DUI 1st Offense in Michigan – Don’t Freak out; Everything will be Fine

Okay, you’ve been arrested for OWI and now you’re googling around trying to figure this all out. You want real information, not “infomercial” type stuff. It seems that almost every legal website (except mine, of course!) says the same, “me too” things, and then instructs you to “call now!” In this article we’re going to cover several issues that anyone facing a a 1st offense DUI should really know. As I point out elsewhere, although I am a DUI lawyer, and all kidding aside, this is going to be more than a “hire me” piece. My goal here is to provide useful information for anyone facing a 1st offense drinking and driving charge no matter where in Michigan he or she may live, even though I limit my DUI practice geographically to the Metro-Detroit area, meaning Oakland, Wayne and Macomb Counties. It’s natural and normal for someone facing his or her 1st DUI (and, in many cases, first criminal charge ever) to try and find some reassuring information about the things that worry them most. To help get us off to a good start, let’s put to rest the 3 biggest fears most people have:

https://www.michigancriminaldefenselawyerblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/286/2018/02/freak-1.2-276x300.jpgFirst, you’re almost certainly NOT going to jail. Second, you won’t lose your driver’s license. Third, you’re not going to lose your job (unless you do something like drive a school bus or an ambulance for a living). You’re life is not over, it’s not about to come to an end, and, best of all, you’ve already been through the worst of all this. As you search the web, ignore the fear-based marketing messages; no lawyer is going to save you from consequences that you DON’T actually face in the first place – like jail. Yet for all of that good news, this isn’t going to be a ride in the park, either. To balance what we covered at the top of this paragraph, let’s look at 3 sucky realities of every DUI case: First off, a DUI is going to cost you a chunk of money. Second, it is going to be inconvenient because it’s designed to be that way. Third, the short and cold answer to just about any question that begins like, “How am I supposed to…?” or “How do they expect me to…?” is “That’s your problem.” Now, let’s look at these suck factors in reverse order, beginning, however, with that last one first, because that really takes us through the ugliest part of all this.

When you are convicted of a DUI offense, no matter how minor, your driver’s license is going to be restricted in some way. A restricted license DOES allow you to drive to, from and during the course of (meaning “for”) work, to and from your own school, to and from any necessary medical treatment, to and from anything the court requires you to do, and to and from any support group meetings, like AA. This means that you can drive anytime, anywhere, and for any reason that is required for your job, but, by contrast, you cannot take your kids to their school, cannot take them to their doctor, cannot drive to get groceries, nor can you drive yourself to the gym. If you’re a single parent, this means that the answer to the question “How am I supposed to get my kids to school if I can’t drive?” is, as I noted before, “That’s your problem.” This is no picnic, but it’s not permanent, either, and however you manage it, you’re still a hell of a lot better off having to figure out how to get your own groceries than eating jail food, right? And with that out of the way, everything else gets easier from here…

A DUI is inconvenient. Make no mistake, it’s meant to be. The idea behind making it this way is that the process is not supposed to be pleasant, and, when it’s all over, it’s a good thing if you shake your head and declare that you never want to go through that again. In the course of the active case, you’re going to have to go to court a number of times. Often, a better lawyer may handle things in a such a way that you actually wind up going to court more times, rather than fewer, because the best results are the product of time and effort.

And to be blunt about it, no one “cares” about your work schedule, or how hard all of this is for you because you’re dealing with an unfeeling and unthinking system. In that sense, do you think the IRS “cares” that you could have used the money you paid in taxes to fund your retirement? The point I’m trying to make is that no one cares because there is no one to care. If a Judge, for example, had to honestly reply to someone’s frustration about having to go through this whole process (and I know it sounds cold), it would probably be something like, “You should have thought about that before you drove drunk.”

Your inconvenience is not going to be limited to going to court a few times, either. Here, in 2018, there probably isn’t one court left in the Tri-County area that does NOT require a person to do breath and/or urine testing BOTH as a condition of bond (meaning while you’re going through your case) and a condition of probation. You are (or will be) required to take these tests because it is a 100% non-negotiable condition of bond and probation that you do not drink any alcohol or use any drugs that aren’t prescribed for you. Yup; that means no glass of wine at dinner, even on a special occasion. Complying with these testing requirements can seem like anything from a minor annoyance to a huge pain in the a$$. It’s harder for some folks than others, and for all kinds of different reasons. Some people are so unable to comply with the usual testing schedule that they are allowed to use a portable, cellular breath testing machine, instead. This is a lot more convenient than having to line up outside a testing facility, but because it’s more expensive and you have to test several times every day, it’s no vacation either, and you’re probably not going to show the device to all of your co-workers.

