Articles Posted in Criminal Cases

This short article, like many others on this blog, was inspired by a conversation I had with Ann, my senior assistant. She was giving me the details of a conversation she had with someone regarding his DUI and suspended license charges, and noted that the caller had pointed out how he watched in court as one woman went before the Judge for a drinking and driving offense and didn’t get any jail time, and then tried to use that as a basis to predict what would happen in his case. Ann asked, of course, it he knew anything about her charge, prior record, or case history, and he responded that he didn’t. Ann then explained to the caller that no two cases are alike, and that you can’t ever compare your situation to anyone else’s, especially if you don’t know all of the details. That’s when the idea hit me, because I realized that just about everyone one of us looks around for comparisons in just about every situation we find ourselves. That may work, or at least work better, when it comes to fixing a jammed garbage disposal or something like that, but not within the context of a criminal or DUI charge, where there are just way too many variables.

compare-apples-and-oranges-IDIOM-300x253You most likely know this already, but that doesn’t stop you, or me, or really all of us from doing it anyway. That’s human nature. My hope is that this short article will help make clear how this not only doesn’t work in criminal and DUI cases, but can also be misleading. Let’s use an example: Imagine Drinking Dave picks up his 1st DUI in city “A.” On that same night, Tipsy Tina is also arrested for her 1st DUI in city “A,”, as well. Sounds kind of like they’re in the same boat, right? Well, there are about a million things (maybe even more) that could make their cases very different, and that, in turn, could make what happens to each of them very different, as well.

If Tina has had 2 prior MIP’s, even if they were quite a few years ago, her relationship to alcohol is going to be perceived by the court as risky, if not outright troublesome. This would be even more so if her BAC at the time of her arrest was high, like a .21. If Dave, by contrast, has never been in any kind of trouble before and his BAC was .12, he’s just automatically going to be seen as less risky than Tina. Generally speaking he’s likely to wind up with a less demanding term of probation, meaning he’s likely to have to test less frequently, and will probably not be found to need the level of rehabilitative or treatment services that seem almost certain for Tina.

As a local, Detroit-area criminal and DUI lawyer, I am in court just about every single workday, strategizing and speaking to make things better for my clients. however, lots of lawyers are in court everyday, so that alone doesn’t make any particular one better than all of the others, in the same way that the hot dog vendor is at the hockey arena almost everyday, but that doesn’t make him or her any kind of star player. It’s a matter of instinct and talent. If you’re facing a probation violation because you’ve messed up, you need to hire a real star, meaning the kind of lawyer who can talk the stripes off a tiger, talk you right out of trouble, and out of going to jail. In this setting, the ability to persuade is the most important trait you need on your side.

Helping-Hand-298x300If we’re going to be honest about probation violations, then we need to recognize that the majority of them occur because a person has either done something prohibited (like consume alcohol, use drugs, or pick up a new charge) or not done something required (like fail to complete some kind of classes or counseling). Less frequent, but still common, are those cases that involve things like a missed test (the courts basically conclude a test was missed because it would have been positive) or a false-positive test. For the most part, how and why ever it may have happened, if you’ve been violated, you’ve probably screwed something up, even if that wasn’t your intent. Judges, for their part, spend an enormous amount of time everyday listening to excuses about all this. For example, one of the most common (and least accepted) reasons given for a positive alcohol test is the use of cold medicine. It is so worn out that it is known as the “NyQuil defense” and so widely disbelieved that you can practically read the frustration on many Judges’ faces as someone tries to use it. Beyond the NyQuil defense, every Judge has heard every other excuse in the book, probably a thousand times over, so to get the best result in a PV, you can’t walk into court and sound like everyone else.

