Articles Posted in DUI

If you are facing a Michigan DUI charge, the list of things that can happen to you certainly seems long and scary.  In my role as a local, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County DUI lawyer, I have written extensively (this is my 300th DUI article) about how very few of them will ever happen.  In a 1st offense drunk driving case, for example, and with only 1 possible exception out of the 115 district court Judges in the Metro-Detroit, Tri-County area, jail is simply NOT on the menu, meaning it’s just not going to happen.  In this short article, I want to shift the focus away from fear-based marketing and scare tactics found in so many other places, and look, instead, at the 3 things that WILL happen in every drinking and driving case that goes through the court system.

3-300x262First, there will be at least some restriction to your driver’s license.  Even so, let’s start with the good news: if this is a 1st offense charge (that includes an OWI with BAC .17 or more, also known as “High BAC”), you will NOT lose the ability to drive.  If, however, you are convicted a 2nd DUI charge within 7 years, or a 3rd within 10 years, your license will be revoked (meaning taken away for good, and not simply suspended for a time), unless you enter into a sobriety court program.  The majority of DUI cases in the court system are 1st offenses, so if yours is one of them, this means that instead of worrying about losing your license, you should be looking at the restrictions likely to be placed upon it.

In a 1st offense case, what ultimately happens to your license depends on what your lawyer negotiates as part of a plea bargain, NOT on your initial charge.  Thus, someone charged with OWI or High BAC should not worry about the license penalties that go along with the offense listed on their ticket or court notice, but instead on what sanctions follow the final deal ultimately worked out by their lawyer.  Consider this: In a High BAC case, a person will be required to drive using an ignition interlock, and on a restricted license for 10 and 1/2 months after serving a 45-day “hard” suspension where he or she cannot drive at all.  However, I am able to negotiate most of my client’s High BAC charges down to Impaired Driving (OWVI), and the license sanction for that is merely 90 days of a restricted license, allowing the person to drive to, from and during the course of work, for school, medical treatment and such.  The real upshot of the 90-day restriction is that a person just cannot do any pleasure driving for 3 months.  This is much better than the penalties he or she feared when originally charged with High BAC.

As a Michigan, Tri-County (Wayne, Oakland and Macomb) area DUI Lawyer, I speak with all kinds of people about drunk driving cases.  In this piece, I want to talk about some of the regrets I hear from people who hired the wrong DUI lawyer and payed a lot of money only to say they were “taken.”  I want to keep this article short, so in it, I will exchange some of my usual diplomacy for directness and candor.  To begin, you must understand that merely paying a lot of money doesn’t necessarily get you the best, nor even a good lawyer.  It just means you’re out a chunk of cash.  In addition, one of the biggest sucker jobs going gets people to line up and fork over wads of money in the mistaken belief that paying top dollar will somehow make your whole DUI case go away.  Here’s a simple, ironclad fact that no lawyer can dispute, no matter how rosy a picture he or she paints otherwise: any chance to get your case “knocked out” of court is due entirely to the facts exist within it.  No one you hire can change those facts, and by the time you ever even think of calling a lawyer, they have, for the most part, already been cast in stone.  What you need, instead of fear-based or feel-good marketing slogans, is a competent, honest and thorough examination of the facts by an experienced lawyer who can make the very best of them.

Hear-300x270There is a whole industry of lawyers who make a lot of money by peddling the idea that if you just hire them, everything can be made to disappear because they have some kind of secret, or special magnifying glass that will find the things wrong with your case that no one else can.  The truth, however, is that the actual numbers don’t back that up at all.  In a certain way, many DUI lawyers market themselves in the same way as dietary supplements.  There is one radio ad, in particular, that I think is genius marketing, if not total BS.  It’s for some magic weight loss pill, and at one point, it’s advised that if you’re losing too much weight, you should simply cut your dose in half.  Now, if this stuff worked even 2% as good as that all sounded, I’d certainly remember the name, and you’d know it, too.  As cheesy a marketing strategy as that sounds to my ears, though, plenty enough people are paying out lots of money for it, because this ad has been running for quite some time.  The reason is simple; people buy into what they want to hear, and in the world of DUI cases, nothing sounds better than making it all go away.

