Articles Posted in DUI Location

I should begin this article with a disclosure: I like the 52-4 District Court in Troy. The first office I opened, back in 1993, was in the city of Troy. One of our 2 offices is in Troy, at Maple and Stevenson. Also, I live in a funny little peninsula of land where the boundaries of the City of Troy literally surround me 2 blocks to my east, 3 blocks to the south, and 4 blocks to my north. Troy has long been a fixture in my life; most of what I first learned, in the real world, about criminal and DUI cases, happened in the 52-4 district court of Troy.

TRoy-2-300x287I’m sure the reader is much more interested in what he or she can expect in Troy, rather than a personal history lesson from me. The 52-4 District Court has jurisdiction over all cases arising in cities of both Clawson and Troy. It’s a very decent court. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the most lenient, 10 being the toughest, and 5 being about average, I’d rate Troy about a 5, meaning that it is about average, leaning neither more toward the “lenient” nor the “tough” side. Whatever else, you won’t get hammered here, nor is anyone likely to ever leave feeling like they got screwed over.

Of course, this is all relative, and my numerical ranking above is based upon my experience in that court, and assumes that a person will comply with the conditions of his or her bond, like testing. As far as DUI’s go, it would be foolish to not acknowledge that society has lost much of its patience for drunk drivers. Drinking and driving laws have been made tougher all the way around. In some courts, that “toughness’ can seem almost mean-spirited, but that’s never the case in Troy. In fact, even when they have to be firm, the Judges here will explain themselves in a way that, even if a person doesn’t agree, at least he or she will feel acknowledged and heard, rather than ignored.

More than almost anything else, where a DUI case arises is the single most important factor in how things will work out. If we took the identical set of facts regarding an OWI arrest and charge and watched how that case would play out in several different courts, it would become obvious that location is the key variable. In this article, I want to restate the importance of the “where” factor in DUI cases here in the Metro-Detroit area of Oakland, Wayne and Macomb Counties.

Why-2-300x265The whole issue of location is easy to bring up, but quite a bit harder to explain, because it must be done diplomatically. Everybody knows that some courts are tougher than others, and that Judges can be all over the map in terms of being lenient or not. No lawyer, including me, wants to disparage any Judge, or in any way play “favorites.” Our job is to work with them, day-in and day-out. It’s a given that, in the privacy of a lawyer’s conference room, a client might hear that this Judge is a “teddy bear,” and that one is a “hard-a$$,” but not in an article like this.

By design, I limit my DUI practice to the Tri-County area (Wayne, Oakland and Macomb). My team and I are in multiple local district and circuit courts every single day. The breakdown of where we go is pretty evenly split amongst the the 3 counties. I’d honestly say the breakdown is something like 35% in Oakland, 33% in Macomb, and 32% in Wayne. We deal with the idiosyncrasies of the various local courts every single day, and have the experience of thousands of cases to know how they do things, what they have in common, and how each one is different from the others.

You already know that a 3rd offense DUI is serious, so there’s little point in going on and on about that. Chances are, however, that if you’re facing a 3rd offense OWI, even though it is a felony, it isn’t nearly as bad as you may fear, especially here, in the Tri-County area. If there’s one thing I hate, both as a lawyer and as a consumer myself, it’s fear-based marketing tactics, and I want this article to stand in contrast to the general practice of trying to scare the hell out of you. Instead, I want to look at 2 important factors that, more than just about anything else, will influence what happens: location, and BAC results.’s begin with the obvious: a lawyer should carefully examine everything to see if there is some way to beat the case; my team and I certainly will. In my office, for example, it’s standard practice to obtain the police car dash-cam video in every DUI case that comes in. While you certainly won’t find anything wrong with the evidence unless you look for it, the simple truth is that the police usually don’t screw things up catastrophically, anyway. Thus, when the evidence is strong enough to withstand a legal challenge, we negotiate a plea bargain that reduces a 3rd offense felony down to a 2nd offense misdemeanor, or at least work out a more lenient sentence agreement that shines like a bright light at the end of a dark tunnel.

I want to be clear that while there are geographical and practical considerations to what and how things get done, even in what might seem the most clear-cut, true 3rd offense drunk driving cases, typical sentences in Oakland, Macomb or Wayne County are measured in days, not months, and certainly not in years. To clarify, a “true” 3rd offense means a person only has 2 prior DUI convictions in his or her lifetime. Since there is no higher OWI charge than “3rd offense” in Michigan, even a person with 12 prior drunk driving convictions can only be charged as a 3rd offender if he or she is arrested for number 13.

