Articles Posted in Criminal Cases

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.

The purpose for hiring a lawyer to handle a DUI, other criminal charges, or even a probation violation, is to get the best outcome possible. In this article, I want to examine what I believe are 3 of the most important considerations in that regard: the lawyer’s personality, his or her experience, and the location of the case. Our inquiry will be relevant to anyone looking to retain an attorney for a criminal or DUI case in Michigan, even though my team and I specifically handle criminal and DUI cases in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties (and sometimes Lapeer, Livingston, and St. Clair Counties, as well).

https://www.michigancriminaldefenselawyerblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/286/2019/08/Checklist-1.2-300x232.jpgThere are, of course, many more things that go into finding the right lawyer for your case than the 3 we’ll go over here. Money is one of them.  Although we won’t be examining the subject of legal fees in this article, price is a big deal for some people.  Without going too deep into it, the simple fact is that is that what a person cannot afford is a limiting factor in the kind of representation he or she can have. The reality is that you’ll need to fork out more money for a better grade of lawyer

As with any kind of goods or services, you have to pay up to step up. Whatever else, you’ll never get top-shelf legal representation for cut-rate prices. In that context, the term “affordable fees” is a term almost exclusively used by lawyers competing for business at the bargain end of the legal spectrum. That said, however, it is important to point out that you can very easily wind up paying way too much for mediocre services, as well. In other words, high fees don’t necessarily equate to high-quality legal help. Paying a lot doesn’t, by itself, mean you’re getting a lot.

One of the most common driving offenses we handle is “Leaving the Scene of a Property Damage Accident,” or, as it’s sometimes written, “Leaving the Scene of a PDA.” This is a natural component of our practice, focusing, as it does, on cases and charges connected to the operation of motor vehicles. Although I have written about “leaving the scene” charges in the past, the makeup of these cases has changed somewhat in recent years, and our typical clients today are a bit different from those a few years ago.

jessedavidabarthnew-for-facebook-with-logo-300x231This is because, in the past, the usual person facing “leaving the scene” charge had taken off because they had been drinking, and didn’t want to get popped for a DUI. While there are still plenty of those cases, we see more people now than ever before who leave the scene, not because they had been drinking, or to avoid a DUI, but for other reasons, like being genuinely freaked out, not having a valid driver’s license, or not even being aware their vehicle made contact with anything. In fact, most of the leaving the scene cases we’ve handled in the recent past have NOT involved any drinking whatsoever.

While this is important, the problem is that everyone’s first suspicion is that the person left the scene to avoid a DUI. In practice, everyone charged with leaving the scene of a PDA will say that he or she wan’t drinking. Nobody ever steps up (at least to the police or anyone else in the criminal justice system) and admits to having had anything to drink before driving. In other words, a denial is expected in EVERY case, whether or not it’s true. When someone was genuinely not drinking, part of our jobs, as the lawyers, is to make the prosecutor and the court really believe that.

It’s a good thing to be a novice when it comes to facing criminal charges. As very experienced criminal lawyers, my team and I are lucky to spend most of our time with clients who are relatively inexperienced with the criminal justice system. A good person who finds themselves in a bad situation will do well with a lawyer who understands that all of this is new to him or her, and who can make things understandable for what is hoped will be a one-time (or last) trip through the criminal court process.

1_3TBatnV_zBfnXh5MzlcN4g-300x210Although we do handle a lot of 2nd and 3rd offense DUI cases, and even though they’ve been through the system before, those clients aren’t any kind of “criminals” in any real sense of the word. My team and I specifically concentrate our practice on the kinds of charges that don’t attract career criminals. DUI drivers may be facing a criminal charge, but repeat offenses in this field are much more about a troubled relationship to alcohol than anything else. Thus, even for people who have prior DUI convictions, the whole experience of getting arrested again for a subsequent DUI is unnerving, and still seems like a whole “new” experience.

