DUI in Michigan – Never been in Trouble Before

A big part of being a Michigan DUI lawyer is representing people who have never been in trouble before.  A drunk driving charge is a criminal charge, but the kind of client for whom I handle a DUI is hardly any kind of “criminal.”  Most of my DUI clients are people who have never been arrested before, and therefore never imagined being transported to a police station in handcuffs and spending a night in jail.  Then it happens.  If you’re reading this, chances are you, at least someone you care about, has recently been through a DUI arrest.  If it’s you, then you know it sucks.  If it’s your spouse, partner, sibling, child or someone important to you, you’re probably sharing in the misery.  Let me begin with the good news; Assuming you didn’t hurt anyone, and with the exception of just one Judge in the Greater-Detroit area, there is almost certainly no more jail in your future for a 1st offense DUI.  I say this upfront because I hate how some lawyers pander to people’s fears.  You know the type; they’re everywhere, reminding you of all the ways that a drunk driving charge can ruin your life while selling their services to save you from certain doom.  To be sure, a DUI is serious business, but in more than 26 years, I’ve represented people from every walk of life – from surgeons to sergeants, nurses to nannies, teachers to techies, engineers to bakers – and NOT ONE of my 1st offense drinking and driving clients has ever lost a job, or otherwise been “ruined.”

article-2255011-16B27161000005DC-30_634x603-300x285I wish I could say it was all thanks to me, but the honest truth is that, as scary as all of this can seem, the legal system itself is not designed to destroy anyone’s life over a DUI.  Sure, there is punishment and there are sanctions; the idea is to make it hurt enough so that you won’t let it happen again.  For the most part, that works, at least for my typical client, who is a professional with a lot to lose.  Often enough, a client will present to me with concerns about his or her occupational or professional licensure (everyone presents with concerns about his or driver’s license).  These are all manageable issues, and I mean manageable in the sense that, if handled properly, there will be no interruption or suspension of one’s ability to keep his or her job, or practice in a licensed field.  Still, I understand that there is a kind of persisting mortification that a person experiences after being released from his or her overnight in jail, and the point I want to make here is that while such feelings are normal, they are also, fortunately, misplaced.  The worst is already over.

And therein, really, lies the mystery and the truth.  While a DUI can be a threat to your future, most of the worst consequences aren’t even on the menu in a 1st offense case.  Proper and timely defensive action can protect you from most of the other potential fallout, as well.  The mystery here is the sense of unknown surrounding what will happen – “Am I going to go to jail?” – (no), while the truth is that bundle other consequences that you are at a very real risk to experience.  This is where all that “proper and timely defensive action” comes into play.  And to be clear, “timely” does NOT mean hurry up and hire a lawyer.  On the contrary, you should take your time and get to know the lawyers you’re considering by reading their articles and websites.  There is NEVER a reason to hurry up and hire a lawyer, and the only reason any lawyer would suggest you “act now” or “call today” is so that you won’t continue to look around, explore your options, and find someone else.  Believe me, there is simply no good reason to ever NOT put in the time to really do your homework when it comes to hiring a lawyer.

There are some lessons a person will learn as he or she goes through this.  One of things all lawyers experience, and I’m sure it’s this way for doctors and dentists, as well, is that some people are the demanding type and think they can make the system bend to their wishes.  In my line of work, this often comes in the form of a person who says something like, “I can’t have a conviction on my record.”  Oh, okay, so we’ll just tell the prosecutor that and I’m sure they’ll in turn tell their boss, “So-and-so can’t have a conviction on his (or her) record,” and the boss, in turn, will say, “Then just dismiss the charges.”  Yeah, right.  Another doozy is the person who is too busy to come to court.  You may think you’re really important (curiously, I’ve NEVER had any of my physician clients, some of whom have been surgeons, use this excuse, even though they’d probably be the most believable of anyone, if they did), but to the court system, you’re simply case number such-and-such.  You have to show up in court when required to do so.

A second lesson most of us have to learn as we go through the court system, or the health care system (or we get a mortgage or buy a car) is that we’re not lawyers (I am, but you get the idea for this example), doctors, mortgage brokers or engineers.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  What’s that, the police didn’t read you your rights when you were arrested for your DUI?  Oh, well, guess what?  They didn’t have to.  They won’t be seeking to admit any of your post-arrest statements into evidence against you, nor did they likely obtain any evidence from you based upon anything you said after you were taken into custody.  In fact, much (if not just about everything) someone thinks they know about the law and DUI’s is wrong, or at least not right.  Don’t play lawyer.  This isn’t a problem for people who hire a lawyer to help them, but it can be a problem for those people who hire a lawyer with the idea that they know everything and are going to run the show while the lawyer just does his or her bidding.

The third lesson is one that the system doesn’t really care about you (or anyone else).  It’s a system; it has no feelings.  People will sometimes ask, in frustration, “How do they expect me to keep my job?” or “How am I supposed to get to work?” or “Do they think I can keep taking time off from work for this?”  There is no “they,” so therefore no one who expects anything.  When you get stuck in the system (and for all the inconvenience it may cause, it is, after all, only temporary), you have to follow its rules.  And yes, you’re expected to follow them.

Similarly, no one is going to help you figure out how to pay for all this.  A DUI is expensive at every turn.  If you’re facing one, you should probably not even think about the cost, because you’re going to blow a lot of money.  That’s just how it is.