As a Michigan DUI lawyer whose courtroom practice is concentrated in the Greater-Detroit area (Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties), my team and I are in one of the 4 divisions of the 52nd district court almost all the time, and often enough, many times within the very same week. These 4 courts are all connected within the same division (whatever that means…), yet for as many similarities they share, there are also profound differences between them, and a DUI or other criminal case may play out very differently in one location over another. this article, I want to very briefly introduce each court, its Judges, and the municipalities within the jurisdiction of each. There are 10 Judges assigned to these 4 courts, and they have some predictable similarities, but also some some interesting differences. Yes, some are tougher than others, which means, on the flip side, that some are more lenient than others. These more “delicate” issues are best discussed within the confidence of the attorney-client relationship and in the privacy of the conference room. And if you read that last sentence as a skillfully worded deflection, you’re right.

None of the 52-4 courts are over the top in terms of fines and costs. This means that if you’re facing a DUI, and especially something like a 2nd offense DUI (or a 2nd offense DWLS or possession of marijuana case), then we have to focus more on saving your behind rather than your money.  The notion that DUI cases are all about money, which often has merit, falls a bit short in these courts. As lawyers, we usually skip the numerical designation when talking about any of these courts, and instead identify each of them by name of the city or township where it’s located.  With that, let’s begin in numerical, rather than alphabetical, order…

Everyone knows that a 3rd offense DUI is a big deal. In this short article, I want to go beyond most of the legal and technical stuff and examine one simple, but important aspect of these cases: the where factor. Here, in the Tri-County area of Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, where you get a DUI has a huge impact on how your case will play out, especially if it’s a 3rd offense, felony charge. I have examined many other facets of 3rd offense cases in my other DUI articles on this blog, so our focus here will be on the importance of location of a 3rd offense case really is, especially when we’re comparing Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, where I practice. To be sure, this is a deep subject, and it would be easy to do a many page, multi-part summary, but that’s exactly what we’re NOT going to do.

map-small-300x245In order to really appreciate the influence of geography on 3rd offense drunk driving charges, we first need to sort out a few things. There is a general notion that of the 3 local counties, Oakland County is the “toughest,” Wayne the most lenient, and Macomb, somewhere in-between. There is some truth to this, but it’s not entirely accurate, particularly as it applies to 3rd offense drunk driving cases. As a DUI lawyer who specifically concentrates his representation in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, these differences are important to me every single workday. Any notion of which place is tougher versus more lenient must really account for 2 key factors that underlie every DUI case (and every criminal charge, for that matter): the prosecutor and the Judge.

If you’re familiar with the greater Detroit area, then you know there is a kind of unique “vibe” to each of the 3 counties. This “vibe” is reflected in the bench of each county, meaning the aggregate of its sitting Judges. This can become something of a chicken or the egg debate, but what really matters is that, as a group, the Judges in any particular county are largely a reflection of that county. The county prosecutor, however, is also a key player in all this. Whereas each of the local counties is made up of numerous district and circuit Judges, every county has only 1 elected prosecutor, and that person determines all the policies for how things are done and what kind of breaks (or not) can be given in all criminal cases. The interplay of these 2 factors – the Judge and the prosecutor – has everything to do with what ultimately happens to anyone facing a state-charged DUI. All 2nd and 3rd offense DUI’s are brought by the state, and, depending on the arresting agency (like the Michigan State Police), some 1st offense charges are state cases, as well. Thus, it will ALWAYS be the county prosecutor behind 3rd offense, felony charges.

Most of the DUI cases I handle are in Oakland County. Because I am a local, Detroit area DUI lawyer, that’s not surprising. In this article, I want to examine OWI charges in the district courts of Oakland County, and some of the things that are different here when compared to Macomb and Wayne Counties. This is the kind of subject that could be examined to death, so I’ll focus on the major points to keep this installment short. The courts of Oakland County have a reputation for being “tougher,” and in general, that’s a fair assessment. I point this out first, not because I want to bash Oakland County (it’s where I live), but rather because it is the most significant and talked about facet of cases here. In fact, because my practice takes me in and out of all the local courts, I am in a great position to compare and contrast how things are done within the different sectors of the larger, Tri-County area.

