Facing a 3rd offense DUI in Michigan means facing a felony charge. It goes without saying that this is frightening, and there is no denying that a felony drunk driving charge is a big deal, but the intent of this article is to make clear that despite the seriousness of the charge itself, things are probably not nearly as bad as they seem, particularly if you’ve been arrested anywhere in Macomb County. As a DUI lawyer with over 25 years’ experience working throughout the Tri-County area, I have a boatload of real world experience handling drunk driving cases in every local district and circuit court in the greater Detroit-area. Knowing what I know (and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a lawyer with any appreciable DUI experience to disagree with me), if you’re going to have to deal with a 3rd offense, you’re almost always better off if it’s in Macomb County, rather than anywhere else.
Let me begin by soothing your fears, rather than increasing them: A 3rd offense drunk driving charge seems – and certainly sounds – a lot worse than it usually turns out. Sure, the law, as written, provides for up to 5 years in prison. However, that’s a bit of a misreading. The way it really works out is that if a person is, in fact, convicted of a 3rd offense DUI felony charge, he or she must serve a minimum 30 days in jail. And before I break this down any further, just several weeks prior to the time this article was written, I handled a 3rd offense charge, in Macomb County, for someone who had 6 prior DUI convictions (making it his 7th actual DUI overall) and was able to get his 30 days in jail served on 15 consecutive weekends. That means that unless you’re reading this for your 7th or 8th DUI charge, you’re already in better shape than he was.
Normally, I don’t launch directly into the hard-sell, self promotion stuff in my articles, but here, let me be both blunt and brief: He got this sentence because he hired me. It took a lot of smart strategy on my part to resolve his case as I did, and it didn’t happen without me calling upon my experience of over 25 years as a DUI lawyer. I often point out that the best outcome in a DUI (or any criminal case, for that matter) results from a comprehensive knowledge of the facts of the case and the law, combined with the skillful management of time, perception and science. That’s exactly what I did here, with the added benefit of doing it in the courthouse across the street from my office…
And that brings us back to an important part of how and why this case worked out so well, and the larger point of this article: DUI cases are, as much as anything else, accidents of geography. They happen where they happen. No one “plans” for, or on getting a DUI. In upcoming articles, I will examine how 3rd offense cases play out in Oakland and Wayne Counties, but I don’t think I’m getting ahead of myself by noting that Oakland County is already well known as the “toughest” of the 3. You won’t find a lawyer who disagrees with me on this, either. The point is that you have to deal with your DUI where you get it, and if yours is in Macomb, you can thank heaven for small favors, but just as in the case described above, this is a factor that we must strategically use to your fullest advantage…
The overall approach to DUI cases in Macomb County is what I find to be a solid balance of practical and progressive: Practical, in the sense that most Judges have a “real world” understanding of how things work, and “progressive” in that they are always willing to try new strategies to help people get a hold of their drinking so that they don’t re-offend. It is very easy to be too practical (“I’ll lock you up so long that you’ll never want to take another drink again”) or too progressive (“Get ready for endless counseling, testing and treatment. Maybe all the talking, group therapy and hand-holding while singing “Kumbaya” will do the trick”). In an ironic way, being too tough, or too rehabilitative is an easy way for a Judge to pass the buck, but the results always come up short. The Judges in Macomb County try very hard not to do that by aiming for the right balance.
If a Judge really wants to try to have the most beneficial impact on a repeat offender, he or she must understand that different things work for different people, and even the best “help” is no good to someone who isn’t ready, or for whom a particular approach isn’t a good fit. If there is one thing I have learned over they decades as a lawyer, and even more from my own, post-graduate clinical education, it’s that when it comes to helping someone with a troubled relationship to alcohol, the old saying “different strokes for different folks” really applies. In this regard, Macomb County is as flexible as any other, and more than most, although the clinical reality is that the judicial system as a whole is literally years, and even decades, behind the most efficacious and modern treatment protocols being used today.
In many of the 3rd offense cases I handle, I am able to get the felony case dismissed and have the charge reduced to a 2nd offense misdemeanor. Most of the time, I try to do this while the case is still in the local district court rather than at the circuit court level. However, there are times, when for various reasons of strategy, it is better to get the case out of the local court and resolve it in the Macomb County Circuit Court, located directly across the street from my office, in downtown Mt. Clemens. This type of decision is always made on a case-by-case basis, and relies upon that “boatload” of experience I referenced earlier. For all the things that go into this, and all the analysis one could do of it, knowing exactly what to do, and when to do it is (or at least becomes) a matter of instinct, honed by all that experience, in the same way a seasoned airline pilot gently lands a plane in all different kinds of weather and wind conditions.
Into this mix of things that must be analyzed, considered, evaluated and ultimately, “strategized,” are things like beginning treatment, attending AA or not, other support group options, and more recently, the whole notion of sobriety court. It is here, again, where experience matters. Knowing what has worked, what has worked best, and what has produced less than optimal results comes from trial and error. As I write this article, I’m reading David McCullough’s excellent biography, “The Wright Brothers,” and, not surprisingly, Wilbur Wright himself knew that all of the intelligence and theory in the world could not keep pace with actual experience. When you walk into court for a DUI, what matters most is how much DUI experience your lawyer has under his or her belt.
At the end of the day, for everything that goes into a case (including the previously referenced knowledge of the facts of the case and the law, combined with the skillful management of perception, science and time), it is the fortunate fact that the Judges in Macomb County try very hard to do the right thing. That same balance of practical and progressive is mirrored by the way all the Macomb Judges try to balance being firm and forgiving. When that balance is struck, we call it fairness. It is the recognition that sending someone to prison for a few years will certainly curtail his or her drunk driving, but may also put the person’s family on the street. Who would want to cost a man or a woman a career, or a good job as part of a swift, if ill-considered punishment? Of course, leniency must be tempered by reality. When you’re standing before a Judge for your 3rd (or 4th, 5th, or even subsequent) DUI, it is clear that there is some kind of problem.
An integral part of my role as “attorney and counselor at law” is to counsel my client. Even though I have a rather advanced clinical education in alcohol and addiction studies, I do not try to “play” substance abuse counselor. That said, I have more than enough experience about alcohol and drug issues, from inside to outside, and from classroom to courtroom, to know how to really talk to and with my clients. The last thing a person facing a 3rd offense DUI needs is some legal Einstein to brilliantly observe, “You have a problem, you better get into treatment.” Duh. Thanks, Captain Obvious. Instead, the reality is that most, although not all 3rd (or subsequent) offenders recognize that their drinking has become a problem. A problem within that problem is that many still think they can find a way to control, handle, manage or limit it. Helping a person to accept that his or her relationship to alcohol has become problematic and is therefore fraught with risk often involves helping him or her find the right person to talk to about it. Shoving someone in AA is a simple solution that very often doesn’t cure the problem. AA is a great program, but it’s not for everyone. Or, as may be the case, it may not be for someone yet, or may be the right choice for a while; different strokes for different folks.
AA has a saying that sums this up better than anything else I’ve heard, and once you really “get” this, then you’ll see things differently: “I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but every time I got in trouble, I had been drinking.” This is not only a call to action to the person facing a 3rd offense OWI charge in Michigan, but is also a reminder to the court that the only way to handle that person is to make sure he or she is separated from alcohol.
In Macomb County, that’s done with consideration for the individual. It would be great if you could just turn back the hands of time and “un-do” a DUI arrest, but that’s not going to happen. If you’re facing a drunk driving charge in Macomb County, look for Macomb County experience. Read from my 200-plus DUI articles; there’s more information here than on just about every other site combined. Check out my website; its very name,