Another important lesson (and, admittedly, a bit of shameless self-promotion on my part) is that the lawyer you hire figures prominently into how things will work out for you.  If you are inclined to blow $10,000-plus on the operation that says it will make everything go away, don’t be so surprised, later on, when you look back and admit it sounded too good to be true.  It did, and, of course, your case didn’t go away.  If you really just use common sense, you’ll find that a steady, calm voice will always produce much better results for you than anything else.

Finally, and although the “system” doesn’t itself have any feelings to care about you, me, or anyone else, plenty of the people within it do care, and thus who you are as a person really does matter in your case.  This does not contradict what I said above, but rather works in tandem with it, in the same way that has a top also has a bottom, and everything that has a right side has a left side, as well.

Yet for all of this, the “what’s next?” and “what’s going to happen to me?” questions are haunting.  When I say it will be okay, it will, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be pleasant sitting in court with some of the same kinds of people you saw in jail.  This is a humbling experience, and the kind of people that make up my client base find the humiliating aspect of this whole experience as much a deterrent as any and everything else.  That’s a good thing.

The real risk in a DUI case is getting all caught up in all kinds of counseling, treatment and other burdensome probation requirements.  Just about every living soul will make a deal with the devil when they’re scared, and say things like “I’ll do all the probation in the world,” or “I’ll do any kind of treatment they want me to” –  and, to finish the sentence – “to stay out of jail.”  Truth is, they mean it when they say it.  But when they realize, down the road, that they were never going to go to jail in the first place, their perspective changes.  This is why I quickly emphasize that, for a 1st offense, you’re not going to get locked up anyway (the only possible exception being one Judge in the 48th district court), so looking for a lawyer on the basis that he or she will keep you out of jail is like looking for a plumber to make sure you don’t drown from a running toilet.  What you should be looking for is someone who can spare you from difficult and demanding probation with lots of breath and/or urine testing and unnecessary counseling and treatment and all kinds of other conditions.

In my practice, I call upon my clinical training to make sure we avoid all that.  In every DUI case, be it a 1st offense, 2nd offense, or even a 3rd (felony) offense, prior to a person being sentenced by the Judge, he or she must undergo a mandatory alcohol screening.  This essentially involves completing a written “test” (technically called a screening instrument) that is scored, and that score, more than just about anything else, is used to determine whether a person is believed to have, or be at risk to develop a drinking problem.  This test is administered as part of a larger pre-sentence investigation (PSI) process that requires the person to meet with a probation officer, complete the alcohol screening questionnaire and answer a bunch of other questions (I spend a couple of hours with my each of my clients going over this in painstaking detail), all of which is used by that probation officer to make a written recommendation to the Judge for sentencing.  And make no mistake about it, that “recommendation” is really the blueprint for exactly what is going to happen to you.  This means that making sure it’s lenient is a million times more effective than showing up in court on the day of sentencing and arguing for leniency in spite of it.  We’ve already established that Jail isn’t on the menu, but the whole panorama of counseling, treatment, testing, community service and every other thing you can imagine is on the table, so limiting that at the outset is job number one.  The better prepared you are for the screening, the better you’ll do on it, and the fewer conditions of probation you’ll have to endure, like counseling, treatment and constant testing.

If there’s one thing I know I do exceptionally well, it’s presenting the whole of who my client is to the court.  If you felt like you didn’t belong in jail, and that being taken away in handcuffs was an awful experience, we need to turn that around so the Judge can understand that this whole DUI thing is an aberration in your life; it’s not who you are, and, left to your own devices, and without all the help and safeguards some other people may need, you’ll steer clear of any repeat performance.  Of course, if it was as easy as just saying that, then I’d be out of a job, and everyone would be seen as an exception just by saying so.  Knowing what should be presented and how to do that (and some of this depends on the particular Judge to whom your case has been assigned) is a large part of why you hire a lawyer.  It would be easy for me to just say, “Hey, I’m the best, so just hire me,” but the truth is that, beyond the operations that will suck you dry selling you the line that they’ll make everything go away (they won’t), you need to find the lawyer who is the right fit for you and knows the court where your case is pending.  I’m a talker (you probably got that already), an explainer, and an analyzer, but I’m also a strong leader.  I know what I’m doing, and don’t let myself get wrapped up with a client who wants to play co-pilot.  I don’t mix particularly well with name-droppers (if that worked, you wouldn’t be looking for a lawyer, would you?), know-it-alls (especially amateur constitutional scholars or amateur police procedure experts) or people who have a chip on their shoulder and are determined to make everything harder than it needs to be.  I do, however, get on well with people who have a lot of questions, who are genuinely worried about making sure they choose the best course of action, and those who are really committed to putting a DUI incident in the past as expeditiously and painlessly as possible.

As you do your research for a lawyer, take the time to read as much as you can from each lawyers site and blog.  Obviously, you probably can’t read my whole blog, and certainly not all of the 277-plus DUI articles on it (yeah, I told you I’m a talker…), but you can pick enough out to get a very clear idea of my approach to DUI cases.  When you read articles, don’t just look for the things you want to hear; read between the lines, so to speak.  Whenever you’re ready (assuming your DUI is anywhere in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb County), call my office.  We’re here to help, and are in Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.  We can be reached at 586-465-1980.  All the consultation stuff is done over the phone, right when you call, so you don’t have to worry about getting roped into an appointment or ever feeling any high-pressure (or other) tactics to get you to “sign up.”