In a very real way, I think of probation violation cases as the true test of a lawyer’s ability to communicate effectively and speak persuasively. There are some really great attorneys who can make brilliant legal arguments about things like evidence and legal procedure, but that’s all dry stuff. When you’re standing in front of the Judge for violating probation, your lawyer needs to be the exact opposite of dry. As much as this requires a superb extemporaneous speaking ability, there has to be substance to what’s being said, as well. There’s an old saying that “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull$hit.” Neither of those things are particularly useful here, or, maybe, you need a little of both. Remember, your Judge, like every other Judge, has heard it all. As a lawyer, when I’m handling a probation violation, I have to explain my client’s situation, keep the Judge’s attention (by not sounding like everyone else), and then persuade him or her to not lock up my client. At the end of the day, it’s what doesn’t happen to you that matters most, so all of this stuff can sound real good, but it’s really only worth anything if it keeps you out of jail.

The location of your criminal or DUI case is one of the most important factors in determining how it will turn out, and what will (and will not) happen to you. As a local, greater Detroit-area criminal and DUI lawyer, the very first question I ask when presented with any new case is “Where?” For example, a simple possession of marijuana case in one city can be potentially wrapped up in one court date, the whole thing kept off the person’s record, and result in nothing more than the assessment of reasonable fines and costs, while, across town, that same case could easily cost more than twice as much and land the person on probation with required drug testing, community service, and maybe even a “marijuana awareness” class (or classes), as well. There is really nothing you can do to change this, other than make sure your lawyer is familiar with how things are done in the court where your case is pending.

1304655796181855921-282x300It is certainly better if your lawyer is familiar with both the local courts in the broader geographic area where your case is pending, as well as the specific court in which you’ll be appearing. For me, that means all the courts in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties. Even within the Tri-County area, however, there are some lawyers who spend so much time in any one particular court that they kind of miss out on the big picture of how things are done elsewhere. While there may be some truth to the notion that a lawyer who is “always” in one specific court really knows how things work there, it is also true that he or she may be too entrenched in that system to be capable of really standing up for the client and push for a different outcome. Think of the stereotypical teacher’s pet; you don’t want that for your lawyer. On the other hand, you certainly don’t want to be stuck with an attorney who isn’t in your court often enough to know how things are done there and, therefore, doesn’t know how to properly guide you through it.

What I’m saying, on the one hand, is that where your case arises is so hugely important that location plays a primary role in the outcome, and the lawyer you hire should be familiar with that court. What good does it do to bring in some attorney who can’t tell you how things are done there? On the other hand, I’m also saying that while experience with the court where your case is pending is important, you don’t want your lawyer to seem like he or she is employed there, either. That only creates a kind of unhelpful tunnel vision. Instead, the right amount of familiarity should be part of a broader understanding of how things are done across the larger local area. I can’t count the number of times I’ve persuaded a Judge to do something different (as in better for my client) by explaining how it’s done in another court. If you’re sensing that there is a kind of balance here, then you’re getting the point.

There is a certain amount of embarrassment that just automatically goes along with facing an Indecent Exposure or Aggravated Indecent Exposure charge. Because I handle more Indecent Exposure (IE) cases than just about anyone, at least in the Detroit area (Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County), where I practice, I know this well, having sat across the table from clients facing these charges more times than I can count. Beyond having developed an expertise in handling these cases, I have also honed a special skill in handling the clients who have to deal with these charges through the criminal court system. Some of this is attributable to my background: after earning my undergraduate degree in psychology and then going through law school, I also completed a post-graduate program in addiction studies, a rather specialized area within the broader field of psychology, and one where there is always some psycho-pathology at issue. I understand that an IE case can result from some underlying stress or trouble a person may be experiencing (and about which he may not be consciously aware), but I also know that these incidents can just “happen.” Not everything about a case has be a big deal, and my job is make sure that, to the extent possible, we keep it that way in yours.

642x361_Embarrassed_to_Visit_Your_Doctor-1An interesting thing happened the week this article was written. In the course of meeting with a new IE client, his explanation for what led to his arrest involved circumstances a bit different from what I usually hear. It wasn’t the uniqueness of his case that struck me, but the fact that, within my office, no one even thought to ask about it. In other words, this poor guy came in, understandably embarrassed, even though he didn’t need to be, and because my staff and I see so many of these cases, neither my senior assistant, my paralegal, nor my associate attorney so much as asked what happened in his case. Once he left, my staff took his information and contacted the court where it is pending and made sure all the paperwork, including the request for the police report, was properly and quickly filed. To everyone on our end, his case was no big deal; in fact, it was just another day at the office.