Depending on the court, you may end up being required to do some community service, as well. No matter what, this is never a back-breaker kind of thing, but, as luck would have it, the courts that most often do require it are those that order the most testing and other stuff, as well. In other words, if the location of your DUI is in one of the more “lenient” courts, you’ll likely not only test less, but also get a pass on community service, as well. Whatever else, DUI cases are always accidents of geography, so wherever it is, your just going to have to deal with the reality of the local court. That said, it still always better if yours winds up in a more lenient, rather than a more demanding, court.

It’s likely, to the point of being a certainty,  that you will placed on probation. Probation typically requires that you report, in-person, to the court once per month. Exceptions are usually made for people who live or reside far away. Beyond testing and the possibility of community service, there are other things you will probably be required to do while probation, like complete some classes, or, if you are perceived as having, or being at risk to develop, an alcohol problem, counseling or treatment. I provide my clients with a special advantage to avoid as much of that as possible because, having completed a post-graduate program of addiction studies, I fully understand the clinical implications of the development, diagnosis and treatment of alcohol problems.

That sounds fancy, but what does it mean for someone facing a DUI? It means I will thoroughly prepare my client for the legally required, mandatory written alcohol assessment (it is numerically scored – the higher you score, the more likely you are perceived to have a drinking problem) that he or she must take before sentencing so that he or she does NOT present as having any kind of alcohol problem, or having an increased risk to develop one. Remember, this screening is done within a court system that has a STRONG internal alcohol bias, so doing well (i.e., scoring low) on the assessment is the absolute key to NOT getting pounded with all kinds of avoidable or unnecessary classes, counseling or treatment – all of which you have to pay for and attend.

Oh, and you’re going to get soaked for money. The State of Michigan has funded an ongoing public relations campaign about the cost of a DUI. As a DUI lawyer, I can’t say I pay much attention to those ads, but the general idea – that a drinking and driving case is going to cost you a lot of money – is very true. I’ve even written several articles on the subject. As if the high overall cost of all this isn’t enough, there can be pretty significant differences between what you will pay in one court versus another. It’s not like there’s a “cheap” court out there, so the bite into your wallet will either be big, or really big.

Part of the reasoning behind all of this expense and inconvenience is a recognition of the reality that 1st offenders do NOT go to jail. In fact, in the one Detroit-area court where getting any jail time at all is a possibility, it’s still only for several days, not weeks or months. By law, if a person was to be sentenced to the full 93 days allowed by law for a 1st offense drunk driving conviction, then he or she could NOT be put on probation or required to do anything else. Thus, the idea here is that all of this burden is a trade-off for not going to jail. That, and the court would rather have your money rather than ship you off to the pokey, anyway.

No doubt this sounds like a lot, and, in a sense it is a lot, but there’s really nothing else you will have to do or endure beyond what has been outlined above. Chances are, if you hire a good lawyer, you can avoid many of the things we’ve just gone over. And even if you get a lousy lawyer and wind up getting hammered with most (or even all) of them, that’s still a hell of a lot better than being thrown in jail, which is everyone’s mental picture and worst fear, all in one. The secret to getting the best outcome in a DUI case is preparation. The lawyer you hire should obtain and examine all of the evidence right out of the gate. In my office, for example, it is standard practice to get and watch the police car, dash-cam video as soon as I’m retained. Sometimes, the best outcome in a DUI case is getting out of it entirely, and while that’s admittedly the exception and not the rule, that will never happen unless your lawyer first looks for a way to beat the case. I always do. Even if a case can’t be summarily tossed out of court, finding any flaws in the evidence improves my plea- bargaining power with the prosecutor.

Most of the time in DUI cases, the evidence is pretty straightforward. Good outcomes are the result of good work, not good luck. Success in a DUI case is ALWAYS measured by what does not happen to you. The larger point I wanted to make in this article is that as scary as a DUI charge and all the potential punishments can sound at the outset, some of them aren’t really on the menu at all, and most of the rest can be avoided and/or minimized. Thus, you aren’t going to jail, you won’t lose your driver’s license, nor will you lose your job. A DUI may suck, but it’s no reason to freak out or otherwise panic.

If you are facing a 1st offense DUI charge (or any DUI charge, for that matter) in the Metro-Detroit area, meaning in any district court in Oakland, Wayne or Macomb County, and are looking to hire a lawyer, do your homework. Read around. Read the articles lawyers have written. Then, check around. Ask questions. All of my initial case screenings are confidential and done over the phone, right when you call. You can reach my office Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at (586) 465-1980. We’re here to help.

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