In this article, I want to return to the subject of a 1st offense DUI, and look at it from the inside, meaning how it feels to be the person facing it. In Michigan, we technically have no such offense as “DUI,” so the phrase means either an OWI (operating while intoxicated) or a High BAC charge. For most people, a DUI is usually their first (and, hopefully last) real contact with the criminal justice system. It is stressful. I have seen many a grown man cry on the police car video, while being arrested, and it is not uncommon for people to cry in my office, as well. This is actually a good thing, because it means the person takes it seriously and is not callous or otherwise experienced at being arrested.
I think it’s vitally important to know that it’s okay to be nervous and it’s okay to be afraid. You have all kinds of concerns and they are a natural part of what you’re going through. You need to be able to feel better about your situation and have your concerns addressed and questions answered. While it is my goal here to alleviate your fears, it is highly unlikely that just reading “everything will be alright” (even though that’s true) will make your worries just disappear. All the assurances in the world aside, it is important that you get accurate and honest answers to your questions, and not just blanket, broad-brush “feel good” promises. Remember, you’re the one stressing out. This is not the time to be shy and wait to inquire about what matters most to you like it’s some kind of polite afterthought. Write your questions out so you remember them. In my office, for example, a client is always welcome to come in with a friend or family member for support and/or to ask questions.
For many people, the police lights in the rear-view mirror make the stomach drop like a big roller coaster. Still, you experience this illogical hope that maybe you’ll get through the traffic stop just fine. This explains why just about everyone, when asked by the officer if he or she has had anything to drink, responds by replying “a couple” or “two.” Everybody says this, or something like it. Most people, however, begin to get a sense that this situation won’t just blow over when they get asked out of the car. Usually, field sobriety tests follow next. A few minutes later, when the officer instructs you to put your hands behind their back, you get this raging flood of volatile emotions, including a mix of outright fear, regret and despair: How is this going to work out? I’m supposed to go home!
What follows is a study in abject humiliation. The whole police process is depersonalizing, if not dehumanizing. You may call the shots at work, or be someone important, somewhere, but at the police station, you’re just another drunk. The world carries on around you like you’re not even there. As horrible as this experience may be as you go through it, it can also serve as a potent disincentive and reminder thereafter to prevent a recurrence. Nobody ever wants to go through this again. By the time you’re released, usually the next day, you want to wash off all the “yuck” from the night before, and you’d like nothing more than to be able to simply erase the memory from your mind, even though you’re still (understandably) obsessing on it. When you can think ahead a little bit, you realize that there is still much work to do, and this whole situation is something you’ll be living with for a while.
The goal of this installment is not to increase or even reawaken your stress. As I have noted in lots of other articles, with one single exception (one Judge in the 48th District Court in Bloomfield Hills) you are not going to jail. Jail is NOT on the menu, so if that’s your worst fear, then breathe easy, at least about that. In my most recent DUI article, I examined how people with various medical/dental licenses had to report a DUI conviction to LARA, the State of Michigan’s department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. I also observed that I’ve never seen anyone have to undergo and disciplinary proceedings as a result thereof. The point here is that while it is understandable that a DUI is a stressful experience, if you look just a little farther down the road, to the eventual and final outcome of the case, you’ll see that all the anxiety and worry is misplaced. This situation is not nearly as bad as it seems. I suppose the worst part of me saying that, in light of my earlier observation, is that you’re just going to have to wait and find out for yourself how true this is. Still, most of my clients are professionals, or at least have very good jobs, and could (fortunately) be described as “novice” arrestees who don’t have any experience about what comes next. It is normal to be worried about the impact of a DUI on your life and career, because everyone realizes that racking up DUI’s is an obvious impediment to successful career advancement.
I believe that an important part of my role as a DUI lawyer is to help my clients work through their concerns and alleviate their fears. To the extent that there are lawyers out there trying to exploit the fear factor in someone, shame on them. I think that sometimes, professionals of all sorts like to keep a certain mystery about what they do and how they do it, but I have no hesitation to pull the curtain back and demystify what I do. This is not magic, so there’s no trick to ruin; this is real life, and knowledge is a good thing (although one must never forget that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”). To the extent that someone is stressing out about consequences that just aren’t going to happen, it’s downright cruel to not clear that up right away, don’t you think?
This is not to say that all your concerns are unfounded. It’s not likely that the whole case will just go away. If, for example, you drive your kids to school in the morning and you get a DUI during the school year, unless you are lucky enough that the police botched your case so bad that the Judge just throws it out of court, your driver’s license will, by law, be restricted for at least 90 days. You will still be able to drive to work, but there is no mechanism in the law that can or will allow you to take the kids to school, even if you’re a single parent. And to be clear, there is no legal way around this, no matter how much money you have to spend. These are things we’ll have to work around.
It is not uncommon for someone who has never been in trouble before to ask something like, “Doesn’t it matter that I’ve never been in trouble before?” The answer is a qualified “yes.” Without question, the more trouble-free years you have behind you, the better. But it is also a given that the court system is keenly aware that there is a much higher incidence of drinking problems amongst DUI drivers than the population at large. The system is keen to “over diagnose” the presence of an alcohol problem or the risk that one will develop. This occurs without regard for how educated, nice or well employed you are. The only way to combat this is through proper representation, which in turn involves proper preparation of the client. This explains, in part, why my first meeting with a new DUI client lasts at least 2 hours, with more to follow.
That said, where you’ve come from, who and what kind of person you are (meaning things like your lack of a prior record and your accomplishments), and where you’re at in life now does play a role in how your case is presented, negotiated, and, ultimately, resolved. Career criminals with nothing going for them will never get the same benefits as an otherwise hard working, law-abiding taxpayer who simply made a bad decision by driving after having had a few too many.
Perhaps the greatest irony I see regularly is that those who worry the most (probably in part because they are amateurs at this) have the least to worry about. It is these folks who come into my office repeating how they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make things better. We will certainly have things to do, but that doesn’t mean anything extraordinary or expensive. The apprehension almost everyone experiences is in large part fear of the unknown. I know that only time and experience will prove this, but things will turn out much better than you fear. I believe that as you look for the right lawyer, you need to evaluate how your concerns are addressed and your questions answered, and by that I certainly DO NOT mean that you should look around for someone who tells you what you want to hear. You may not like any particular answer, but if it’s given honestly, with compassion and understanding about what it means to you, then you’re probably on to something.
If you call around, read what lawyers have written and take your time, you will find the right match. Of course, I hope that you call my office as part of your search. We’re open M-F, from 8:30 to 5, can be reached at 586-465-1980, and will answer your questions right when you call. Still, no one lawyer is the right fit for everyone, and whatever you do, your stress level will come down more than you can imagine when you find the one that is. As our parting thought, do remember that, no matter how apprehensive you feel and no matter how gloomy things may seem right now, in a 1st offense DUI case, it’s a sure thing that everything will ultimately work out just fine. Believe me, in less time than you might believe, you will look back and see this as just another entry in the scrapbook of life.