Feelings of embarrassment are normal, and expected, really, but they are also useful in assessing whether a person is a risk to re-offend. Here, I kind of have to split myself in two and look at this both from the clinician’s point of view, and also from the perspective of a defense lawyer who knows how to best resolve these matters. I’ve read countless clinical assessments in these cases – some completed by court-order, others undertaken at my suggestion to help in a case (and for what it’s worth (and this it’s no great secret that a savvy lawyer would do this) if an assessment done privately comes back and is not helpful to the case, it will never see the light of day), and they can be impressive in their use of scholarly language. At the end of the day, though, the part of the assessment everyone looks to is the prognosis about whether the person is likely to engage in such behavior again, or not. And sometimes, when the Judge believes the person has been embarrassed enough, it can be enough to put any such questions to rest.

As a Michigan criminal and DUI lawyer, I am contacted all the time by people facing something like a drunk driving, suspended license or possession of marijuana charge and are worried about the upcoming date on their citation.  In this very short article, I merely want to explain what this means and help the reader understand that, for the most part, and despite what it may seem like, the date on your ticket is most often NOT any kind of fixed “court date.”  This is very relevant to those who contact me after something like a DUI arrest. worried about getting an appointment right away and saying something like, “My court date is next Tuesday.”  To be sure, every criminal case begins with a first court date called an arraignment.  I’ve written extensively about that, and would encourage the reader interested in a detailed examination of what that proceeding is all about to read the linked articles.  Here, we’ll look at arraignments in more superficial terms of its position in the larger picture of a criminal or DUI case and how it gets started.

imagesSometimes, a person is brought before a Judge or Magistrate for arraignment while he or she is in custody after an arrest.  This can be done by video or by actually having the person come into a courtroom.  If you’ve already done that, then you can skip this article entirely.  For everyone else, imagine your notice to appear or instruction to otherwise contact the court (this can be on the ticket, on a separate piece of paper, like a bond receipt, or just be something the police tell you as you’re released) in the way you’d think of an email confirmation to register with a website; once you confirm your contact details, then all relevant notifications can be sent to the right place.  Before you wonder what the hell that means, let’s look at one of the most common situations following an OWI arrest: A person is released with a ticket that arises them to appear in court “on or before” a certain date, or to contact the court within so many days.  If the person just picks up the phone and calls the court, many times, the clerk will simply confirm the person’s address and then tell him or her that notice of when to appear will be sent.  That notice can be for something called an arraignment, a pre-trial date, or a combined arraigment/pre-trial; the details don’t matter as much as the fact that all a person needs to do is call the court to find out what to do next, and much of the time, he or she will be told to just wait for something in the mail.

In some cases a person is given a date to appear for an arraignment.  The short explanation of the arraignment is that it is a proceeding in which a person is formally told the exact charge(s) against him or her ( e.g., Operating While Intoxicated), advised of his or her constitutional rights (“You have the right to a lawyer…”), and given conditions of bond (“Do not leave the state without the court’s permission…” etc.).  For those released from lockup without posting any money, a bond amount (usually a few hundred dollars, at most) may be required, as well.  In many courts, depending on the charge, that arraignment can be “waived” by a lawyer so that a person does not need to go.  When a lawyer files the papers to waive an arraignment, a “not guilty” plea will automatically be entered for him or her, and the person and the lawyer will await a notice from the court to show up for what’s called a “pre-trial” date, where discussions about resolving the case are had between the lawyer and the prosecutor.

Of all the things I do in my criminal practice, none is more acutely serious, yet nearly as un-technical or less legalistic than handling probation violations.  There are really 5 things you should know if you’re facing a PV (also called a VOP for “violation of probation” in some courts, and a “show cause” in others).  We’ll set them out below and then look at each, in turn:

WCsTCWT41. Your lawyer is your most important asset Now is the time to hire the best-spoken attorney you can get.  Sure, you can go cheap, but how much good will the money you saved do you when you’re sitting in jail?  You don’t always get what you pay for, but you’ll almost never get what you don’t pay for.