Except it doesn’t work like that.  Can you guess what the overall success rate is for beating a Michigan DUI at trial?  It was .15% in 2015, down from .21% in 2104.  You read that right: point-one-five percent and point-two-one percent, respectively.  That means less than one-quarter of one percent of all people arrested for an alcohol-related traffic offense were acquitted if they fought the case at trial.  These are the verified, official numbers required by law to be gathered by the Michigan State Police as part of its Annual Drunk Driving Audit that tracks every alcohol-related traffic arrest in the state.  These dim figures go way beyond some kind of “results not typical” disclaimer you see in the fine print of get rich quick ads, but even more worrying, I have never seen this information talked about on any other lawyer’s website.  No one really wants to get into this because it’s not good for business, particularly if that business relies on emotional, rather than well-informed, decisions.  In the real world, those decisions become the the biggest source of regret for the trusting DUI client too focused on buying his or her way into what they want to hear and not enough on the realities of all this.

In part 1 of this article, we began looking at the benefits and growth of DUI sobriety courts in Michigan.  We examined how these programs can help someone facing a 2nd offense DUI, and even a 3rd offense DUI, not only to get sober, but also to NOT lose their driver’s license.  I pointed out that in my practice as a DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyer, I deal with alcohol problems on both sides of the equation; from those facing a drunk driving charge and struggling with their drinking, to those who have gotten sober and are ready to win back their driver’s license.  In addition, I bring a clinical background and education to my practice, which initially made me a bit skeptical of sobriety courts.  However, because of the many success stories I have seen, I have been won over and think everyone facing a 2nd or 3rd DUI should at least consider sobriety court, if it’s an option.  We ended the first installment with 1 of 3 real-life examples of sobriety court success from my own case files.  Let’s move on now to the others, and then look closer at the what sobriety court really is all about.

Happy-Joyous-Free-214x300My second example is a situation I have dealt with many times since, but this driver’s license restoration case, from a few years ago, connected me to one of my first sobriety court graduate clients.  In these cases, I am hired to get the person’s restricted sobriety court license changed to a “full” license.  Normally, exploring a person’s recovery and the depth of his or her commitment to sobriety is the “meat and potatoes” of a driver’s license restoration appeal.  When I walked into the room to meet this fellow (he had not been my DUI client, so he was a new to me), I was a bit skeptical of his sobriety credentials, considering that they were exclusively from his participation in the sobriety court program and that they were only a few years old, at that.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.  This guy told a story about having been dragged kicking and screaming into sobriety court, figuring he could live for a year or a year and a half without a drink and somehow get through it.  Cloaked in denial and filled with resistance, the light switch flipped for him early on in the program and he just had an epiphany that he could and would never drink again.  He said that there were 2 sayings from the AA program that hit home with him: “I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but every time I got in trouble, I was drinking,” and “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  Counseling helped him get honest with himself, and when he could no longer believe his own lies, he just knew that he had to put the plug in the jug and quit drinking for good.  But for him, like my other client, it was a lot more than just not drinking that changed his life; he got sober.  His whole life changed, and he was happy and upbeat and making money because he became a much better version of himself.  He ditched his anger and resentments and if you met him, you’d have seen and felt just how magnetic a person he was (and still is).  He too, credited sobriety court for helping him break through his denial and achieve real sobriety.  The most obvious thing about the guy was that he was a happy, positive and radiant person.

