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Articles Posted in Criminal Cases

The most important concern of anyone facing a Michigan criminal or DUI charge is “what’s going to happen to me?” Whatever that is, it happens at sentencing. At sentencing, the Judge decides what to do to a person who has been convicted of or pled guilty to a misdemeanor or felony offense. In a very real way, it’s the day of reckoning, or the day a person will “face the music,” so to speak. For many, the biggest part of this is finding out if they’re going to jail or not. As we’ll see, however, that concern is rather misplaced.

slide-10-300x247The sentencing is a legal proceeding. It’s when a person’s sentence gets imposed. The “sentence” is a court order specifying the things a person must do, can do, and is forbidden from doing. For example, a person sentenced for a 1st offense DUI may be put on probation, required to complete some classes, be allowed to leave the state only for work purposes and/or a scheduled vacation, but also be forbidden from consuming alcohol during probation, and required to test to ensure compliance.

It’s very important to understand that a sentencing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The lawyer for the person being sentenced can (and should) play a huge role in how things turn out; we’ll look at that later. For now, what matters is that the sentencing is where the Judge orders what will happen to a person. Circling back to our DUI example, I often point out that success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to the person facing the charge

As Michigan criminal and DUI lawyers, we spend a lot of time in court. Or at least we used to: that changed with the Coronavirus, and courts have been largely shut down since. As of this writing, Michigan courts are adapting their way to being able to handle regular criminal matters again. In the weeks following the state’s shutdown, only “emergency” matters, meaning things like arraignments, bond (bail) issues, and certain probation violation matters, were being heard. That’s about to change.

Picture1-300x212We really don’t know when things will fully get back to normal, or, for that matter, what that new “normal” will look like. We do know, however, that the way cases are handled is going to be different after this, both in the long and short-term. Even walking into court is going to give some people pause as soon as they approach a door handle and have to touch it, or, once inside, have to use a “public” pen to sign a document.

As lawyers who do a lot of our work in courtrooms, a regular part of our jobs involves turning and whispering instructions or otherwise explaining things to our clients, while standing before a Judge. How is that going to play out when cases are heard live again? Of course, the bigger question is, when will cases ever be heard live again? The immediate plan is to use as videoconferencing as possible, but may very well lead to some permanent changes, as well.

For all the things we do as Michigan criminal, DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyers, our practice, like the practice of any good lawyer or law firm, is every bit as much defined by the kinds of cases we don’t handle as those we do. There’s an old saying that “you can’t be all things to all people,” but too often, this is ignored, especially by attorneys who offer a range of services that is simply too broad.

tumblr_ly5jviSHY71r0lzjao1_400-300x230This applies to general field of “criminal law,” as well, with some “criminal lawyers” offering to handle every kind of charge, from driving with a suspended license (DWLS) cases, to rape and murder charges, all the way to post-conviction appeals. In the real world, the best lawyer to handle the appeal of a murder conviction is almost certainly not the best lawyer to have tried the underlying murder case itself, and he or she, in turn, wold be the wrong person to hire for a DUI case.

Better lawyers limit what they do in order to be excellent at a few things, rather than mediocre at many. This is exactly why construction companies use carpenters, electricians, and plumbers on their jobs, rather hiring a few “jack-of-all trades” handyman types to do the same work. Likewise, even though they’re both “surgeons,” it’s an orthopedic surgeon, rather than a cardiac surgeon, that does hip replacements.

In part 1 of this article, we began looking at how, at a certain point, some people get a nagging little feeling and have thoughts that something might be wrong with their drinking. Often, this happens after something like a DUI, or, worse yet, after multiple DUI’s have caused someone to have his or her driver’s license revoked and they grow tired of having to bum rides or risk driving without a valid license. Some people dismiss these though outright, rationalizing away any connection between their drinking and the problems they have experienced as a result.

download-6The best thing that can happen to a person experiencing problems with alcohol is getting to the point where he or she does see a connection between their drinking and many (or all) of the problems in their life, and then decide to do something about it. As I pointed out in the first part of this article, most people start off by trying to cut down or otherwise manage their drinking. Although this strategy never works, it is the failure of those attempts that provides exactly the lesson some people need to help them move to the next step – the decision to give up alcohol altogether.

