Everybody knows that a 2nd offense DUI is a big deal, but, as I always try to make clear, it does not necessarily mean that someone is going to jail. Because people are understandably freaked out when they face an OWI 2nd offense charge, they quickly start looking online for information. Unfortunately, often enough, because basic human nature takes over, people get distracted and sucked into looking more for what they want to hear, rather than the straight truth, meaning what they need to hear.
This is probably most consequential in the context of a 2nd offense DUI case more than any other. Despite the competing marketing pitches of different lawyers, the real truth is that a 2nd offense straddles the polar extremes between a 1st offense and a 3rd offense. In the real world, a 1st offense can, with proper handling very often be treated as more of a “mistake” rather than anything else, while a 3rd offense, by contrast, is always perceived and should be treated as a very serious matter.
This does not simply mean that on the continuum of severity, a 2nd offense DUI is exactly at the halfway point between a 1st and 3rd offense. There are a lot of factors to be considered in evaluating how bad, or not, things are in any DUI case – things like location and the temperament of the Judge, for example. Across the various courts, different Judges have different perceptions about a 2nd offense DUI. Thus, a 2nd offense DUI can be anywhere from “not that bad” in one court to a real mess in another.
This isn’t to suggest that any Judges take a 2nd offense lightly, but some are far more “apocalyptic” about it than others. This, by the way, is why I always emphasize hiring a lawyer who is local, and familiar with the court where your case is pending. Because my team and I confine our DUI practice to the Greater-Detroit area (primarily Oakland, Wayne, and Macomb Counties), we go to the same courts over and over again, and know how things are done in each.
This is the kind of experience that my team and I rely upon to help our clients, and every lawyer out there should be doing the same thing. Whatever else, you don’t want to wind up paying what amounts to tuition for some lawyer to learn how a case like yours is handled in some court that’s new to him or her. What will fly in one court may not in another, and the lawyer your hire should already know how your particular Judge does things.
In fact, this very point really shows the overall breadth of 2nd offense OWI charges: in general, they are complicated, and much more so than either 1st of 3rd offense cases. Most people would think that a 3rd offense felony, because it carries more serious potential penalties, is more complicated than a 2nd offense case, but that’s actually not true.
Many lawyers seem to use, if not overuse, a marketing approach that first emphasizes how bad things can be in a 2nd offense case, and then start talking about the kinds of things that can get whole matter tossed out of court, while completely overlooking the fact that such lucky breaks are the exception, and not the rule.
Other lawyers use fear-based marketing, a technique that tries to frighten a person just enough to contact them NOW, as if something dreadful will happen if the person looks around any further and doesn’t contact that lawyer immediately.
As I often point out, the best thing someone facing a 2nd offense DUI (any DUI) can do is to slow down, read around, and explore his or her options. There is simply no substitute to being a savvy consumer, but there is much to be said (none of it good) about any operation that would suggest otherwise.
Sure, everyone wants to think that out there, somewhere, is a certain lawyer with a magic wand, or who “knows somebody” and can get a super-special, one-of-a-kind deal for them. “We can make this all go away” is what you want to hear.
You may hear it, but you’re almost certain not to see it.
Therefore, what you need to hear is that it doesn’t work that way.
Good lawyers, like good doctors, good plumbers, or good anything else become good through a mix of talent and a lot of hard work. The best results in any DUI case are achieved through careful and deliberate work: the evidence must be obtained, examined, and then re-examined. A case must be worked and worked-over.
Of course, a better lawyer should have a superior ability to communicate. This means understanding the client’s concerns and questions, and then completely and honestly addressing those. If a lawyer cannot clearly explain things to a client, then he or she certainly cannot explain the client’s case to anyone else.
This is where, as a customer of legal services, a person has to think about the message that’s being presented to him or her. It’s easy to get all warm and fuzzy when you’re being told (and sold) exactly what you want to hear, but if you’re facing something like a 2nd offense DUI, the reality is cold and harsh. As the old saying goes, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
In the real world, a good DUI lawyer can do a lot to minimize the fallout from a 2nd offense case. Curiously, it’s not uncommon for there to be more work involved in handling a 2nd offense DUI case than any other, including a 3rd offense, although the time required for a lawyer properly handling a felony DUI charge is often much greater, accounting in part for the difference in legal fees.
While this may sound more like one of those “what you want to hear” things, the bottom line is that results matter, and that an ethical and good lawyer will do whatever is necessary to produce the best results for his or her client.