192_670-300x241It’s probably fair to define a DUI lawyer by virtue of where most of his or her cases are handled. On average, I handle about 5 or 6 local DUI cases each week, along with another 6 or 7 driver’s license restoration appeals (the result of multiple DUI convictions). Most weeks, I spend more time in the district courts of Oakland County than I do in the courts of both Macomb and Wayne Counties combined. Although I would prefer to be identified by a more inclusive term like “Detroit-area DUI lawyer,” if I had to pick a description with just one locale, it would be Oakland County DUI lawyer. What’s important about that is that it means, as it should, that I know how things are done here. I know how the Judges operate, the things that will and won’t fly with each, and what kind of ideas will cause some of them to lose patience.

In many of my DUI articles, I write about the importance of hiring a “local” lawyer. That doesn’t necessarily mean some lawyer whose office is down the block from the courthouse, but it does mean, at least here, one from the Tri-County, greater-Detroit area. I have no idea, for example, how things are done in Lansing or Grand Rapids. Even if I did take DUI cases from that far away, how many times do you think I’d be called on to go there? How much experience would I have in those courts that I could use to actually help someone make things better? It is always important that a lawyer be in a position to sell experience to his or her clients, rather than the client wind up paying what amounts to tuition for the lawyer to learn how things are done in some distant court. Because I confine my criminal and DUI practice to the courts of Oakland, Wayne and Macomb Counties, giving me extensive experience in these same courts day-in and day-out, week after week, I actually do sell experience rather than collect tuition.

Being a Michigan DUI lawyer means that a primary focus of my practice is handling DUI cases (the other part is driver’s license restoration appeals for those whose licenses have been revoked for multiple DUI convictions, so they’re quite related). I differentiate myself even further by noting that I geographically limit my DUI practice to the Tri-County (Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County), Metro-Detroit area. Plenty of other lawyers claim to handle OWI cases as part of a larger practice. Whether or not that provides enough courtroom experience to be considered any kind of “DUI lawyer” is questionable, at best. In this article, I want to address those situations where a non-lawyer starts digging around on the internet and starts thinking of him or herself as some kind of self-taught, quasi-expert. Someone may be great on Google, but that doesn’t make them a lawyer. My motivation for this article comes from any number of emails that I receive (and I’m sure plenty of other lawyers get them, as well) from people who learn a little about drunk driving laws and the DUI process, and then want to play lawyer, or co-counsel.

Docs-office-246x300To be brutally honest about it, those kinds of people are a royal pain in the a$$, and the only lawyers who deal with them are those that have to. In other words, confident and successful DUI lawyers don’t need to bother with them. A physician friend of mine once posted a meme of a sign hanging on a doctor’s office door that read: “Warning!!! Patient will be charged EXTRA for annoying the doctor with a self-diagnosis gotten off the internet.” This really is a variation of the idea that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” There is already a lot of work that goes into successfully handling a DUI case without a lawyer having to correct what a client half-understands. To be sure, I’m the first one to suggest a person “read around,” and there are some basic things a person should learn and know about DUI cases, many of which can be found online. Moreover, it is a good thing if a person reads and learns enough to have intelligent questions, but that’s a whole different thing than when someone starts looking for a lawyer to implement his or her own amateur, self-made legal strategy.

Can you imagine going to a doctor’s office and telling the physician what to prescribe because you’ve done the research? Admittedly, I KNOW when I am in the early stages of having a sinus/upper respiratory infection (I’ve gone through this my whole life) and I also know that for the last 30 years or so, I have had success with a “Z-Pak” (Azithromycin), so in those situations I may have to tell a newer doctor about my history and that the Z-Pak has always worked for me. Still when I do go to the doctor’s office, I am often required to give a throat culture and wait for it to be checked to rule out strep, but I accept that as just part of the deal. Beyond that, however, I’m not about to play doctor, and, as a lawyer, have no interest in wasting my time with a non-lawyer who wants to play 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.

It has been a while since I’ve addressed how the location of a DUI case directly impacts the way things will turn out, but I find myself explaining this so often that I think it’s about time to look at it again.  This will be a VERY short article because it’s more about this simple, single point, rather than anything else, but its importance in terms of what happens to you cannot be overstated.  In the Detroit area, and that means primarily the Tri-County area of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb, the “where” of a DUI charge is absolutely critical.  Someone facing a DUI in one court could wind up on reporting probation with all kinds of classes and counseling and testing whereas, in a different court and under the same case facts, he or she could simply be required to do nothing more than pay a fine.  The location factor is so dominant that whenever my staff approaches me about a new DUI client or inquiry, my very first question is “where?”

