Third Offense Drunk Driving Cases in Macomb, Wayne and Oakland Counties (Reprise)

The last article on this blog was about 3rd offense drunk driving charges in Michigan – specifically in the Metro-Detroit area, meaning Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties. I want to continue and extend that discussion a bit, not so much from my side of the desk, but rather from the client’s side. I think it is crucial that, in my role as a Michigan DUI lawyer, I understand and empathize with the concerns and experiences my clients will have as they face what is to them, at least, the great unknown. We all know a DUI is scary; a 2nd offense is always scarier than the 1st, and a 3rd is exponentially more intimidating than the 2nd. Fear of the law and the consequences it threatens is all part and parcel of dealing with a felony DUI, but when you think about it, pretty much anyone facing anything unknown to him or her will always have at least a bit of reticence, if not outright worry, about what lies ahead. Understanding how a person feels is key to helping him or her successfully work through those issues.

mi-detroit-metro-area 1.2.gifIt kind of goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – a 3rd offense DUI changes everything. In the short run, it changes the way you see things. Beyond being scared, your very sense of permanence is affected. If, for example, you had a work project coming up in a few months that you were dreading, you now worry if you’ll even be around to tackle it. The thought of getting time in jail is way more dreadful than just about anything else. Suddenly, that work project doesn’t seem so bad. In the long run, a felony DUI charge will certainly change the way you interact with the world around you. Absent getting the case thrown out of court, you can expect to be placed on probation, to be required to complete counseling, and to submit to testing to make sure you remain alcohol free. Your sense of self is certain to be impacted as you carry out these obligations. It helps to have an ally who is in tune with this and knows how this affects you. It is human nature to feel that your circumstances are “special.” It is also good to be reminded every once in a while that you are indeed special and unique – just like everyone else.

Someone on the outside may not believe this, but the vast majority of my 3rd offense DUI clients are very successful people; many are professionals. A sizable number of my clients have advanced degrees. These are people who NEVER would have thought they’d find themselves in this position. And if that’s not bad enough, in many cases they can’t tell their employer, and otherwise have a very limited circle of people who can know about their predicament. Given the general “largeness” of a 3rd offense drunk driving, it is quite hard to keep this secret from everyone. Certain consequences of the case begin to affect you right after your arrest, in some cases even before you are released from jail. In some courts, you won’t be released until you’re “hooked up” for testing. This can involve anything from an ankle tether (called a “SCRAM tether), an assigned color for call in breath and/or urine testing, to the more modern Soberlink device, which is a cellular unit that takes jpeg picture of you as you take a breath test, and then transmits the image and the result to a monitoring facility.

In many cases, your vehicle will have been seized. In Wayne and Macomb Counties, you can often “buy” it back for $1800. To be clear about that, there is no negotiating the amount; the only thing you get by waiting is a bigger storage bill. In a 3rd offense case where the charge comes within 10 years of the 1st case, and/or within 7 years of the 2nd case, a mandatory license revocation will be imposed. In some ways, it may seem counter-intuitive to buy back a car you soon won’t be able to drive. Here, the value of the car is important. Beyond that, this is another aspect of the case that can show up at your work. Suddenly, you don’t have your car; soon enough, you won’t be able to drive. It’s bad enough if all you have to do is get to and from work. If you’re expected to drive anywhere, or otherwise travel, this can become a real headache. I have worked through these and similar issues with countless clients over the last quarter century. Beyond simply well meaning, my reassurances and suggestions are based upon a wealth of experience.

On top of everything we’ve just listed, you’re going to have to take some time off to go to court, as well. You’re also going to have to find and hire a lawyer. In order to provide the level of representation that I do, I need about 3 hours with a client at our very first meeting. When you leave my office our initial meeting, you’re going to have work to do. Counseling and treatment are required by law in a 3rd offense case, but if you are not demonstrably proactive in that regard, you’ll be falling behind before you even get started. Nor do I send a client out of the office with the vague (and useless) advice to “get into counseling.” We have to find the right counseling, and as much time as I’ll put into that with you, you’re going to be doing the bulk of the work as you make the initial inquiries.

