Whether it’s front and center, as in a Michigan DUI or driver’s license restoration case, or less obvious, as in many other kinds of criminal cases, the entire Michigan court system has what at times seems like a fixation on alcohol. If you consider a domestic violence case, for example, or a leaving the scene of an accident charge, there is practically a systemic assumption that the person facing the charge was drinking, if not drunk, at the time the incident took place. In this article, I want to explain why, in so many cases, the path through the judicial system leads back to alcohol, and what can and should be done in every case to help with that. Before you dismiss this as just more meaningless prattle by some lawyer, please note that I write this article as a lawyer with very extensive and specialized training in the field of addiction studies. Given the system’s focus on the role of alcohol in so many kinds of cases, it is important that, in order to best protect my client from the “alcohol bias” inherent in the judicial system, I walk into a courtroom with more expert knowledge about alcohol and substance abuse than anyone else in there.
It has long been known that alcohol (and drugs) are “involved” in all kinds of criminal cases. You could put the most socially sheltered person in the role of Judge, and it wouldn’t take too long for him or her to connect the dots and see how drinking sometimes leads to all kinds of trouble. The day this article was written I resolved a case where a young lady had been charged with indecent exposure in a local, Oakland County court. The short version of the story is that she was at a bar with a group of people and she and a male suitor wound up outside, in a parking lot, where the romance heated up a bit too quickly and they were seen in a very compromising situation. The police were called, and both were arrested and ultimately charged with indecent exposure; I represented the woman. I was able to have things worked out so that nothing will ever appear on her record and the whole thing will just go away, but before the Judge decides on any probationary conditions, he ordered that she be “screened” by the probation department. Realizing this happened out behind a bar, it didn’t take much for the Judge to figure the parties here had been drinking. Now, he wants to make sure that this incident wasn’t caused, in some part, because my client has any kind of problematic relationship to alcohol.
In the young lady’s case, the role of alcohol, and therefore the Judge’s concern about it, is pretty obvious, at least in this one incident. Experience teaches anyone in the criminal justice system, from police to Judges to criminal lawyers, like me, that all kinds of bad things can (and often do) happen when drinking is involved. It is basically assumed that anyone who leaves the scene of an accident does so because he or she was drinking. Many, if not most, disorderly person charges occur because someone had a little too much to drink. Statistics show that alcohol plays a role in the majority of domestic violence cases. When kids get into trouble (consider things like mailbox vandalism, for example) it is common to find out they had been drinking. Even stalking type charges, including harassing phone calls, often take place when the actor’s inhibitions have been lowered after having had a few. Add all of this up over years, and then decades, and the court system has seen a clear pattern that now has it as concerned about the presence of an underlying drinking problem as the actions that gave rise to a criminal charge in the first place. So what does all this mean to you?