In a recent article, I looked at how the court system has an inherent bias regarding alcohol in criminal and DUI cases. The examination in that piece was, of course, from my perspective as a Michigan DUI lawyer. A few weeks ago, I received a nice, descriptive email from a past client in which he detailed his experience of having gone through the DUI process. What a gift! Of course, I was glad to hear from my client (he is a really nice guy, and when you read his email, you’ll quickly get a sense of that), but I was even more thrilled at the unexpected gift of a long email that I could use to show what it’s like to go through the DUI probation process from the client’s perspective, especially in light of how my client related it directly to my recent article about “The Alcohol Bias,” where I looked at how the court system is naturally inclined to suspect a drinking problem in just about every OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) case that goes through it. The set up here is important: My client had provided a High BAC breath test result in a drunk driving case that took place in THE undisputed toughest court in the Detroit area, located, of course, in Oakland County.
As you’ll see from the email itself, my client didn’t feel like he had been treated too harshly, or in any way treated unfairly. Instead, he felt the full weight of the court system’s built-in tendency to “over-diagnose” the existence and/or extent of a person’s alcohol problem. The term “over diagnosis” is not some crafty phrase I came up with as a DUI lawyer, but rather something I formally learned about doing post-graduate work in addiction studies. This is a very real concept, well understood in the clinical community, yet virtually unknown in that judicial system that suffers from it. It is relevant here because the facts of this client’s case were somewhat unique, and he was very much at risk to be ordered into an expensive and time consuming IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program), and all kinds of other counseling, education, rehab, testing and treatment. We worked hard and intelligently to minimize that, and, as you’ll see, my client was able to carry away enough from our time together to help himself from being stuck in AA that didn’t “click” with him during his time on probation. AA is great for some people, but certainly not everyone. Unfortunately, the court system is just not in a position to analyze and then act with such clinical precision, so many people find themselves in the cross-hairs of the kind of “over treatment” caused by over diagnosis.
To be clear, I have no dislike for or problem with AA in general, but I believe it is best for those who really need and want it, and will fit well with it. You may go to a particular church and find lots of comfort and inspiration from your Pastor. Good for you. That does not mean, however, that it’s the place for everyone. You may hate my favorite restaurant. Some people thrive in AA, while others hate it; some like it, some tolerate it, and some just don’t connect with it. As the saying goes, “Different strokes for different folks.” The court system, unfortunately, often sees AA as a kind of universal, super-cure-all, even though it is certainly not. If there’s one lesson that seems to go perpetually (and curiously) unlearned, it’s that sending someone to AA who does not belong there, or who is turned off by it, will almost certainly never produce the desired outcome. In other words, if someone is forced into AA who doesn’t like or need AA, then they’re not going to get any help from it. That’s like sending a skinny person to Weight Watchers. Likewise, even if someone needs help, forcing him or her to get it from AA alone is rather short-sighted, given that modern research has and continues to validate an ever-widening panorama of helpful treatment options, including things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), brief interventions, individual counseling, group therapy and other support groups besides AA (Smart Recovery, Women for Sobriety, ect.). With that as our background, let’s move on to my client’s email (reprinted exactly as written, including typos, with the exception of the removal of his Probation Officer’s name), and get his take on all this:
Hey there, I was a client of yours in October of 2014 for an OWI (my first an only). I just read your posting on LinkedIn about the bias in the system and that we all must be “fixed”. Oh yes, you got that right. I admit to my mistake of drinking too much and sitting in my car (I wasn’t driving, the car was parked) and I got caught. I screwed up. But the worst part was the over analysis of the Counselors who were by God convinced I had some deep underlying issue and that I had to be an Alcoholic and needed ongoing therapy and really needed to attend AA. The “Group Therapy” is really no more than a Cult like environment where you are publicly shamed if you don’t agree to AA and your underlying Alcohol and soon to be drug addictions. It is by my experience more of a hindrance to moving on with life after an OWI than a help. I had to fight like Hell just to get out of there without AA indoctrination. I went to one AA meeting and geez that was the most depressing experience. I know it works for some, but not everyone and certainly not me.
Amazingly the Probation Officer (NAME REMOVED) was far nicer than the Counseling sessions. She understood more about me and my situation than the “sessions” did.
If I could champion any cause in this situation it would be that “let’s get inside your head and convince you that you have a lifetime of issues that we need to deal with” that the Counseling sessions try to do to you. It’s a cult as far as I can tell. Oh and they push the AA thing like it’s not religious based….HAH! I mean I am a spiritual guy but I don’t want someone lecturing me about stuff I know already on Religion. They treat the “Big Book” like a Bible but deny any Religious affiliations. Seems like the courts should not be involved in anything that pushes a Religious agenda. I am just Damn glad I had the personal integrity to fight the system. Otherwise, like many in there I would still be attending the “sessions” for re-programming.
My client didn’t go to jail, and he obviously survived the DUI ordeal intact, but his email shows how the court system is just poised to fix and rehab the daylights out of you, whether you need the help or not. And not to go off on a rant, but this is symptomatic of the way things seem to be getting done nowadays in every sphere of life. We have to talk everything to death: Talk, talk, talk. We are long past the days when a DUI could just “happen” and be seen as a mistake that at least some people won’t repeat again. It used to be that the cost, embarrassment and inconvenience of a DUI was seen as punishment enough, but because of the number of repeat offenders (although the overwhelming majority of 1st offenders never do it again) and high profile, fatal drunk driving cases, that kind of approach is no longer seen as good enough. And as I pointed out in the “alcohol bias” article, the world is hardly going to lose any sleep over the notion that a drunk driver had to do some classes or counseling that may not have been necessary, especially instead of doing any jail time. About the most sympathy you’ll ever get is an impatient, “Oh well…”
Even so, it’s always better, at least from the client’s point of view, to avoid any and every consequence that you can. Who wants to be punished? Who wants to be punished more? Who would want more expense, more inconvenience, and more time away from life and work? If there is a point here, it’s that you must first identify the alcohol bias before you can take any steps to avoid it. Yet for all of that, I just wanted to let the reader see how a person going through the DUI probation process experienced this. All the lawyer talk in the world falls into what I just described as “Talk, talk, talk.” Here, we got hear from someone who walked the walk.
As I usually end my articles, I’ll simply advise the reader that, no matter where you are or what the circumstances of your case, if are facing a DUI (or any kind of charge) and you need a lawyer, take the time to be a good consumer. Read the articles lawyers have written. Call around. If you’re facing a DUI in Macomb, Oakland or Wayne County, make sure you call my office, as well. We’re here to help, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 to 5:00, and can be reached at 586-465-1980.