This all changes your life rather dramatically from what it was like before the arrest. Anyone in a position to hire me, or at least hire at my level, is almost certainly a busy person to begin with. I never meet with people who have too much time on their hands; quite the opposite, most of my clients are people who usually have too many hands on their time. Yet the business of a felony DUI cannot be put off, and, at least as far as the legal system goes, will not be put off, either. If, for example, you have an upcoming business trip to L.A. scheduled in a few weeks, how that all plays out may change because of your pending DUI charge. At a minimum, you have no regular driver’s license to show (you have your “temporary permit” instead) for a rental car, or for ID at the airport, and you may have to do breath tests regularly. This means you may have to duck into the restroom wherever you are in order to provide a sample for the Soberlink device. The Judge will not care how inconvenient that is anymore than you probably care about the complaints from the terrorist detainees about the meals they are fed.

This is a lot to deal with. There is a huge emotional component to facing a 3rd offense DUI. I have ridden shotgun in this situation quite literally more times than I can count. I have stood next to people as they felt the whole world was caving in on them, only to stand by them later, when everything works out. If there is one message to take from this article, and I truly mean this, it’s that in most cases, things aren’t as dire as they seem. This is not a fatal cancer diagnosis.

Even so, being in this position is highly stressful from the inside, and we haven’t even turned to what it looks like from the outside. You have probably already figured out that it isn’t good. It is foolish to think that the public perception of anyone facing a 3rd offense drunk driving charge is ever sympathetic. You may have friends and family that rally to your support, but to the person on the street, anyone who picks up his or her 3rd drunk driving is seen as dangerous, at a minimum. You can add a lot more descriptors to that, as well; none of them are particularly nice. This is a painful and ugly realization, and it hits you like a ton of bricks.

Ironically, it is right here, at this very point, a “low point” amongst all lows, for that matter, that we can often find some inspiration. As bad as all this seems, this can be the absolute turning point in your life, if you can open your mind a little. This is not a setup for some religious or support group conversion. I’m here to save your behind, not your soul. The point here is that if you can use this event as the catalyst to take control of your own life and destiny, and if you resolve that this is indeed the low point of your life, that you really will never do this again, and that you truly have hit your own bottom, the only way to go is up. In other words, you can do nothing, and wait to fall harder the next time, reaching a new, even lower bottom, or you can put this all behind you and move forward. All the great counselors and lawyers and Judges in the world can scream this to you until your deaf, but only you can choose to “hear” it and actually act upon it. At this point, what you do with the rest of your life is a choice – your choice.

Here is where I cannot conceal my clinical training, or my desire to help more than just by handling things in court. I do that exceptionally well already. The thing to realize is that the public perception of a person facing a 3rd offense DUI is basically correct, although perhaps for the wrong reasons. The whole world would pretty much agree that anyone facing his or her 3rd drunk driving charge has a troubled relationship to alcohol. Notice I didn’t say “is an alcoholic.” Lots of people facing a 3rd offense drunk driving are alcoholic, and many of them already know that, or at least have an undeniable suspicion of that. The bigger problem is for those people who don’t drink all the time, or whose drinking is usually not problematic. For them, this 3rd (or most recent) DUI is aberrational in the larger scheme of how they drink. Sure, they have had a few problems in the past, but those things all stand out as the exceptions and not the rule. Problem drinkers act like problem drinkers, don’t they?

There’s an old saying that sums up what could take chapters and chapters to say without any more clarity: Anything that causes a problem is a problem. Even if you have consumed alcohol responsibly nearly every day for the better part of 30 years, and you have picked up 3 DUI’s, then something is not right. If you can drink alcohol without getting into trouble 99% of the time, that outstanding 1% is still a problem. When it lands you into facing a felony drunk driving charge with a potential (if unlikely) prison sentence as a consequence, it is a big problem. It’s probably the biggest problem you’ve ever had. Would you go skydiving with an instructor who had of a 99% survival rate? Would you eat at a restaurant that bragged that 99% of the people who eat there don’t get sick? Would you stay in a hotel room that was 99% roach free?

