DUI and Drinking – The Truth from a DUI Lawyer

In every 1st offense DUI case, one of the primary concerns of the whole judicial system is whether or not the person has come to the attention of the legal system because his or her drinking is a problem. In a 2nd offense drinking and driving case, it is presumed that a person’s drinking is problematic. In a 3rd offense drunk driving case, it is a foregone conclusion that person has an alcohol problem. As a Michigan DUI lawyer, my first job is to minimize the legal consequences that my client will face. In that sense, “success” in a DUI case is most appropriately judged by what does NOT happen to you. But there is far more to it than just that.

Therpaist lady 1.2.jpgSome people (mostly those with 2nd and 3rd offenses) know that something is not right about their relationship to alcohol. For many of these people, the unsettled questions are not as monumental as some kind of internal collapse and admission that they are alcoholic and need help, but rather a recognition that they at least have to make some changes so that this doesn’t happen again. It is extremely easy to chalk things up to bad luck and to resolve to not make the same mistake again. In reality, however, that’s not doing anything in the here and now; rather, it’s postponing even thinking about things until some vague, future point in time.

I truly believe that my job is to help people facing a DUI, and that “helping” means more than just working the case so that we escape with the fewest possible consequences. As a lawyer, I have to primarily focus on just that – keeping my client protected from jail and all kinds of counseling. As an honest person, however, I have a genuine desire to help someone when I can. Beyond just being a DUI lawyer, I bring a clinical background to the DUI world; I am actively and formally involved in the post-graduate level study of addiction issues. I don’t pretend to be a counselor, and to the extent that “the die is cast” by a person’s primary occupation, I am a lawyer through and through. Still, I am burdened by this costly thing called a conscience, and instead of just swinging for the fences to make profit, I swing into action to make things better for the people who hire me. And to be clear, just being in a DUI situation doesn’t mean you have a problem with alcohol.

That all kind of sounds good, but what does it really mean? It means that I speak candidly with my clients about their drinking. I am here to listen and counsel and direct. It means that I will help a client find the right person to talk to about his or her drinking and NOT use that in court unless it really helps the case. It means I play hardball lawyer in the courtroom, but I’m your counselor (ever wonder what the title “attorney and counselor at law” means?) in the confines of my office. It means I have clients who are confidentially involved in treatment; I go to court and make sure that they are seen as not having a drinking problem and thereby escape mandatory counseling so that, if they want to, they can purse any counseling on their own, without the court getting involved in everything. It means that you can talk to me without fear of judgment or consequence. Sending a client off with a good DUI result is all well and fine, but making a real difference in their lives and getting a heartfelt “thank you” is way better.

Conservative politicians often talk of small government and keeping government out of your life. That always goes out the window the moment they’re elected to government office, and this, sadly enough, applies to Judges, as well. I’ve seen all kinds of conservatives get elected to Judgeships, and then start piling programs on people like they get a bonus for each one they order; so much for small government. The only person who will ever try and keep government, and this includes the courts, out of your life is someone who is not part of it. I’m not much of a conservative, but I sure like the idea of keeping the court out of your life, and your day-to-day affairs.

Here’s an example of things gone wrong: It is absolutely deplorable that the courts require a counselor who is ordered to treat a person to report any “slip” or use of alcohol. Ask any clinician how they really feel about this, and you will unanimously find that they hate having to be a tattletale. In the clinical world, a place that I know far more than any lawyer or Judge I’ve ever met, this kind of obligation is considered fatal to what’s called the “therapeutic alliance.” This is the relationship that builds between a client and a counselor or therapist. Counselors rely upon a person being open and truthful so that they can guide and help the person; in the real world, this will almost always involve a “slip” where someone drinks. A good therapist will help a person go back and explore what happened, and work on is obligated to report the slip the court. Do you really think that builds any trust between the therapist and the client? Therapists hate it! Whatever else, this kind of “accountability” all but insures the person will show up, clam up, and keep any and everything to themselves. This is government (including the courts) grown so big that it now takes up a third seat in the counselor’s office.

I work around these issues. If my client thinks he or she needs help, then I am at the ready to provide counsel and assistance. I understand the whole gamut of available and proven therapeutic approaches to address a drinking issue, meaning that I can help a person explore a lot more than just AA. Most people don’t like AA. If you like AA, and it works for you, that’s great. If you’re not inclined to like AA, however, shoving you into it is not going to work, although that hasn’t stopped a single court from doing just that.