The third example comes from another DUI client of mine who I got into a sobriety court.  In this case, the court where his 2nd DUI was pending had (and still has)  a sobriety court program.  This client is amongst the very nicest of people you could ever meet, with a flair for the artistic and dramatic that makes him fun to just be around.  Although he acknowledged early on that drinking had become a problem for him, and he wanted the help from sobriety court, he wasn’t quite ready, early on, to quit drinking for good.  In other words, he struggled a bit.  It happens.  This is what people mean when they say that relapse is part of recovery.  Fortunately, my client just happened to wind up in an awesome sobriety court program, and the Judge didn’t give up on him.  Just like everybody else, the decision to finally stop drinking for good – the one that “stuck” and really marked the start of his sobriety – came as the all-too-cliched, but also very real “light bulb” moment.  Part of his sobriety court program was to see a therapist, and at first, he didn’t much like the guy because the therapist wasn’t buying any of my client’s BS and excuses for drinking.  As my client explained it, the therapist challenged him in a way that had him thinking even after the sessions ended, and it was that “food for thought” that eventually tipped the scales in his mind in favor of NOT drinking anymore.  Although the decision to quit drinking was ultimately my client’s, he credited the dialogue with his therapist for helping him get to that point.  On a side note, this client did not fit in well with the AA program, and to his Judge’s credit, he was allowed to use alternative community supports instead.  At any rate, this dynamic fellow really came into his own and blossomed in his sobriety.  More important than the external changes, however, was the fact that, internally, he was happy.  He found the joy in life again, and it all came about because of his participation in the sobriety court program.

The landscape of 2nd offense DUI cases is changing rapidly in Michigan due to the growth of sobriety courts.  The sobriety court law was enacted several years ago as a test, or pilot project, but it really took off, and now, more and more courts are getting in on the act.  At first, I was a bit cautious toward the whole idea, in part because of my clinical training in addiction studies.  In addition, some of that reticence was due to the fact that my practice is kind of split between handling DUI cases and driver’s license restoration appeals for people whose licenses have been revoked for multiple DUI convictions (in that sense, you can think of my practice like a “Q-tip,” with my role as a DUI lawyer on the one end,  a license restoration lawyer on the other, and alcohol as the stick that holds them both), so I deal with real sobriety even single day.  Early on, the most noticeable impact of sobriety courts was a large spike in ignition interlock violation cases before the Michigan Secretary of State.  And if you looked at just that data alone, you’d have gotten a limited, mostly negative, and completely inaccurate view of sobriety courts.  As it turns out, the sobriety court program has done a lot of good, and we are really only at the starting gate with respect to its larger potential.  In this 2-part article, I want to outline some reasons why anyone facing a 2nd, or even 3rd offense DUI should consider the sobriety court option, and look at bit at what’s involved.

meeskonnakoolitus-enesemotiveerimise-kunstSobriety court is a functional example of the “carrot and the stick” approach because the programs provide a huge incentive to the participant by way of overriding the automatic revocation of his or her driver’s license (meaning a person can get a restricted license where it would otherwise be impossible), while balancing that with zero tolerance for any further drinking, backed up by all kinds of testing to insure compliance.  The court system, for its part, automatically (and by operation of law) concludes that any person with a  2nd (or 3rd) offense DUI has a drinking problem.  For all the arguments to the contrary the reader may have, it is a given within the court system that if you’ve picked up a 2nd or subsequent offense, your drinking is a problem.  Period.  We have to begin from there.  The goal of sobriety court is to provide intensive rehabilitative services and help a person overcome that problem.  Obviously, this won’t work at all for someone who feels that his or her drinking is not troublesome.  Anyone convicted of a 2nd DUI offense within 7 years will automatically have his or her driver’s license revoked and, realistically speaking, won’t be able to legally drive again for at least the better part of 3 years.  It’s worse for someone convicted of a 3rd DUI within 10 years, because the mandatory revocation there is at least 5 years, and this applies no matter what the final conviction offense (like even if a person gets a great lawyer for a 3rd offense felony DUI charge and has it negotiated down to a 2nd offense misdemeanor, something I do all the time).  In a stunning exception to these set-in-stone license sanctions, a sobriety court Judge has the power to override a revocation after a 45 day suspension and grant a restricted license to anyone in the program.

