It’s hard to say this without sounding conceited, but I’ll try anyway: as a Michigan DUI lawyer, I am rather successful, both in terms of the excellent results I produce for my clients and the busy nature of my practice. Probably more than anything else, I am most proud of being an honest lawyer, because it takes conscious effort to do that. It would be much easier (and a hell of a lot more profitable) to be a lawyer who simply tells people what they want to hear. In the context of a Michigan DUI case, it goes without saying that everyone wants to “beat” the charge against them, or otherwise have it “knocked out” of court. Every person charged with OWI hopes that the evidence in his or her case is somehow flawed in a way that can get the case dismissed. In theory, there are millions things that could be wrong with the evidence, but in the real world, those flaws don’t occur often enough to make getting your DUI charge thrown out of court anything but the exception to the rule. Likewise, there are millions of theoretical reasons why an airplane could just fall out of the sky, but (thankfully), that’s also the exception, and not the rule. As much as the airline industry works hard to makes sure that things go right, the police do the same thing when with dealing with a suspected DUI driver, as well. To a pilot, most flights are routine. To a police officer, arresting drunk drivers is routine, and, what’s more, he or she will probably never encounter a DUI case so complex as to leave him or her unsure of how to handle it. The main goal in any criminal and DUI case is for the lawyer to make things better; to make them turn out the best they can for the client. However, focusing solely on getting a DUI charge dismissed outright ignores the whole gamut of other important efforts that should, holistically speaking, be undertaken to produce the best actual results possible in any given case.
DUI arrests tend to follow pretty established patterns: most people are arrested after getting pulled over while driving. These traffic stop situations can include cell-phone tips about suspected drunk drivers, or just an officer observing erratic driving. When you’ve consumed enough to be over the legal limit, your coordination is compromised. If not (and worse yet), then you have developed the tolerance of a hardcore drinker. Sometimes the police come upon a drunk driver after being involved in a traffic accident, while other people actually make it to their destination (and can even already be inside, or at least out of the car) before being nabbed by a police officer. The simple truth is that the police don’t usually make such crippling mistakes in drunk driving case that very many of them are ripe to be thrown out of court. And even in those “out of car” situations, it’s rarely the police who screw things up, but rather the situation itself which makes it difficult to “prove” that the person was actually driving the vehicle while intoxicated. The point here is that while everyone wants to be the lucky exception whose case is dismissed outright, very few people actually are. Yet from a business point of view, as a DUI lawyer, the better (and easier) money is had by focusing the client’s attention on all the things that could be wrong with the case, and then charging for a search-party effort to go looking for it. The most accurate term for that is “fishing expedition,” and circus promoter P.T. Barnum’s observation that “There’s a sucker born every minute” is an on-the-mark, if not somewhat unkind way to describe those lured into handing over their hard-earned money for a chance to cast a line into that pond of broken dreams.
Me? Well, I always feel exactly opposite Pirates of the Caribbean’s morally dubious Captain Jack Sparrow, who, when told that “there will come a time when you have a chance to do the right thing,” responded, “I love those moments. I like to wave at them as they pass by.” It’s exactly here that being that honest person becomes costly, because some people, no matter how intelligent they are otherwise, can’t resist the appeal buying directly into what they want to hear, so they’ll ignore the scrupulous lawyer trying to be honest with them and go right to the one who will hard-sell the idea of making the whole case just go away. Being that honest guy means telling people the less appealing truth – that it’s not likely that the Judge, absent a significant police screw up, will throw the case out of court. It means explaining to someone that although they may say they absolutely cannot have a DUI on their record, none of that matters a bit to the prosecutor or the court. Being honest means explaining that everyone, from the arresting officer to the Judge, has heard, ten thousand times over, how a DUI will ruin your life, cost your job, screw up your professional licensure, destroy your marriage, and just about every other end-of-your-world story you could imagine, and such fears, expressed now, don’t matter because, in the real world, almost none of that happens – ever. Amongst the thousands of clients I have represented, for example, I’ve never had any doctor, nurse, dentist, lawyer, CPA, or anyone else with a professional license lose his or her job; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone ever lose a job of any kind because of a DUI, so it’s best to not to let fear cause you to blow a ton of money on the lawyer with the magic wand who says he or she can prevent the apocalypse that’s not coming anyway. It’s not that I’m unsympathetic, but I’d rather tell you, up front, that your case is (at least statistically speaking) not likely to be dismissed (and certainly not just because you “can’t have a DUI on your record”). I have no heart to lie. Sometimes, however, I wish I did. It would be so easy to say, “Yes, I understand, and we can’t let that happen. There are millions of things that could be wrong with your case. If we can find just one of them to get your charges dismissed, then all of this will go away. All you need to do is retain me so I can get started.” And because I don’t work that way – because I’m honest – there go thousands of dollars that, just like Captain Jack Sparrow, I’ll wave at as they pass by, right into someone else’s pocket. Yet I wouldn’t have it any other way, and let me explain why…
