In a recent update to the DUI section of my website, I addressed how critical the concept of “who you are” is in a Michigan Drunk Driving case. This article will be an adjunct to that. In my role as a Detroit DUI lawyer, the single most important part of my job is to protect my client’s interests. It has long seemed to me that there is a tendency (more like a failure, really) amongst DUI lawyers to focus rather exclusively on the evidence in a case, without enough consideration of the person facing the charge. Your personal characteristics are an important asset that has crucial strategic value in the proper handling a DUI case, at least if you’re a “solid” person with a good background.
To be sure, someone with a bad record, or who doesn’t have much going for him or her would be better off skipping over any personal biography and just keeping the focus on the facts of the case. If you’re a good person, however, that’s just an incomplete way to handle a DUI case. Often enough, a person will think, if not ask, something like “Doesn’t it matter that I have never been in any kind of trouble before” or “Don’t you want to know about me?” The answer to both questions is a resounding “yes!”
Without question, NOT having been in trouble before is an asset. Yet the honest flip side to this, in a DUI case, is that simply not having any kind of prior record doesn’t get you a free pass. Even so, it’s the context in which your lack of any prior record is presented to the prosecutor and the Judge that matters. Let’s consider how two different lawyers might do just that. Let’s suppose our imaginary defendant, Donna the driver, is facing a 1st offense DUI in a local, Detroit area court, and that she’s 40 years old, with no prior record. In each example, she has hired a lawyer who we’ll join in the conference room, meeting with the prosecutor, during the pre-trial of her case:
Lazy Linda the lawyer tells the prosecutor, “My client, the one in this file,” (pointing to a file on the prosecutor’s desk) “has no priors at all” (meaning no prior record). That’s it. Figuring that her client’s lack of any prior record is her best asset, Lazy Linda thinks she’s just pulled the trigger on her biggest gun.
Andy Ambitious the attorney takes a different approach. He sits down across from the prosecutor and identifies his client as Donna. “Let me give you a little bio on her,” he begins. “First off, she’s 40 years old and has never been in any kind of trouble before; not even a recent traffic ticket. She is a nurse at [such and such] hospital, and has been there for the last 8 years. She’s married, and has 2 kids. Donna has worked hard her whole life, and has always done the right things. She earned a nursing degree, got married and lived like every other law-abiding citizen. She had to take a break from school when she had her first kid, but she went right back and graduated with honors. On top of all that, she’s a really nice person, and if you met her, you’d like her. She does lots of volunteer and community stuff; she helps out at all her kid’s school’s bake sales, and does all kinds of other stuff like that. She has literally freaked out over this; she’s really paranoid about losing her license because she is sometimes on call at work. She is just the kind of person you’d want as a next door neighbor, and, believe me, as distraught as she is over all this, you can be sure it won’t happen again. She’s not a big drinker. This is totally out of character for her and what she normally does. This is her one mistake in life; she’s earned a break.”
It’s obvious that “who she is” matters to Donna’s case. Is there any question about the importance of using that to her advantage? Lazy Linda made the crucial mistake of turning control of the discussion back over to the prosecutor. Ambitious Andy, by contrast, not only kept control of the discussion, but was directing the outcome of it, as well. These fundamentals of persuasion don’t occur in a vacuum; in any “discussion” where a resolution will be reached, there is always a leader. Either you’re the leader, or not. There is no middle ground.
There is another aspect to this whole “who you are” subject, as well. It’s called “social capital.” Just like money, the more of it you have the better, and it’s a serious disadvantage to be without it. Social capital refers to things like a person’s place in life, and the support of community, family and friends available to them in times of need. A homeless panhandler with no job, few friends beyond those with whom he sleeps under the bridge and only enough worldly possessions to fit in a single grocery bag has no social capital. Donna the nurse has lots of it. While social capital is different than money, there is some correlation between the two. Typically, a person of middle class has a lot of social capital. Social capital matters in a DUI case.
The point I’m driving at here is that while it is important in my role as a Michigan DUI attorney to carefully examine the evidence in every case, it’s equally important to really get to know the client, as well. At my position in the lineup of Detroit area DUI lawyers, I tend to attract a “better” grade of client. The fact that you’re reading this means that you are a reader, and that you are at least as curious about my approach and my take on things in a DUI case as much as I’d be interested in learning your background if you became my client.
My clients tend to be those who dig and read a little deeper into things. I certainly don’t appeal the less cerebral person whose primary concern in finding the right DUI lawyer is getting the lowest price. Then again, anyone preoccupied with that probably has little social capital, anyway.
In some cases, a pending DUI can scare a person about his or her future employment prospects. Someone with a CDL will worry about making a living without it; an executive may lose his company car; someone preparing or studying for a particular career may fear that they won’t be able get a job in their chosen field, or otherwise be considered for a promotion, if a DUI shows up on their record. A person just might worry about getting back and forth to work if their license is suspended. Whatever their concerns, these issues are usually exclusive to people who have a lot of things going for them. Such people need to be differentiated from those who really don’t have as much to lose, or for whom such issues aren’t such a source of personal stress. While there are plenty of exceptions to this, it’s usually those who are most “freaked out” over a DUI charge who are less likely to do it again, and that kind of personality needs to be explained, in a manner of speaking, to the prosecutor and the Judge.
To the extent that I clearly demonstrate to the prosecutor and the Judge how out-of-character this situation is for you, I will have correspondingly assuaged any fear that you pose a risk of recidivism. This, really, is the focal point for the Judge. All the penalties in a DUI case aren’t really as much “punishment” for what you’ve done as they are disincentives to make sure you don’t do it again. As a result, it is far more likely to be able to ease up on those if you’re seen as a fundamentally good person, with a lot to lose, and who has internalized this incident and takes it seriously, and is unlikely to ever make the same mistake again.
This, of course, is where I think that, as much as it’s important to separate you from the pack, I likewise separate myself from the pack, as well. This is not a topic really addressed anywhere else. Yet for me, as a DUI lawyer, who you are, as a person, is, and always has played a vital part in how I handle a drunk driving charge. Because of that, I have also seen how centrally important that information is, when properly presented (or even presented at all) in the successful outcome of a DUI case.