If I think a person needs help, I will be direct and honest about it, but not judgmental. If someone needs help, at least when it comes to drinking, you can’t force it upon him or her. That never works. It never has, and it never will. That does not mean, however, that you shouldn’t give a person some things to think about. What kind of “honest” lawyer am I if I just agree with a person facing a 3rd DUI who insists he or she doesn’t have any kind of problem? That’s the mark and trait of a lawyer to afraid of the truth and too afraid to lose business to speak the truth. Is that any kind of help? To be clear, it’s not like I pick up a hammer and say “Let me pound this into your head because you’ve got it all wrong!” No. Instead, I have to be candid and tell my client that I disagree with his or her assessment, and provide him or her with some resources to check out, if and/or when he or she should become so inclined. Never push, because pushing just means pushing away.

Yet for all of that, I am a DUI lawyer. I want to get people out of trouble in DUI cases. I fight the evidence and get cases dismissed. I work out deals to reduce charges and avoid jail. I do that with exceptional skill, no less, and I breeze through the court system with ease. Yet that doesn’t mean that I should be anything less than equally able to provide assistance and help and referrals to the client who needs more than just a shark in the courtroom. As I said before, I am burdened with a conscience that looks to do the right thing, and not just the easiest or most profitable thing.

I often point out that anytime the issue of an alcohol problem comes up in court, there is not a lawyer around who has anywhere near my level of clinical understanding to be able to argue against there being one. When I step into a courtroom, I am the foremost expert on the subject of what amounts to a drinking problem. I can and do persuade the court to NOT accept the predetermined notion that a person has a drinking problem just because of a high BAC score, or the mere fact that it is a 2nd offense case. I often step up and save my clients from treatment or AA that is either not necessary, or which simply won’t work for them. I am fluent in discussing and offering alternatives because I know those alternatives because of my academic, clinical and legal background. I can discuss the efficacy of treatment methods that no other lawyer has ever heard about, much less studied.

At the end of the day, if I persuade a Judge that my 2nd offense client doesn’t need AA and doesn’t need counseling, while at the same time my client is seeing a counselor on his or her own (meaning privately), I consider that a good thing. This way, if my client gets tickets to a great concert on the night he or she is supposed to go to counseling, then the appointment can be skipped and rescheduled without fear that the counselor will have to report it to the court. I work for my clients, not for the court, and one thing is for sure, try as they might, the courts DO NOT always know best.

In a very real way, I am like a diplomat shuttling between two feuding sides. I have to be the guy who tells the client how things will happen in the real world, and what can and cannot be done in court. When a person facing a 2nd DUI with no way out of it says, “I can’t lose my license,” I have to explain the reality of losing your license. When the court says “It’s your 2nd offense, so you have a drinking problem and you need to see the counselor we use (very often a poor choice because that’s usually the person who has lobbied hardest for the court referrals, irrespective of clinical skills), I have to show how the criteria used to make that determination aren’t clinically sound, and/or explain how there are better (and usually less burdensome and less expensive) counseling or treatment options for the client.

Think of it this way: If a DUI client had his or her way, they’d just tell the Judge, “Sorry- it won’t happen again – I promise,” and be on their way. If the court got its way, the person would feel like they’ve been steamrollered with AA, counseling, classes, community service, testing and just about any and everything else the court could throw at them. I broker the accommodation between the sides. Still, the thing that’s of foremost importance to me is that I actually help my client. I will save his or her license, or ditch court-ordered counseling any time I can. Yet I have to be honest with a person, particularly when the facts point to a troubled relationship to alcohol. Even if all I do is plant a seed in someone’s mind just by saying something like “you may want to take a look at your drinking pattern, and watch it over time. If you find yourself in any kind of trouble again, even personal, and not necessarily legal trouble, remember the saying that ‘I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but every time I got in trouble, I had been drinking’ because it may be speaking to you.” If something like that seed sprouts in my client’s mind, even years later, then I’ve done a good thing, and I’ve helped.

In 1st offense DUI cases, the vast majority of my clients have simply made a mistake; nothing more. It just happens. Those odds, however, change when we get into 2nd offense cases. Even so, I have countless 2nd offense clients without alcohol problems. As I noted before, however, by the time we get to 3rd offense cases, the whole world sees the person as having a drinking problem. Part of that problem is that they are about the only person in the world to disagree. Whatever else, grabbing the hammer and trying to pound a different understanding into his or her head won’t do anything but increase their defensiveness.

I put my heart and soul into making things better for my clients. If someone wants to use my legal skills and nothing more, that’s fine. I can produce the best legal results humanly possible. But if you want a DUI lawyer who is at least equipped, trained and ready to go a little deeper, then we should talk.

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