This is huge, and coming from me, that means a lot.  Since about 1/2 of my practice is driver’s license restoration cases, having any 2nd or 3rd offender get a sobriety court license means one less potential license appeal for me.  If I was entirely self-interested, my analysis would end there.  But the reality is that if you can save your license and avoid having to hire me (or someone like me) just to win a restricted license years down the road, you’d have to be crazy to at least not think about it.  From my point of view, this is a no-brainer.  The problem, however, and where I still pause, is that I am not in favor of looking at sobriety court ONLY as a means to keep your driver’s license.  Part of my DNA as a lawyer and a person is the strong clinical focus that I bring to my cases.  Beyond my post-graduate matriculation in addiction studies, the entire focus of driver’s license restoration cases is on sobriety and recovery, topics that have been central to everything I do for more than 25 years.  Nor is this just some academic or professional interest, either, as I have had close and direct personal interaction with addiction issues and those struggling with them.  As a result, I want my clients to get help, and I want to assist as much as I can in that, but I have a strong aversion to just “gaming” the system and wasting sobriety court resources on someone whose only interest is in his or her driver’s license.

In my role as a Michigan DUI lawyer, examining the evidence is a critical step in every drunk driving (OWI) case I handle.  Can you imagine a doctor or dentist treating a patient without first conducting a thorough examination?  It’s essentially the same thing for a lawyer to properly (emphasis on proper) represent someone facing a DUI charge.  As much as any doctor, dentist or lawyer will want to know what the problem is, he or she will also want to know what it is not.  In the context of a DUI arrest, a driver’s contact with the police and what follows, including the stop (was the car, in fact, swerving?  Did it cross the yellow line?  Did the driver commit some other traffic infraction?), the field sobriety tests, and the arrest itself aren’t just important to the case, they essentially make up the case.  As a result, it is standard practice in my office to obtain and review the video evidence in almost every drinking and driving case that crosses my desk.  In this short article, I want to make clear why it’s always prudent to obtain and review the police car dash-cam video.

Copper-2As a general rule, there is never a good reason to NOT get a copy of the in-car police video.  Many “cut rate” legal operations and court appointed lawyers skip this step, principally because they don’t have enough time to do it, especially for what they’re (often not) paid.  Bargain, flat-fee law offices make their money on the quick turnover of cases, and court appointed lawyers are expected to wrap up a case in just a few minutes after meeting their assigned client in court.  When you hire a good lawyer, however, you should be paying for him or her to do everything necessary to insure the best outcome in your case without wasting time or money on things that won’t.  Reviewing the dash cam video is always the smart thing to do.  Moreover, even in those cases (the majority of them, really) where the dash-cam video does not reveal some catastrophic police mistake that will get the case tossed out of court, or otherwise demonstrate the the driver was not over the legal limit, just knowing that to be the case provides clarity and removes any doubt as to the best way to proceed.

Sometimes the dash-cam video can lay a golden egg, and be used as the basis to challenge the evidence.  Whatever else, DUI cases don’t dismiss themselves, and one thing is for sure: you will never find a reason for a case to be “knocked out” without looking for it, first.  The mindset with which the evidence is approached has a lot to do with this.  If you watched almost any DUI dash-cam video with the instruction to find confirmation or evidence that the subject was driving drunk, you’d probably find some.  Because you were focused on confirming something, you would almost automatically overlook anything that indicated the contrary.  This is known as “conformation bias.”  As a DUI lawyer, I have to assume a contrary conformation bias perspective, namely, that my client did NOT do anything wrong, or anything too wrong, and that if his or her performance on any of the field sobriety tests was something less than optimal, there is a good and rational explanation for it.  Even approaching these videos with an “open mind” isn’t good enough; they have to be watched with an eye to finding those things that help the client.

