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.
Preparation 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.