In the real world, the decision to quit drinking never comes too soon. It usually follows a lot of time wasted unsuccessfully trying to control one’s drinking. Of course, just as some people are stuck in denial and just don’t believe that their drinking has grown troublesome, others get stuck in endless attempts to manage and limit it. It really is the luckiest of all who are able to reach the conclusion that the only way to “control” one’s drinking is to simply quit.

We are socialized to think of having drinks as something celebratory, and social. To younger people, the idea of “partying” and having a good time is often synonymous with drinking. For most people (but certainly not everyone, because some people have problems right out of the gate), their youthful drinking experiences are usually associated with things that are and/or were fun. For some, however, as youth fades, the drinking continues, but the good times don’t necessarily follow, sometimes ending up in things like DUI’s, and even loss of one’s driver’s license.

Bulbbbbb-300x253The idea that there might be something “off” with a person’s relationship to alcohol usually starts with an initial thought that his or her drinking needs to be reigned in a bit. By the time somebody starts thinking that way, or otherwise considering the possibility that his or her drinking has grown troublesome, it almost certainly has. This kind of thinking follows a process, because nobody goes from believing everything is fine one day to suddenly concluding that they have a major drinking problem the next.

In the real world, this usually starts off when a person begins to get a kind of nagging feeling that maybe he or she ought to slow down a bit, and/or not drink as much, or as often. This almost always comes about as a result of some kind of problem or problems. Whatever else, nobody thinks about trying to control their drinking because it’s working out so well. Instead, these thoughts come to mind after a person has been experiencing trouble of some sort.

There is no other proceeding in the legal world that involves a dynamic combination of both luck and skill like a probation violation. While there are plenty of situations in which the allegations in a violation are untrue, in the real world, more often than not, it comes down to a person either having done something they weren’t supposed to do, or not doing something that was required of them. The notion that properly handling these cases involves both luck and skill is very real, and makes the whole thing more of an art, rather than anything else.

Iluck-skill-300x195n terms of luck, this means that, on the one hand, if a case has been assigned to the most impatient Judge around who is known for not being interested in any excuses about anything, that’s bad luck. On the other hand, if the presiding Judge is known to be “forgiving,” then that’s good luck. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done about the Judge to whom a case is assigned, other than to make the best of the situation.

And there we get to the skill part of this: the lawyer must make take into account and work around the temperament of the specific Judge assigned to the case. It is critical to have a lawyer who is familiar with the court and knows how that Judge does things. As much as a lawyer needs to talk his or her client out of trouble, knowing the Judge and what will (and won’t) fly with him or her will help avoid talking the client into trouble, as well. For as much as my team and I talk, we also know when to shut up, and that’s important, as well.

In our capacity as criminal, DUI, and driver’s license restoration attorneys, it’s not unusual for us to be contacted by people who already have a lawyer and either want a second opinion, or are interested in hiring a different attorney. In this article, I want to take a short but serious look at how to tell if someone’s dissatisfaction with their lawyer is based on simply having picked the wrong attorney, or because the client has gone in with unreasonable expectations.

sbsb-290x300When a client’s expectations seem unreasonable, it raises questions about whether or not they were too high to begin with, or if the lawyer (as some do) helped create, or otherwise encouraged them. Part of being a good lawyer is to properly educate the client in order to manage their expectations. This is far different than merely exploiting them, and every lawyer with any experience knows that potential clients often hope for things that are simply impossible or unrealistic. The best example of this is when people want their whole case dismissed, and their legal reasoning in support of that is that they just “can’t have” a conviction go on their record.

While there is money to be made by lawyers who make it seem like they can just make everything go away, it is also inexcusably wrong (and just plain immoral) to allow someone to falsely believe that is a likely outcome. In other words, this is a 2-way street: on the one hand, it is essentially a given that clients will be hopeful that all the charges can be dismissed. On the other hand, it is also a given that a lawyer should know this, and instead of trying to “play” to it by encouraging false beliefs, should make sure the client’s concerns and expectations are addressed honestly.