In the course of every DUI case that goes through the court system, and before ever being sentenced by the Judge, a person must, by law, complete a mandatory written alcohol screening test and meet with a probation officer for an information-gathering interview.  The results of that screening test (it is calculated using a numerical scoring system) and probation interview are used to prepare a sentencing recommendation (this too, is required by law) that is sent to the Judge to be used in deciding exactly what sentence to hand out.  In the real world, this step is THE most important part of a drunk driving case because it directly impacts what will happen to you more than anything else.  Accordingly, being prepared for both the written screening and the probation interview is critical to producing the best outcome possible.  In my DUI practice we’ll spend several hours (at least) in preparation for this, including having a separate appointment and prep session a few days before you go for your interview with the probation officer.  Among the herd of DUI lawyers, I am uniquely qualified to help with this, having studied and worked with alcohol and drug issues for over 2 decades as well as having completed a formal University post-graduate program of addiction studies.  The development, diagnosis, treatment of and recovery from addiction disorders is at the core of everything I do, every single day.

Tester-2-300x265Preparation for the alcohol screening test begins at our very first meeting.  I typically use about an hour at that first appointment to going over (or, as I say, introducing) the questions you’ll be answering because I believe this information is best absorbed by being presented twice; initially at that first meeting, and then again, typically at our second office appointment right before you go in for the meeting with probation.  This whole process of alcohol screening and meeting with probation is variously referred to an assessment, a PSI (for pre-sentence investigation), and/or a screening.  Whatever it’s called, it refers to the procedure and process wherein a person completes the written alcohol screening test (to confuse matters more, the testing instrument itself is sometimes called a “substance abuse assessment”), meets with, provides information to, and is also interviewed by the probation officer.  All of this is used to formulate that written sentencing recommendation given to the Judge.  It is a critical mistake to allow the client to take the screening test and/or walk into that probation meeting without having gone over everything in order to make sure he or she is thoroughly prepared.

Perhaps the biggest and most common miscalculation I see lawyers make is assuming that, when they speak at the sentencing, they can somehow convince the Judge NOT to follow the probation department’s recommendation in some significant way.  It doesn’t work like that; it never has, and it never will.  When you walk into court on the day of sentencing, your lawyer is required to get a copy of the sentencing recommendation from the court clerk and review it with you.  In fact, the Judge will specifically ask if you’ve seen the recommendation, and if there are any errors within it that need to be corrected.  Later, you and your lawyer will be asked for any comments about the recommendation itself.  This is more a formality rather than anything else, because in the real world, pretty much every Judge, in every court, follows the recommendation, if not to the very letter, then damn close to it.  To put it another way, the sentencing recommendation is really the blueprint for what’s going to happen to you, and there is simply no Judge who is going to disregard any substantial part of it.  This means, then, that the best and only real chance you have to influence what’s recommended, and, in turn, to affect what ultimately happens to you, is to be prepped and ready for the screening and the probation interview.  It is a fool’s errand, really, to just show up in court and start arguing against the recommendation as it sits in the Judge’s hands.  That’s no better than pissing in the wind.  Indeed, if you are not carefully readied for the whole PSI process, then you are stumbling blindly through your DUI case without any kind of plan.

In the drunk driving world, it has long been established that, as a group, DUI offenders have a higher incidence of drinking problems that the population at large.  As a Michigan DUI lawyer, an important part of my job is to protect my clients from being perceived as having a problem that isn’t there, particularly in light of the court system’s inherent “alcohol bias” that looks for (and all too often finds) one.  The fact remains, however, that the percentage of DUI drivers who present with a troubled relationship to alcohol is higher than average.  In other words, for plenty of people facing a DUI, their drinking has become problematic.  Many people in this situation don’t know what to do, or are struggling with the very idea that something is wrong.  It is not uncommon for a person to have a feeling in his or her heart of hearts – a “gut feeling” – that something isn’t quite right, but the first instinct is to promise one’s self to get hold of it, and to fix it somehow.  In this blog article I want to keep a simple focus on the concept of coming to realize that your relationship to drinking is precarious after a drinking and driving arrest.  We’ll skip the drama, all the “how to” advice on getting help and everything else, and just look at how one begins to open up enough to start thinking about this.  For my part, I bring a special skill set to this discussion beyond merely being a DUI lawyer.  Academically, I have completed a post-graduate program of addiction studies, so I am well aware of all the modern research and theories regarding the diagnosis and treatment of alcohol problems.  I also know that, while I understand the clinical side of things, I am NOT a clinician, so I won’t try and play therapist.  My role, in that sense, is to listen and help “counsel” my clients, and see that they are directed to the right kind of help, whatever that may be (and is often NOT what any court has in mind).

https://www.michigancriminaldefenselawyerblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/286/2017/04/Wino-1.2.jpgRecently, a client sent this wonderful email message to me:  On another note, I thought long and hard about the conversation that I had with you in your office in January. I had to do some major introspection and be brutally honest with myself about what occurred that put me in this situation.  It is not something that I am going sweep under the rug when this case is over. I have attended weekly AA meetings at my local church and it has been very helpful. (I have attended ten meetings and I have the signed document from the meetings to verify.) I am going to AA for my own needs and I plan on continuing to do so regardless of what the court might order me to do. I wanted you to know. Your insight was a big part of my coming to that decision. You are truly are a counselor in the best sense of the word.”  For everything I do as a lawyer, this is the very finest kind of return or reward I can get.  There is no money nor any praise that can equal the feeling of knowing that you’ve been really able to help someone pierce the darkness and see a little hope.  It’s this kind of “light bulb” moment is a person’s life that I want to talk about in this article.

There’s an old saying that “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”  In my line of work, I hear from all kinds of amateur lawyers who’ve spent endless hours on the internet doing their own legal research and somehow think they have the whole legal system figured out.  If there’s one thing I know about counseling and treatment for troublesome drinking, it’s that everyone is different, and while something like AA may be the best fit for one person, it can the exact opposite for another.  Similarly, one person my thrive in group therapy, while the very thought of that may terrify someone else.  There are people who do well with something called “bibliotherapy” (don’t worry, “biblio” means book, not bible), which means learning about recovery from one’s own reading.  My role is to help the client who is contemplating his or her relationship to alcohol, or who has already concluded that it has become problematic, to understand that there is a whole universe of recovery options out there.  In terms of first things first, it’s not about picking the right one as much as it is about ruling out those that hold no appeal.  It is the job of the therapist to apply, handle and monitor things from there.

The other day, I was in a local Oakland County court for a DUI case and found myself in the company of a bunch of rather well-know, top-shelf lawyers, several of whom were also there to handle drunk driving charges, as well.  I looked around and noticed that the most of the people in the courtroom did not look like the crowd that would be be using court-appointed or bargain priced lawyers.  Although the usual socio-economic cross section of people showing up to deal with a drinking and driving charge usually runs the gamut from low to high-income, this was definitely a more well-heeled crowd.  As I thought about the somewhat unusual experience of seeing so many good lawyers in one courtroom at the same time, I realized that this particular group of DUI driver’s had the means to hire “up” and find some relief in knowing that they’d be taken care of in the best possible way.  Busy people with a lot to lose need an attorney they can trust to take care of everything and produce the best possible outcome.  This should really be the goal of everyone facing a drinking and driving case, and is certainly the expectation of anyone stepping up to hire a blue-chip DUI lawyer.