32location2810aDrunk driving gets a lot of attention in the media, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that consequences are getting harsher, and not easier.  This applies everywhere.  Yet even within that larger trend, it has always been the case that certain jurisdictions are more forgiving than others in drinking and driving cases.  In the broadest sense, Oakland County is considered “tougher” than either Macomb or Wayne, and you won’t find a single practicing lawyer who disagrees with that.  Certainly a few of the very toughest courts are located in Oakland County, but just a few days before this article was written, I was in an Oakland County court where my client was sentenced to a very short term of probation that was much less demanding than one could ever expect almost anywhere in either Wayne or Macomb County, so there is no hard and fast rule to any of this.  Beyond this purposefully general observation, I’m not about to publish any kind of “rankings” about who’s tougher than who, and will save those discussions for the safer confines of the attorney-client relationship.  Instead, we’ll stick to the larger point that in DUI cases, just like in real estate, the 3 most important things are location, location, and location.

I characterize DUI cases as “accidents of geography” because no one ever plans on getting arrested for drunk driving in the first place, so no one plans their route to make sure that if they do get pulled over, it’s somewhere better, rather that worse.  Instead, when a DUI happens, it just happens, wherever and whenever.  Even so, I know that even I breathe a sigh of relief when I hear my client’s case is location I know to be “easier.”  And let me be perfectly clear so that any Judge reading this understands; the idea of tougher versus more lenient, or one court somehow being “better” than another has nothing to do with judicial ability or integrity.  Instead, it is natural and understandable for a DUI lawyer to view things from the perspective of his or her client, and unless you’re some kind of masochist, it’s just human nature to want less consequences, rather than more.  I’m sure every single Judge out there thinks his or her way of handling these cases is the best (in much the same way that every Mexican restaurant owner probably thinks his or her salsa is the best), but the simple fact is that to anyone going through a DUI, less is ALWAYS more, and therefore always more preferable.

As a Michigan DUI lawyer, I have to take any number of things into account when I handle a DUI case. Where the charge is brought is always one of, and often the single most important factor in how things will work out in any given drunk driving case. Because of the profound effect of location, I generally limit my DUI practice to the courts of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, although I will go to Livingston County on occasion, as well. As I thought about this topic and how to approach it for this installment, it occurred to me that the old idea of being “a fly on the wall,” so to speak, might help, so I thought I’d bring the reader into a few conversations had in the privacy of my office, with my staff, or in the confines of my car (hands-free, on Bluetooth), as I “talk shop” with a colleague who does DUI work in a different area of the state. First, let’s move into my office…

location-location-location.jpgMy practice (drunk driving cases and driver’s license restoration appeals) means that my schedule often changes by the hour. I may, for example, get out of court one morning in Clinton Township and call into the office as I walk to my car, only to find out that I need to come straight in because a new DUI case from Rochester Hills needed to be squeezed in. As I listen to some preliminary details about the new matter (and come to accept that I’ll have another protein bar for lunch), the first thing I’ll be told is where the case is pending. It’s that important. In fact, there are many local district courts where the same DUI case will play out differently depending on the specific Judge to whom it is assigned. If there can be different outcomes between different Judges in the same court building, you better believe there can be even greater differences amongst various courts. Accordingly, the 3 main rules of real estate are equally important in DUI cases: Location, location and location. Now, let’s get into my car…

If you could eavesdrop on any of the phone conversations I have with other lawyers about drinking and driving cases, it is just expected, and taken as a given, that any discussion about a specific case will at least begin by explaining where it is pending. I’d imagine that when emergency room physicians compare notes, it is important that they clarify what brought the patient in, like an automobile accident, gunshot wound, or sports injury. In the world of DUI’s the “where” is really the foundation of the case. Thus, you would hear a story that begins like, “I had this one case the other day in Sterling Heights,” or “I had this one guy in New Baltimore” (or Shelby Township)…” When Lawyers discuss DUI cases, they more often first talk about the court in which it is pending or the Judge to whom it’s assigned rather than the specific details of the case, unless they are highly unusual, and even then, it clarifies things to examine the case within the context of its specific location.
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