2.  Facts matter.  What happened, and what did not happen, and the why of it all is important, especially if it helps your cause.  You need to make sure your lawyer takes the time to understand everything relevant about your alleged violation in order to make things better for you.

As a Michigan criminal and DUI lawyer, about 2 of the most common questions that I’m asked are, “Am I going to jail?” and “Can you keep me out of jail?”  Even the quickest look at a sampling of DUI lawyer websites reveals that the whole “Avoid jail!” theme is used everywhere, by everyone.  It seems to be the strongest pitch a lawyer can make for your money.  I’m no exception; I make it, too, and I know that if I was in a pickle, staying out of jail would certainly be my first and biggest concern.  However, as I have pointed out in many of my various DUI articles on this blog (as well as my website), in the kinds of drunk driving cases and clients I handle, jail is usually not, for the most part, even on the menu.  But the cold truth that I have not seen addressed (until now) on any lawyer site is that some people do, in fact go to jail., and you can be sure that the folks sitting there didn’t book themselves in voluntarily.

jail-thumbIt is generally understood that, as a lawyer, talking about this isn’t good for business.  That’s why attorneys avoid it like the plague.  That’s also a disservice, however, to someone seeking real world information about what happens after a drunk driving arrest.  Of course, it’s my first goal to avoid jail as much as possible, in every situation possible, but even the WORST lawyer out there has the same goal, although perhaps not the skill to do it quite so well.  There is no hard and fast rule about who does get some jail time as opposed to who doesn’t, but there are a few helpful observations we can make to clarify things a bit.  On the one hand, if you’re facing a 1st offense DUI, you’re not really facing any jail time.  On the other hand, someone with a bad record has a much better chance of doing some time than a person with no prior record.  I addressed this in a recent article, and common sense is a pretty good guide here.  If you’re facing your 5th DUI, then yeah, you can count on some time.  Beyond that, however, there is a mix of variables that figures into all of this.  Some jurisdictions are really tough, while others are much more forgiving.  In fact, one Judge can be way more lenient than another would be in the exact same situation.  You also have to include the prosecutor in this mix of variables, as well, because not only do individual prosecutors from the same office have different approaches to things, but some offices are much more flexible than others.

Our discussion here will be limited to the things I handle my own practice: DUI cases and criminal cases involving things like suspended and revoked license charges, drug possession, and other misdemeanors and lower-level felonies, mostly for professionals or other good wage earners. meaning good people caught up in a bad situation.  For the most part, if you’re a solid citizen and haven’t been in trouble before, and you’re facing something like a DUI or suspended license charge, jail isn’t really on the menu at all.  Even if you have had a prior scrape with the law, including, perhaps, a prior DUI, you’re still probably safe in almost every one of the courts where I practice.  But here’s where things get dicey:

In part 1 of this article, I began my examination of the role of alcohol and substance abuse related issues in Michigan criminal, DUI and driver’s license restoration cases, and how my specialized background, which includes having completed a post-graduate program of addictions studies, makes my office different.  I pointed out that I balance my overriding mission to help people at all phases of their relationship to substances, but to never become “preachy” or seemingly fixated.  We looked at how alcohol and drug issues are interwoven into the vast majority of criminal cases, and of course, all DUI charges and possession cases.  I cautioned that, as much as I want to help people recognize and deal with substance abuse related issues, there are plenty of situations where I use my clinical knowledge to prevent a person from being perceived as having an alcohol or drug problem they don’t.  This is especially relevant in 1st offense DUI cases, where a drunk driving incident that just happens runs up against the court’s inherent “alcohol bias.”  In this second installment, we’ll turn our focus more to recovery, and how a deep knowledge of recovery and recovery processes is important to the win I guarantee in every driver’s license restoration case I take, and how all of these considerations kind of coalesce in criminal cases.

https://www.michigancriminaldefenselawyerblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/286/2017/01/drug-addiction-spiritual-recovery-1.1-289x300.jpgIn the context of a Michigan driver’s license restoration case, understanding recovery is everything.  A person must prove his or her case by what is called “clear and convincing evidence” (this is a high standard of proof; think of it as requiring, in part, that after the evidence in a case is presented, the hearing officer deciding it will not be left with any lingering or unanswered questions).  There are 2 primary things a person must show:  First, the person must demonstrate that his or her alcohol (and/or substance abuse) problem is “under control,” meaning that he or she can fix a sobriety date (this doesn’t have to be an exact date; someone might say, for example, “early fall of 2009,” or something like that), and second, that his or her alcohol (and/or substance abuse) problem is “likely to remain under control.”  This means that the person can show that he or she is a safe bet to never drink (and/or use) again, and has cultivated the commitment and the tools to remain sober.  This is complicated stuff, as anyone who has tried a license appeal before and lost knows all too well, particularly if the person was genuinely sober.

That I really understand recovery from the inside-out, the outside-in, and from all the clinical perspectives, as well, provides me with a huge advantage as a license restoration lawyer.  So much so, in fact, that I guarantee to win every case I take.  The catch?  I will only take a case for someone who is truly sober.  As far as I know, I’m the only lawyer who writes anything at all about sobriety, and I am completely certain that amongst every other lawyer out there, I have written more about sobriety than all of them combined – and HUNDREDS of times over, at that.  The job of the Michigan Secretary of State Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) hearing officers is more or less to “test” whether a person is sober or not, and they are very knowledgeable and do their best to examine the clinical information provided in a license appeal case through the lens of the legal requirements that must be met in order to win.  It is the lawyer’s job to make sure that the clinical evidence submitted meets those legal standards.  That task is a HELL of a lot easier when, as the lawyer, I fully grasp the clinical and practical realities involved in getting sober.  For everything that could be said here, the bottom line is this:  If you’re sober, then you know that sobriety is a journey, and not a destination.

The other day, my paralegal, Ashlee, told me of a conversation he had with a caller who had gotten into trouble because of a relapse after having been clean and sober for a number of years.  She smiled as she recalled telling the caller, “Well, you certainly called the right place with us because we kind of specialize in substance abuse matters.”  I nodded in agreement, but as I began to think about it later, realized how accurate Ashlee’s statement really was.  Every single day, for almost all of the day, my staff and I deal with issues related to drinking and drugs in criminal, DUI and driver’s license restoration cases.  These issues are so central to what I do (more on that in a bit) that a number of years ago, I returned to the University campus (no online classes for me) and completed a post-graduate program of addiction studies.  Between handling DUI cases and driver’s license restoration appeals, issues directly related to the development, diagnosis, treatment of and recovery from alcohol and/or drug use disorders are at the core of everything I do.  In this 2-part article, I want to look at the critical importance of understanding substance abuse issues in the context of DUI (OWI) and driver’s license restoration cases, and in certain other criminal cases, as well.

In a 1st offense DUI case, for example, I use my clinical https://www.michigancriminaldefenselawyerblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/286/2017/01/SA1.1.jpgtraining to prevent a person who does not have a drinking problem from getting caught up in the court system’s inherent “alcohol bias” and wind up being treated like he or she does.  This means I work to prevent them from getting ordered into unnecessary substance abuse counseling, education and/or treatment.  By contrast, when a person with a 2nd offense DUI tries to explain, as many 2nd offenders do, that no matter how bad things look and how much the court system will “think so,” he or she doesn’t have a drinking problem, I have to make clear that, by law, that every 2nd offender is required to complete some kind of counseling.  I must also make clear that, clinically speaking, no matter how much the person does or does not drink, just by their record alone, there is obviously some kind of risky relationship to alcohol.  I have to help my client see that, at this point, labels don’t really matter anymore.  I deal with it all, from 1st time DUI offenders who quite obviously have a serious drinking problem to 2nd offenders who do not, and really are just unlucky, The same holds true for certain criminal charges, and particularly drug and even marijuana possession cases.