ItsAllTakenCareOf-2As individuals go, there are some who are very much “detail people.”  I am certainly one, and I certainly attract a lot of them to my practice by doing things like publishing this blog with 2 new articles each week.  I get into and discuss details to the very ends of reasonableness.  There are some things that are just too much to explain and too legalistic or technical for the layman to really grasp, so I don’t venture that far in my various analysis.  For a real-life example of what I mean, as I write this, my own vehicle is at the dealership undergoing a warranty repair for an oil leak of some kind discovered when I brought it in for an oil change.  The service manager took me into the garage to show me the how things looked while my vehicle was up on the hoist, and the mechanic gave me a general explanation of what went wrong and the needed repair, but he didn’t explain which part they were going to remove first, how they were going to clean and repair the various parts, and then how the new part or parts would be installed and everything put back together.  That’s just too much information, and it goes way over my  head.  I trust the dealership to know what to do, and I go to them because I want to turn my vehicle over to someone who can just take care of everything for me.  I appreciate the security of knowing that I’m in good hands.  So, in the same way, should anyone who puts in the effort to find and hire a top-shelf DUI lawyer.

Exactly where to draw the line with that really depends on the client.  Given my personality, and in my role as a DUI lawyer, I cannot help but also be an explainer.  I’ve never been the kind who just takes someone’s money and then says “here’s the deal.”  Instead, I like to have an informed client who understand exactly what we’re doing along the way.  In fact, plenty of people retain me over the phone (it’s kind of easy to get to “know” me through all of my writings) and I make it a point to get them into my office as soon as feasible so we can go over the details of their case.  Some people, however, need a lot more of my time and have a lot more questions than others, and that’s okay, because I really am the right guy for that.  I have been incredibly successful at this long enough to be able to indulge those whom might test another lawyer’s patience to the limit while also making sure that even the most unconcerned person gets a full understanding of what we’re doing.  That requires a fair balance of diplomacy and strength because it basically means, on the one hand, telling someone who is asking ridiculous questions that enough is enough, while on the other hand, getting and holding the attention of the person who figures that his or her required participation ends by handing me money.  And it’s not that I feel “special” for this, because when you think about it, these are essential, if not really minimum qualifications of a good lawyer.

Recently, I published an article about how location matters in drunk driving (OWI) cases.  Because I generally limit my DUI practice to the Tri-County area, I am in front of the same Judges in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties all the time.  In this short piece, I want to take a look at drinking and driving cases in the various Wayne County courts, and the 4 things you should know about them.  To be clear, a driving over the legal limit charge is a violation of state law, or a corresponding local ordinance (this means that it’s the same thing), so it’s not like a DUI in one place is any more or less of a crime than it is in another, but make no mistake, location is probably the most important single aspect of how a drinking and driving case will ultimately work out.  Still, as a DUI lawyer, the first question I ask anyone when the subject of a DUI comes up is, “Where?”

detroit-county-map-1First, none of the district courts in Wayne County, from Harper Woods in the northeast to Plymouth/Canton in the Northwest, Woodhaven in the southeast to Romulus in the southwest, and points in-between, like Westland, Livonia, Wyandotte, Dearborn, are especially difficult places.  The Judges in all these courts are genuinely decent people, and that makes them welcoming to a DUI lawyer like me.  In the northern suburbs, you’ll often hear conspiratorial whispers about this or that Judge being especially “tough,” but fortunately, none of that is really true for any of the Wayne County district courts.  That’s not to say that these Judges are in any sense “easy” on DUI cases, but it does mean that there are no horror stories about the Judge from Hell to contend with here, either.

One of the best things about the Judges in the various Wayne County district courts is that they are generally “down to earth.”  I certainly always feel at home in these courts, although perhaps I just identify well with the prevailing mentality here, having myself been born and raised in Wayne County, on Detroit’s east side.  More important than how I feel, though, is how things work out for the client, and I can honestly say that I have seen some of the best “judging” take place within the various courts in Wayne County.  It’s a big county, and there are definitely different “vibes” depending on the location.  The Grosse Pointes (City, Farms, Park, Shores and Woods), for example, are very different than the Downriver area, and both are as different to places like Dearborn and Dearborn Heights as they all are to Western Wayne County.  Still, there is, fortunately, a cohesive “decentness” about all of these courts that means if you wind up facing a DUI anywhere within Wayne County, you’re doing pretty good, all things considered.

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.