It is, of course, normal for someone who suddenly finds him or herself having to hire a defense lawyer to have every intention to make the whole thing a one-shot deal. This is similar to needing a root canal, where a person is glad to find professional help, but hopes to never need the person’s services again. We get that a lot, and that’s a good thing. People with no, or relatively minor prior criminal records will usually fare better. Who you are (and who you are not) as a person matters in criminal and DUI cases, and the lawyer’s job is to use that to your fullest advantage

Once a person’s drinking has gotten to the point of being a problem, he or she faces a simple choice; either quit, or keep going and run into even more problems. Unfortunately, many people who do stop, at least for a while, struggle with the misapprehension that they can somehow, someday, manage to drink again. This misplaced belief is a defining point of addiction, and it stands in direct contradiction to the reality that once you have a problem, you can simply never pick up again. This article will focus on that conundrum, and is really relevant to anyone looking for information about driver’s license restoration, DUI, or other kinds of criminal charges.

AAA-277x300The inspiration for this article came from a client of mine for whom I won a driver’s license restoration case, and who just hired me for a new, 3rd offense DUI charge. Although I won’t use his name, I’m quite sure he is the kind of person who would want me to use the details of his story as a warning  to help anyone who has supposedly quit drinking to NOT pick up again. My client had been alcohol-free for 10 years after his last DUI, had won back his restricted, and then full driver’s license, and, in the blink of an eye, picked up a single drink that quickly led him down the slippery slope until he got arrested for driving drunk – again.

As DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyers, my team and I spend almost every minute of every workday dealing with the fallout from people drinking. Nobody comes to our office looking to patent some multi-million dollar invention because they got drunk one night and then came up with some great idea. Instead, people contact us because they’ve gotten into trouble, and are facing something like an OWI charge or, having lost their driver’s license as the result of multiple DUI’s, now want to get it back.

My office does consultations differently than just about every other lawyer and law firm. In this article, I want to explain how we do them, and why that’s important. My consultations are specifically intended for those who are looking to hire a lawyer in one of my practice areas and maybe doing some comparison shopping and want to get a little information or see if my office is a good fit for their needs. All of my consultations are done over the phone, right when a person calls into the office.

CULTURETWO_3739_1-300x300That convenience factor of doing it this way is also a benefit for me, also, because as much as a consultation is an opportunity for a potential client to size up a lawyer or law firm, it also provides an opportunity for us to evaluate a person and determine if he or she will be a good fit for the way we do things. I am fortunate enough to have a busy practice, and therefore don’t have to take every case that comes my way, nor do I have to compete on price. In fact, I publish my fees, not only in the interests of transparency, but also, because we offer higher-end services, to weed out bargain hunters or anyone else who is price-shopping.

Beyond all of that, I have no interest in taking on any sort of “difficult” client. Younger lawyers and those who are starving for work have little choice but to sit silently as some angry person goes on about how everyone else is at fault, how the police got it all wrong, or how the court system is unfair, but I don’t. If you’ve dealt with the public, then you know some people seem to always have a chip on their shoulders, or are otherwise just always a pain the a$$. I can afford to pass on them, and I do.

In part 1 of this article, we began looking at the sentencing phase of a criminal or DUI case. I pointed out that this is by far the most important part of any case, because it’s where you learn what will (and will not) happen to you. We also saw that in most cases, the Judge is supplied with a PSI, or “pre-sentence investigation” report (often called a “screening” in DUI cases), prepared by the court’s probation department, that includes a sentencing recommendation. Because this recommendation is closely followed by every Judge in every court, the key to getting a better sentence is getting a better recommendation in the first place.

download-53Here, in part 2, I want to examine how a sentencing actually plays out in court, and then the idea of getting a better recommendation up front will make more sense. Before I do that, however, I have to make clear that, in some cases, there is no PSI required. For example, in DWLS/DWLR (Driving While License Suspended or Driving While License Revoked) cases, many (but not all) Judges will do immediate sentencing, right after a plea, without sending a person for a PSI or any kind of screening.

For what it’s worth, if and when a Judge does go to immediate sentencing, a lawyer’s extemporaneous speaking ability can make all the difference in the world. This reinforces the importance of having hired a lawyer who is charismatic and persuasive. Whatever else, I want the reader to understand that the whole interview with a probation officer, PSI-thing doesn’t take place in every misdemeanor case. With that out of the way, let’s return to how we can get a better recommendation from the PSI.