The court system is not (and does not have the resources to be) very nuanced or subtle about a person’s relationship to alcohol, operating instead from the position that, if you’re facing a DUI, you probably have some kind of drinking problem.  Lawyers typically line up to make their money by agreeing with and never challenging a client who say, “not me.”  From a business point of view, the customer is always right, so if a client with multiple prior DUI’s calls in and is looking for a lawyer who will echo that he or she doesn’t have problem, it’s a temptation that’s hard for many to resist.  After all, money talks and BS walks, right?  On the flip side, however, nobody really wants to hire some lawyer who thinks he or she is Ms. Sobriety or Mr. Rehab, either, and won’t fight to protect them.  Where, then, is the balance?  I think it’s fair to say that if we are going to be honest here, we need to acknowledge that a lot of the trouble people get into, especially those that result in DUI, criminal or drug possession charges, are the result of poor decisions made after drinking or using.  Imagine if you asked a law-abiding, non-drug using person, “Would you mind keeping these  Vicodin pills (or this cocaine, or whatever) in your pocket while as we drive around?”  They’d look at you like your nuts – but to a drug user, having them in their pocket as they travel around in a car doesn’t seem like such a stupid idea.  The point I’m making is that the court system doesn’t have it completely wrong about alcohol and drug problems and how they “ride in” with various cases, but that same system doesn’t always get it right, either.  Not every DUI driver has a drinking problem.  The lawyer must find the right balance between these seemingly competing positions in order to produce the best outcome possible for the client.  Here’s what I mean…

One of the most important issues that I face as a Michigan criminal and DUI lawyer is a person’s prior record.  It is absolutely critical to how things work out in just about every case.  Curiously, it is a subject that has largely been overlooked on lawyer’s websites, mine included.  In this article, I want to take a look at how a person’s prior record can affect the outcome of his or her case, and how this applies across the board, from serious things like 3rd offense (felony) DUI all the way to a simple traffic ticket, and everything in-between, including 1st and 2nd offense drunk driving cases, as well.  This is not a pretty topic, because the simple truth is that it’s not good for a lawyer’s business to be writing things that can make a case seem tougher as opposed to all the things that can make it better, but your record is a necessary topic to discuss, and any lawyer worth a nickel is going to have to address it at some point with his or her client.  I think it’s about time to drag it out into the light and give it a good once-over.

criminal-clipart-criminal-clipart-1-281x300In some cases, the importance of a prior criminal record (or lack thereof) is obvious; for example, in DUI cases, because a person with a prior conviction within 7 years will be charged with a “2nd offense.”  In DUI cases, there is no getting around a case being a 2nd offense or 3rd offense, whereas a person arrested for something like possession of marijuana may be charged and ultimately treated like a 1st time offender, even if he or she has a prior record for the very same thing.  Worse yet, there seems to be little or no logic as to why, beyond just being “lucky,” in a manner of speaking.  In other situations, a person may have a prior record for a completely unrelated offense, or even multiple offenses; those convictions may be recent, old, or a even a combination thereof.  It goes without saying that having NO record at all is better than having any kind of record, but given that a prior scrape or two with the law isn’t that uncommon, lots of very good people have some missteps in their past.  That said, I’m sure the reader understands that the fewer of those on record, the better.  This should make sense without the need for any kind of further explanation.

This can get weird, however, because in the real world, a prior record can be a big deal in some cases, and not matter much, or even at all, in others.  I have, for example, represented someone with a rather bad record charged with his or her 1st DUI and have been able to easily reduce the drunk driving charge because the person doesn’t have any prior drinking and driving convictions.  By contrast, there are some really tough jurisdictions (thankfully most of which are NOT in the Detroit-area) where a single, unrelated and old conviction can be a stumbling block to a plea bargain in a new and completely unrelated case.  With these somewhat extreme and opposite situations serving as bookends, let’s turn now to how things most often play out in the real world.