction requires notification of a licensing authority (usually in Lansing). I am intimately familiar with and know how to help my clients address those concerns that fall outside of the courthouse walls, and I am cognizant that uncertainty about them can often be more stressful than just the outcome of the DUI case itself.

Each case is, of course, unique, just as is every client. Still, the reader can take some comfort in the general reality that many of my clients come to my office wearing their hearts on their shirt, worried sick, losing sleep and envisioning the collapse of everything they’ve worked so hard to gain, all to later survive the DUI experience personally and professionally intact. In other words, everything works out. If you earn a living as a school bus driver or as an ambulance driver, then sure, a DUI is probably going to disrupt your work life. And while this is hardly the time for a pep talk about thinking big and self-sufficiency, the fact is that successful people plug on. It’s in their DNA; it’s why they’re successful in the first place. If you feel at the low point of your life right now as you look for a DUI lawyer and prepare to deal with this mess, ask yourself honestly, are you really so fragile and resigned to failure that you think of all the setbacks and suffering people have endured in their lives, this single situation is going to ruin you? Seriously? You’re better than that…

Console yourself with this: If absolutely everything that can go wrong because of your DUI goes wrong, it still isn’t that bad. Two rather interesting phenomena I’ve watched from my perspective as a DUI lawyer are, first, that those who have the least to worry about (meaning that their situation will be resolved rather painlessly) usually worry the most, and second, that many people who have achieved any measurable degree of success in life often feel as if a black cloud has gathered overhead, obscuring the reality that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Key here is that it IS a reality that there IS light at the end of the tunnel. I guess this is a long winded way of saying that the more you worry, the less you have to worry about, and, as the old saying goes, don’t sweat the small stuff, because it’s all small stuff. Walk down the hall of any intensive care unit in a hospital, or look at the cars in the lot of a funeral home, and you realize there are a lot of people who would trade problems with you in a heartbeat.

Of course, proper legal help can make this situation better, and I don’t mean this is some nebulous BS advertising way like, “good cookware can make any dish better!” Certainly it is always a goal to get the case “knocked out,” or to somehow beat it. If the case, specifically meaning the evidence within it, is solid enough to withstand a legal challenge (and most are), then we can and will minimize as many of the negative consequences as possible. That’s straightforward enough, but hardly what I meant by “make this better.” In one of my recent DUI articles, I pointed out that beyond the facts of the case and the applicable law, the skilled DUI lawyer must use perception, science and time to the client’s advantage. For example, when handling a DUI for a licensed professional of some sort, the timing of things can be very important.

I fundamentally believe in the importance of a symbiotic, or at least a quasi-symbiotic relationship between the client and I as we embark, together, on handling a DUI. It is critical, in the first place, instance, I come to know my client well. This may sound like a bunch of hooey, but I just don’t think there’s anyway to get to know either the client or the case in a quick, 1-hour meeting; to me, that’s an “either-or” proposition. In my world, I need to get to know both the client, meaning who he or she is as a person, does for a living, has in terms of career plans and life goals, as well as the details about the case.

Here is an interesting, if not ironic observation: In almost every DUI case I’ve handled where the evidence was open to a successful challenge, I’ve discovered that fact through my own investigation. What I mean, specifically, is that there is almost never anything to the claims of angry, blowhard loudmouths who want to sit down with a lawyer, pound the conference table with their fists, and then tick off all the constitutional defects with the case against them. If you’ve read this far, then you have probably already figured out that those aren’t the “cerebral” clients I mentioned earlier. Fortunately, I hardly count many of that type amongst my client base in the first place. Instead, I usually get the soft-spoken engineers or the quiet nurses who wring their hands worrying themselves sick over what’s going to happen, assuming all along that the case against them is rock-solid. It is through the back-and-forth, deliberate and un-rushed question and answer that I learn the things that really matter in a case and can really be of “make-it-or-break-it” difference.

1st offenders suffer from fear of the unknown, and that, at least in the context of facing a DUI, is a good thing. It is never good to be a veteran at this game unless you’re the lawyer. I know what is going to happen, at least pretty darn well, in every DUI case I take. My client does not. Again, the best analogy I can give comes from the dentist’s office. When I go and see my dentist for a cap, or a crown, or something a bit more involved than a simple filling, I’m a bit apprehensive. He, on the other hand, is all chatty and upbeat. He knows that in an hour or so, he’ll be on to the next patient and I’ll be walking out the door to go home, or wherever. In my mind, I’m wondering about blood and the strength of adhesives and soreness and eating and my mouth feels big and fat and swollen (from the Novocain) and my inclination toward small talk is somewhat impeded. I am, after all, apprehensive. That’s to be expected. My dentist, on the other hand, is not, because he sees the bigger picture and knows what’s going to happen.

I’m not sure if my interest in human cognition draws me to this aspect of things. Before law school, I earned my undergraduate degree in psychology. Years after getting my law degree, my fascination with people’s behavior drew me back to a post-graduate certification program in the related field of addiction studies. To me, helping my client adjust and “get through” a DUI is as important as taking care of all the legalities. Perhaps I see how people stress out over this because I look for it, but whatever else, I’m glad that I do. At the end of the day, most people using a professional for any kind of personal service (dental or medical treatment or help in a legal matter) will not really be able to appreciate the more subtle nuances of what has been done for them, or not done for them, without a direct (or as close to direct as possible) comparison. I often point out that it is my moral obligation to take care of interests my client may not now, and may never know, he or she has. No matter how little of that ever becomes known, people do appreciate that you have “been there” for them.

I get thank you cards often, but, I’m happy to report, many of those cards are directed to my staff and express the writer’s gratitude for the help they’ve provided along the way. If a client presents as a ball of nerves, it is important to help him or her relax. Sometimes, doing that means providing reassurance based upon a lot of real-world experience. It’s all fine and dandy to just tell someone that everything is going to be okay, but it’s a little better when the client understands that you’re speaking from decades of experience.

If you’re facing a 1st offense DUI, it is almost a certainty that, right now, you’re imagining things to be a lot worse than they actually are. As you look for a lawyer, make sure you look to someone who can reassure you and doesn’t try to exploit your fears. When stressed, we become vulnerable; when vulnerable, we are more easily manipulated. Approach your DUI, first and foremost, with the certain knowledge that everything will be okay. You need damage control, not life support. As part of your inquiry, please feel free to call my office. My wonderful staff is there, to answer your questions, right when you call. We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm, at 586-465-1980.

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