As a Michigan DUI lawyer, I handle some aspect of drunk driving cases on a daily basis. I am in a local court for drinking and driving charges just about every day, as well. Within the DUI section of this blog, I regularly post articles about some aspect of the DUI process, and often write about “making things better.” I have tried to be specific by explaining how that means making the outcome of an OWI case more lenient, and avoiding negative consequences for my client. To a certain extent, those consequences are avoided or minimized by working out a plea bargain, which means getting the original charge reduced (some people say, albeit redundantly, “reduced down”). As I see it, this is an expected part of the deal when you hire a DUI lawyer like me. I’m always somewhat puzzled when a new client seems surprised at my reassurance that we should have no problem negotiating away the more serious charge he or she is facing in exchange for something less serious. In this short article, I want to do a quick overview of the last 7 DUI cases I’ve taken care of in court, because the plea deal in each of them materially improved the outcome for my clients.
The first thing a lawyer should do after bring hired for a DUI is to gather and examine the evidence, and look for a way to beat or “knock out” the case. Absent a compelling reason otherwise, I usually obtain the dash-cam video from the police car, as well as the video from the police-station, where the breath test took place. Even if the evidence clearly shows that the person was drunk and the police followed the proper procedures, there is reassurance in just knowing that. In the real world, the number of DUI cases that get dropped is always the exception, rather than the rule. Most drunk driving cases simply don’t get thrown out of court. Statistically speaking, if you’ve been arrested for a DUI, it is far more likely that your case will go through the system rather than get dismissed because the evidence is faulty. This makes getting the best plea bargain possible important to what will happen to you.
Looking over the couple of weeks before this article was written, I was able to obtain a good, solid plea bargain in the last 7 cases I handled. I’m using 7 because it is a good sample without being repetitious. I should remind the reader here, as I do in many other places, that in order to bring about the kind of results I do, I generally limit my DUI practice to Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties (the Detroit-area). It is because I know exactly how things work in any given court that I am able to more successfully navigate within its system. It’s just a simple truth that you’re better when you’re familiar with things. Before we get to the results I produced, here’s a chart of Michigan penalties for 1st, 2nd and 3rd offense drunk driving cases:
1st Offense OWI, UBAL or OUID:
1. Up to 93 days in jail
2. 6 months Suspended License: 1st 30 days no driving at all, remaining 5 months Restricted Driving allowed.
3. Up to $500 in fines, plus costs
4. Up to 360 hours of Community Service
5. 6 Points on your Driving Record
6. $1000 Driver Responsibility Fee for 2 years
OWI with BAC of .17 or more (High BAC or “Superdrunk):
1. Up to 180 days in jail
2. Fine of $200 but not more than $700
3. One year license suspension with restrictions permitted after 45 days
4. Up to 360 hours community service
5. Cost of prosecution
6. Immobilization not exceeding 180 days allowed
7. 6 points on the driving record
8. Mandatory alcohol treatment program or self-help program for a period of not less than one year.
9. Motorists who wish to drive after the 45-day license suspension may do so only after a breath alcohol ignition interlock device is installed on their vehicle for the remained of the 1 year suspended/restricted period.
OWVI (Impaired Driving):
1. Up to 93 days in jail
2. 90 days Restricted Driving
3. Up to $300 in fines, plus costs
4. Up to 360 hours of Community Service
5. 4 Points on your Driving Record
6. $500 Driver Responsibility Fee for 2 years
2nd Offense OWI, UBAL, or OUID:
1. 5 days to 1 year in jail, or
2. 30 to 90 days Community Service, and
3. 1 year Revoked License (no driving at all, no license available)
4. $200 to $1000 fine, plus costs
5. License Plate Confiscation
6. Vehicle Immobilization from 90 to 189 days, unless vehicle is forfeited
7. Possible Vehicle Forfeiture
8. 6 Points on your Driving Record
9. $1000 Driver Responsibility Fee for 2 years.