Some are just better at it than others.
As it turns out, though, 2nd offense DUI cases often require the most effort to produce the best results.
It may seem ironic to the reader (but not so much to those of us who have done this kind of work for a long time) to learn that clients are often most freaked out about a 2nd offense charge. By the time a person gets to his or her 3rd offense, there is so much going on that it can almost numb him or her, much more so than when someone finds themselves in a “whoops, I did it again,” 2nd offense DUI situation, and really can’t think beyond the fear of getting locked up.
These cases are complicated, and that there are so many considerations to be taken into account that it’s nearly impossible to explain things in any kind of brief format. In a sense, the more one thinks they understand the whole landscape of 2nd offense DUI cases, the less likely they do.
Writing about 2nd offense cases is also hard, and even an attempt to provide a summary overview necessitates more detail than most people want to plow through. Most of my prior articles on this subject are multi-part installments, and even those do not claim to thoroughly explore the many facets of these cases.
One such important facet of 2nd offense cases that cannot be overlooked is Sobriety Court. Although not strictly limited to 2nd offenses, most people who enroll in a Sobriety Court program are, in fact, 2nd offenders.
A “Sobriety Court” is a specially designated program within an existing court that focuses on providing extensive treatment to repeat offenders at little or no cost.
While Sobriety Courts are a deep subject in their own right, one of their most important functions is that, beyond providing a boatload of counseling, rehabilitative and treatment options for repeat offenders, the Judges overseeing these programs have the authority to override the state’s automatic revocation of a repeat offender’s driver’s license.
In other words, a Sobriety Court Judge can grant a restricted license that allows a participant to still drive. This becomes a HUGE help down the road, when the person files for a driver’s license restoration with the Michigan Secretary of State for the return of full driving privileges, something that would otherwise be years and years away, at best.
To be clear, however, Sobriety Court is not some kind of shortcut to a driver’s license. The whole point of these programs is to provide help who really need and want it. Thus, there is a screening process to make sure a person is a good fit for any such program, and not merely an opportunist looking to avoid losing his or her license.
Most courts do NOT have a Sobriety Court program, though. This is one of those places where things get complicated: many of the people in Sobriety Court programs are transferees from other courts. Getting a transfer, though, isn’t automatic, and how it’s done varies, depending both on the court from which one seeks permission, and the court to which one seeks admission.
Because this can get complicated, we’ll just leave it there for now, especially because Sobriety Courts are just one of many aspects to 2nd offense DUI cases.
As unpleasant as Michigan’s DUI laws regarding 2nd offenses can sound, it is profoundly disingenuous for a lawyer to not address them, especially this part: In Michigan, anyone convicted of a 2nd offense DUI (meaning any traffic-related alcohol violation within 7 years of any prior such offense) is automatically categorized as a “habitual alcohol offender.”
There are some very important implications to this legal designation, not the least of which is that a 2nd offense, which results in a person being categorized as a “habitual alcohol offender,” also gives rise to a presumption that the person has an alcohol problem. Legally speaking, this manifests itself in several ways:
1. A person’s driver’s license is automatically revoked (and not merely suspended);
2. The person MUST be ordered into counseling and/or treatment.
3. When the person files to restore their driver’s license, he or she must show that his or her alcohol problem is both “under control” and “likely to remain under control.” This means that he or she has given up drinking for good.
These are serious consequences, but they can be handled and minimized. Sure, it’s tempting to buy into some lawyer’s message that all you need to do is hire him or her and watch everything go away, but that’s not how things work. By the same token, as urgent as a 2nd offense situation may be, it is NOT the end of the world, either, and although a person needs a good lawyer, the last thing they need is one who makes him or herself out as some kind of savior.
If there is one thing EVERYBODY facing a DUI, whether a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd offense should do, it’s to slow down, take your time, and read around. The way to find the right lawyer is neither to buy into wishful thinking, nor be scared into action. Instead, dig into the articles a lawyer has written about this subject. As I often say, look for real information, and how lawyers explain things, and how they explain themselves.
If you’re facing a DUI, whether a 1st, 2nd or 3rd offense, and are looking for a lawyer do your homework. When you’ve done enough of that, check around. If your case is anywhere in Metro-Detroit, meaning anywhere in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne or any of the surrounding counties, check out our site and explore this blog.
All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. It’s always best to give us a ring when you have a little time to talk.
We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.