In part 1 of this article, I began addressing the question, “Do I need a lawyer for this?” The simple answer for anyone facing a misdemeanor or felony case is “yes.” We left off with a list of questions to make the point that a competent criminal attorney could answer every last one of them without a second thought. By contrast, a civil lawyer, even if he or she could answer some, would be handicapped in handling a criminal or DUI case. A layperson isn’t even in the ballpark.

555-300x248We’ll resume our discussion, here in part 2, right from that point – it is just plain dumb to try and handle your own case if it’s anything more than a simple traffic ticket (and even then, a sharp lawyer can usually work out a break that would otherwise be completely unavailable to an unrepresented person). Now, before anyone thinks, “Of course you’re going to say hire a lawyer, because that’s how you make your money!” let me make 2 very important points:

First – yes, you’re right! We’re a law firm for hire; we can’t keep the doors open doing “free legal.” We help out when and where we can, but our payroll isn’t met by NOT getting hired. We make our living handling criminal, driver’s license restoration cases for people. We’re in business to make money. Of course, we’ll help out as much as we can, but even a free legal aid clinic has employees to pay and obligation to cover.

As Michigan criminal, driver’s license restoration and DUI lawyers, we answer a lot of questions. Interestingly, when someone begins a question by saying something like “this is probably a dumb question, but…”, it usually isn’t. However, as much my team and I are helpful, polite, and respectful, there is one really dumb question we get asked from time-to-time – “Do I need a lawyer for this?” The answer is yes, but this question deserves a thorough answer. In this 2-part article, I want to take a serious look at why a person should have a lawyer for a criminal, driver’s license restoration, or DUI case.

RHF_DTTAH_Clogo_DEC14-272x300Let me clear up the easy stuff first: you may be able to do an okay job handling your own speeding ticket, or some other kind of civil infraction. However, if you’re thinking about dealing with any kind of misdemeanor (or felony) charge on your own, you could be making a serious mistake. Notice that I’m not saying you will ruin your life or wind up in jail. Those things probably won’t happen. But what if, down the road, you run into problems because of your record, or find out some consequence(s) from your case could have been avoided with a legal maneuver you didn’t even know about because you decided to play lawyer?

The universal maxim “you don’t know what you don’t know” really applies to everyone who tries to “play” lawyer (or doctor, electrician, etc.). There’s an old saying that, “The lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” It holds even more true for non-lawyers who try to represent themselves. You’ll notice that anytime a lawyer gets in trouble, the first thing he or she will do is hire a good lawyer. Even the best courtroom attorneys will hire an outsider lawyer if they find themselves facing criminal charges (or being sued).

In part 1 of this article, we opened by acknowledging that the whole reason a person hires a lawyer in for a criminal or DUI charge is to produce the best (meaning most lenient) outcome possible. We began by examining the first of the 3 most significant considerations that a person should evaluate as he or she looks for representation: the lawyer’s personality. I noted that our discussion should be helpful to anyone looking for a lawyer for a Michigan criminal or DUI case. Here, in part 2 we’ll look at the second and third considerations, the lawyer’s experience, and the location of the case. We’ll see how those 2 things interconnect, as well.

6a00d8341c03bb53ef01156fb06321970c-600wi-1-300x300The second consideration is the important role of the lawyer’s experience. This really cannot be overstated. In my office, we concentrate in DUI and certain criminal cases in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties. Because we focus our practice on criminal charges like indecent exposure, driving on a suspended license, and embezzlement, we have handled them, quite literally, more times than we could count. There does come a point when, after having done so many of the same kinds of cases, you actually have “seen it all.”

The value of experience seems pretty self-evident, but the way a lawyer can use it isn’t always so obvious. For example, I have been part of some rather creative plea bargain deals in one place, only to find that in another place, they’ve never heard of doing it that way. In some of those cases, I have successfully persuaded a prosecutor or Judge to try something new, in large part because I have seen it done elsewhere and been able to persuasively explain that it worked.

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