There is a lot to this, but at the core of it all is the realization that if you’re facing a 3rd offense DUI, that very charge represents the pinnacle of your ability to drink responsibly. Something isn’t adding up. As a client of mine once said from across my desk, “Well, my best thinking got me here…” I know this is somewhat more direct than what some other lawyers may say, but if you think for a minute that you’re not going to get this 10 times over from the Judge, then you’re terribly mistaken. There isn’t a Judge in the WORLD who will not absolutely conclude that a 3rd drunk driving offender has a problematic relationship to alcohol. No Judge alive will ever entertain, even for a second, that you can or should ever drink again. If you don’t get on board with this perception right out of the gate, then you are wasting valuable time, and if you’re lawyer doesn’t help with this, right out of the gate, then you’re wasting valuable money, as well. The bottom line is that you need to make things better, and buying into what you want to hear may feel good at first, but it ignores reality.

This is not to say that we can just show up in court and promise that it won’t happen again. The Judge knows you’ve said that before, on at least 2 occasions, but nothing has changed, except you’re back for #3. However, if you can genuinely accept the idea that the common denominator to the problem you’re currently facing is the result of your drinking, and is, therefore directly related to your past 2 DUI’s, and you firmly and finally resolve to leave alcohol alone, you will put yourself on a course to not only change the outcome of this case, but the course of your life. There are lots of ways to do this, and good clinical practice today tries to help a person find the “right” kind of counseling. Most people, unfortunately, will get shuffled by the court system to AA, and, predictably (if not understandably), most will not like it. We now know that AA is the wrong fit for more than 2 out of 3 people. This is where I can help. Nothing will do less for you than counseling or AA that you hate. That’s not to say AA can’t be a lifesaver, but because it is the only thing that works for one person doesn’t mean it’s right for anyone else. That’s why the ice cream store has more than 1 flavor. I can use my clinical knowledge to make sure you don’t get packed off into the default, one-size-fits-all counseling/treatment approach unless it is actually a good fit for you. If not, then we’ll come up with other options.

The bottom line is that if you can pick yourself up, dust off, and decide that this is THE pivotal moment in your life, then you can change things. You can do what is necessary to really make sure this never happens again. That means a lot more than just defending against a DUI charge; it means defending from the consequences of it. I get licenses back for people who have had theirs revoked for multiple DUI convictions. To win your license back, you have to prove that you’ve had a serious “a-ha” moment, and that you have truly quit drinking. I help defend my clients from all the consequences of a DUI, including, at the 3rd offense stage, making sure they never get another.

I try to help my clients understand that 3 (or more) drunk driving arrests means that drinking is just too risky for them. Moreover, it is critically important that I get them to understand that the entire Court system in general, and the Judge, in particular, will see it exactly that way. You wouldn’t survive 3 skydiving crashes only to jump out of a plane again, would you? Would you go back to a restaurant that made you sick 3 times in the past? Would you check into a Roach Motel for a 4th visit? Of course not! So what does it say about the role alcohol plays in someone’s life if quitting drinking doesn’t seem to be the first priority right after a 3rd offense DUI arrest? Remember, a 3rd offense DUI charge is a felony and carries a potential prison sentence. At this point, a person can either shrug things off, say it won’t happen again, and then hope that by sheer willpower alone it won’t, or he or she can take the bull by the horns and make sure it doesn’t happen again by taking action. That action can make or break you case right now, and can seriously affect your ability to get your driver’s license back down the road. I can help you figure out the best course of action that will help you with your case, help you down the road when it comes time to try and win your license back, and maybe just help you change the direction of your life, as well.

For all of this, there is a lot of apprehension and fear. The fact that this situation is “the great unknown” is a good thing; being a veteran felony drunk driver is never positive. We want to make this the last such experience. I can help you get through this situation with as little damage as possible. Beyond all the legal and even clinical realities, I really know what you’re going through, and I care enough to want to help with that, as well.

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