3rd Offense OWI, UBAL, or OUID:
1. 1 to 5 years in the State Prison, or
2. 30 days to 1 year in the County Jail followed by Probation
3. 5 years Revoked License (no driving at all, no license available)
4. $500 to $5000 fine, plus costs
5. 60 to 180 days Community Service
6. License Plate Confiscation
7. Vehicle Immobilization 1 to 3 years unless vehicle is forfeited
8. Possible Vehicle Forfeiture
9. Registration Denial
10. 6 Points on your Driving Record
11. $1000 Driver Responsibility for 2 years
With this in mind, and moving backwards from the most recent case, let’s see how things worked out in my last 7 DUI cases:
7: OWI 3rd (felony) Offense reduced to OWI 2nd (misdemeanor). My client, whose driver’s license was already revoked for his 2 previous DUI’s, was charged with felony, 3rd Offense drunk driving. I was able to negotiate his 3rd offense away so that he avoided the felony, kept his case in the district court as a misdemeanor 2nd offense, and was granted admission into sobriety court, where he will likely have a driver’s license within 45 days. There is enough good news in this for a whole book, but one paragraph will have to do here.
6: High BAC reduced to Impaired Driving (OWVI). The client, a Michigan lawyer, was charged with High BAC (OWI with a BAC of .17 or greater). Through negotiation, the charge was reduced “down” to Impaired, saving him money, points on his driving record and ensuring that he will not lose his ability to drive at all.
5: OWI reduced to Impaired Driving (OWVI). Originally charged with OWI, I negotiated this client’s charge down to Impaired (OWVI), saving him $1000 in Michigan Secretary of State Driver Responsibility Fees, about $500 in fines and costs, 2 points on his driving record (OWI carries 6, OWVI only 4), and, most of all, NO loss of license.
4: High BAC reduced down to Impaired Driving (OWVI). This client had a prior DUI about 10 years ago, so legally speaking, the High BAC charge was still a 1st offense. It took some concerted effort (including a substance abuse evaluation that I had him undergo) to convince the prosecutor to reduce the charge, but I got it done.
3: OWI reduced to Impaired Driving (OWVI). More or less a “garden variety” drunk driving case reduced to impaired, saving the client money and protecting his ability to drive at all times. I have literally done this thousands of times.
2: High BAC reduced to Impaired Driving (OWVI). This client had a very high BAC (above a .25), and it took some rather intense negotiations, along with a clinically sound substance abuse evaluation, to convince the prosecutor to reduce the charge. Now, this client will not have to suffer through any period of time where she is legally unable to drive.
1: OWI reduced to Impaired Driving (OWVI). As noted above, this is by far the most common charge (and for me, as the lawyer, the expected and most common outcome). This client was understandably pleased that he would be able to drive to work without interruption, and saving about $2000 to boot in all the associated fees and expenses came as a welcome relief, as well.
For the record, the case immediately before #1, described above, was the same thing – an OWI reduced to an Impaired Driving, as was the the case before that, and the one before that, and so on…
The point here is that each of these clients directly benefited from getting a plea bargain. To me, it is just understood that a person pays me money to go out there and make things better for him or her. Even in cases where there may not be a direct plea bargain, it is part of my job to avoid and minimize as many of the consequences as I can, and I take that seriously and put my heart and soul into doing it. One thing that kind of rubs me the wrong way is when lawyers speak in a noncommittal way about this, and one of the more common examples of that is the rather empty talk about “protecting your rights.,” or “fighting for your rights.” Every lawyer should protect and fight for your rights, all the time. You don’t hire a plumber to stand by you when you turn on the water in the sink to “protect your home,” do you? What kind of baloney is that? If you hire a plumber, it’s because something is broken and you expect it to be fixed for the money you pay. Same with hiring a lawyer in a DUI case. Paying some attorney to stand next to you and “protect your rights” is the most meaningless waste of money I can imagine. You hire a lawyer in a DUI case to get you out of it, or out of all the negative consequences as much as is humanly and legally possible. Period.
If the police didn’t botch the evidence in your case bad enough for it to be thrown out of court, and unless you have been falsely accused of driving over the limit, then making things better starts with working on a plea bargain. There is, of course, a lot more to a DUI case, but I cover many of those things in the more than 280-plus other DUI articles (as of this writing) on my blog. For now, I just wanted to make clear that the charge on your paperwork is not necessarily the charge you’re going to ultimately be sentenced for in court, at least if I’m your lawyer.
If you’re facing a drunk driving charge anywhere in Macomb, Oakland or Wayne County, I can help. I encourage anyone looking to hire a lawyer to be a good consumer and do their homework. Read articles like this, and then call around. My office does all of the consultation over the phone, right when you call. You can phone us with any questions you have, and always feel free to call back and compare notes with anything some other lawyer has said, as well. We’re here to help, and can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 586-465-1980.