Everyone knows that a 3rd offense DUI charge (the proper term in Michigan is “Operating While Intoxicated,” or “OWI,” for short) is serious. Most people are also aware that a 3rd offense is a felony, and that the possible penalties are significantly higher than those for a 2nd offense DUI. This article will NOT be some scare tactic, fear-based marketing piece about all that. Instead, we’re going to look at how and why, despite what’s at stake, a 3rd offense DUI charge shouldn’t be handled any differently than either a 1st or 2nd offense DUI case.
For everything we’re going to cover, the simple fact is that the very best legal defense almost always comes down to the fundamentals. The very finest practitioners of anything must first excel in the fundamentals. Consider any professional athlete: He or she runs, catches, throws or does whatever with practiced skill, and otherwise excels in all the basics, meaning the fundamentals, of his or her sport. In that same way, the finest musicians get to the top of their craft by years and years of repetition of the basic, fundamental stuff.
Every DUI case, whether a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd offense, is based upon the simple, fundamental charge that someone operated a motor vehicle with a bodily alcohol content of more than allowed by law. Think about automobiles for a moment: Whether an old “Model T,” a modern SUV, or even a jet-powered vehicle used to set land speed records, the fundamental thing they all have in common is some kind of power source (engine) that pushes them forward on wheels.
The fundamental starting point for every DUI case is evidence. What are the facts that support the charge? This is the first thing any lawyer should investigate. The evidence in EVERY DUI case should be put under the microscope. A good DUI lawyer will carefully scrutinize every last shred of it. Of course, the sense of urgency when one is facing a felony, 3rd offense DUI charge is pretty significant, but that doesn’t change the fact that the best case results are obtained by carefully applying the fundamentals of DUI defense.
First, let’s get the scary-sounding legal stuff out of the way. Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) 3rd offense is punishable by either 1 to 5 years imprisonment OR probation, with 30 days to 1 year in jail. It also carries a fine from $500 to $5000, and will add 6 points to the driver’s record. In addition, if the 3rd offense charge occurs within 7 years of a prior DUI, or within 10 years of 2 prior DUI’s, then the driver’s license will be revoked.
There are other potential penalties, as well, but our focus here is on how to avoid them.
It is important to note that our firm has handled many 3rd offense DUI charges wherein the evidence was solid, but have still managed to keep our client from doing ANY jail time. There are plenty of ways to do that. Fortunately, such results are NOT that rare, either. That said, when my team and I manage to keep a client facing a 3rd offense DUI from getting locked up, it is always, and without exception, the result of good legal work, concentrated in the fundamentals.
In fact, one of the most important – and, unfortunately, most overlooked – such fundamental aspect of properly handling a DUI case is the lawyer’s mindset. This is NOT some self-promotional BS about how we’re better than anyone else, but rather a significant truth that can have a huge and positive impact on every 3rd offense DUI case, and every other DUI case, as well. Let me explain:
Any lawyer who takes on a 3rd offense DUI charge MUST begin with the idea that there is a way to beat the case. It is imperative that he or she evaluate the evidence with a determination to find a way out of the charge. The “catch,” however, is this –
That mindset won’t change the facts. In other words, no matter how determined a lawyer may be to find a way to get a 3rd offense DUI charge (or any DUI charge, for that matter) dismissed, he or she can’t change the facts of what happened. Ultimately, there is either a way to get the case tossed out of court, or not. The statistics make clear that, most of the time, DUI cases do NOT get dismissed outright. That shouldn’t be a surprise.
Even so, the big mistake many lawyers make is to merely “look over” the evidence. Essentially, that means they’re looking to see if anything jumps out at them. That is NOT how things should be done. In fact, without a strong determination to find enough problems with the evidence to get the person out of the charge, anyone examining it is at risk for what’s called “confirmation bias.” This means that he or she is likely to follow the police narrative that supports the charge, rather than looking deeper for those details that can be used to fight it.