Because I have to sleep with myself. Because I have this damn thing called a conscience. Because my mom drilled into my head this idea to “Treat other people as you would want to be treated.” Because I cannot imagine being anything other than honest with someone, and because I’d never want to be misled myself. Because I’m that guy that freezes the TV picture to read the small print, so when some new “Lose up to 90 pounds in 90 days” ad comes on, I see the disclaimer that says, “results not typical.” I wonder why everyone else doesn’t see that. Because when credit counseling used to be all the rage, I wondered how anyone could believe that someone could call another person’s credit card companies and get them to settle for pennies on the dollar. I knew better, but loads of people lined up to give their money away, just waiting to buy into exactly what they wanted to hear. I suppose it must have been nice to cash in and get rich quick, but I couldn’t live with myself and do that to someone. When it comes to DUI cases, I sure as hell look for every reason to beat a case (and I do that as much as any other lawyer,) and I’m certain that I know loads of things and tricks many other lawyers don’t, but I also know, with 100% intellectual and moral certainty, that the number of cases where the evidence is so shaky, or the police screwed things up so bad that it will simply be tossed out of court are few and far between. In my own life, if I see that a cashier missed something and didn’t charge me, I’ll go back in to a store and pay for it. That doesn’t make me special; that’s the bare minimum we ought to expect from each other. Anything less is stealing. So yeah, that’s the way I roll…
A colleague of mine describes this well. He kind of belly-laughs about the lawyers who charge a king’s ransom in legal fees for a DUI, run around doing all kinds of unnecessary work, fighting every single thing (to no success, except to piss off Judges and prosecutors), and then, after all none of that gets the case thrown out, show up in court and meet their client with a grimace on their face, saying something like, “Well, here’s the thing….” Yup. The thing. The thing that means you DID NOT wind up part of the ultra-lucky .17 % (yes, that’s correct, point-one seven percent) of all people arrested for a DUI who didn’t win by a “not guilty” verdict, or otherwise manage to convince the Judge that the cop is lying, or botched the case so bad it should be thrown right out of court. You see, the real “thing” is that DUI cases are pretty straightforward, and most police officers get them right most of the time. Pulling someone over who is swerving and then confirming that he or she had too much to drink is well within a trained police officer’s skill and experience. At the end of the day, and for everything we can say, the real crux of a DUI is whether you were over the limit when you were driving. If you really truly only had 2 beers 4 hours before you got into your car and your BAC came back as a .19, the something is probably wrong. If, however, you simply didn’t think you drank too much, then that’s another thing altogether.
As part of my normal investigation in a DUI case, I get a copy of the police-car, dash cam video. The traffic stop is one of the most fruitful areas for a successful challenge to the evidence, so it is always wise to review the stop as well as how the person performed on the field sobriety tests after being asked to step out of the car. Although not really within the scope of this article, an interesting side note is that usually, when I find something worth challenging, it’s most frequently in those cases where the client is more of the “low key” type rather than the loud “amateur constitutional scholar” who pounds his (or her) fist on the table and tells me all the things the police did wrong. At any rate, often enough, if I’m showing the video to a client who seems to recall doing “alright” on the field sobriety tests, or who doesn’t think they were “that bad,” meaning not visibly drunk when pulled over, it only takes a few minutes, as they now watch themselves with sober eyes, before they say something like, “Stop it; I’ve seen enough.” The point I’m making is that it is normal to recall one’s self as not having been that drunk, even though one was, in fact, that drunk.
This means that absent the cops really screwing things up, the only other real defense to a DUI is that you weren’t over the limit. If we can just speak frankly here, the truth is that there are very, very few people who, despite failing a breath or blood test, were actually not over the limit and who stand falsely accused of being so. Yes, there are certain medical conditions and medicines (or even lack thereof) that can skew chemical (breath and blood) test results, but those things happen so infrequently in the real world that it’s ridiculous to get caught up in all that. Yes, diabetes and GERD can, if the stars line up, affect your breath test results; that’s a far cry, however, from saying that even if you have such a condition, your test results are automatically invalid.
To test this, go ahead and do a Google search for something like “medical conditions that can affect DUI breath test results.” You’ll get a million lawyers laundry listing all the things that can, theoretically speaking, affect them. If you read even a little, however, you’ll find a lot of “could,” but not a lot of “should,” “will” or “would.” In other words, NyQuil can affect your BAC score, but even if you were drunk on NyQuil, you were still driving over the limit. And unless your diabetes is acting up, and you can prove that it falsely caused your BAC to be over the limit, that won’t get you out of anything, either. Besides, you don’t look very credible by drinking so much when you shouldn’t have been drinking at all because of your medical condition.
Remember, that the ultimate goal is to produce the very best outcome possible. Sure, it’s great if that means the whole case just goes away, but in the likely situation where that doesn’t happen, then you want to avoid or minimize all the other consequences possible. You want to keep your driver’s license and avoid burdensome and time-consuming classes and counseling and all the other things that can make probation a real pain.
I hope the reader takes the time to really read through as many websites and articles as he or she can. Read deep. Read between the lines. You very well could be the person whose case can be dismissed, and, as I pointed out, it may very well be for reasons you don’t understand. Make sure to think critically about what you’re reading. Then, call around. Look and listen for that honest person who will tell you what you need to hear, even if it isn’t exactly what you want to hear. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many of the operations that sell what people want to hear are also somewhat aggressive in closing the deal as soon as possible, and will try very hard to get you into the client chair as quickly as they can. No matter what your situation, you’re not in a hurry. Even if you have court tomorrow, you can get an adjournment. Take your time, do your homework, and don’t get sold down the river.
If you’re facing a DUI in the Detroit-area, meaning anywhere in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb County, and you’re looking to hire a lawyer, I can help. First off, we do all of the consultation stuff is done over the phone, right when you call, so we’ll never try and hook you to come in and get into the “client chair.” I tell everyone to call around, and to feel free to call me back, even to compare notes with something another lawyer has said. If and when you’re ready, we can make that appointment. You can reach my office Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. at 586-465-1980. We’re here to help.