Accordingly, the lawyer must start out with the belief that somewhere, there are enough inconsistencies or other problems with the evidence to either beat the case, or to at least help drive a better outcome. A good DUI lawyer must always be conscious that his or her job is to keep looking until those things are found.
Whatever else, when a DUI case does get dismissed, it’s not an accident. That only happens when the lawyer works hard to find a way out.
Here is my favorite analogy on this point:
In lots of movies and TV shows, someone will be in a car that crashes into water, and it starts sinking. Of course, the person or people inside begins scrambling to get out.
Now, imagine that happening to you. You first unfasten your seat belt, and then try the door. The water pressure, though, makes it impossible to open, at least at that moment. Do you just sit there, then, waiting to die, content that you looked for a way out but didn’t find one?
Of course not!
You do everything you can to escape. You may quickly realize that there is no obvious way out, but you don’t just give up. You’ll kick and push and do everything possible to find a way out, because your life depends on it.
The same approach is fundamental to the proper handling of any DUI case, and especially a 3rd offense DUI charge. In that context, a DUI lawyer must always look far beyond the obvious.
As we noted earlier, the starting point for all DUI cases is evidence. It’s now 2023, and every police vehicle is equipped with a dash cam, and many law enforcement agencies also utilize body-cam video equipment, as well.
It is a fundamental step in the proper handling of a DUI case that all such relevant video should be carefully examined by the lawyer. It goes without saying that, given the stakes, this all the more true when one is facing a 3rd offense DUI charge.
Early on, I noted that my team and I have kept many of our clients facing a 3rd offense DUI charge out of jail, even when the evidence has been solid. It is just a fact that most DUI cases are not so catastrophically screwed up by the police that they’ll just be completely thrown out of court. In those cases, we use what we find to help drive a better outcome.
Success in a DUI case is always best measured by what does NOT happen to you. My team and I believe in that so strongly that it’s one of our firm’s mottos, and operating principles. Avoiding as many of the legal penalties and negative consequences as possible is what must be done in every drunk driving case that cannot be otherwise “knocked out.”
The fundamental goal in a DUI case that won’t be dismissed is to avoid as much punishment as you can. There is a lot that goes into doing that, and it certainly requires more than just telling the Judge that it won’t happen again. We, meaning the client, and us as the lawyers, will have a lot of work to do in order to get the best (as in most lenient) outcome.
You can talk to a clergy-person to save your soul, a counselor to save your mind, but our job is to save your a$$. Of course, we often refer our clients to one of OUR substance abuse counselors in order to help us do just that.
As we noted at the outset, a 3rd offense DUI charge is serious. However, producing the very best outcome possible is – as in all DUI cases – a matter of sticking with and carefully applying the fundamentals. After 30-plus years of concentrating in and handling DUI cases every day, with countless 3rd offense DUI charges among them, my team and I have this down to a science.
We know all the nuances of DUI law, but we never forget that good work is the key to producing the best results, and that always begins with careful attention to the fundamentals.
It is normal for anyone facing a 3rd offense DUI case to be stressed out. The good news, though, is that, by and large, your case can be managed. Even if the evidence is rock solid, there is a lot that we can do to make sure you avoid as many of the potential legal penalties and negative consequences as possible. Chances are, many of the things you fear can be prevented.
This is always done, though, by attention to the fundamentals.
If you’re facing a 3rd offense DUI charge and looking for a lawyer, be a wise consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers examine the DUI process and how they explain their various approaches to it.
This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable and updated weekly with new, original content. To-date, I have written and published over 610 articles in the DUI section. The reader can find more useful information here than anywhere, but don’t take my word for it – check for yourself.
After you’ve done enough reading, start calling around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person, and that’s exactly what you’ll get with our office. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. We’ll even be happy to compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.
All of our consultations are free, confidential, and, best of all, done over the phone, right when you call. We never use any tactics to pressure someone into hiring us. Instead, we always suggest that you call around and compare lawyers.
We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.