There is no shortage of DUI cases in Michigan. According to the annual drunk driving audit of all courts, required by law and conducted by the Michigan State Police, there were approximately 46,248 alcohol-related traffic arrests in 2014 (2015 figures won’t be available for almost another year). Even though there are plenty of DUI arrests during the fall and winter, things do get busier when the weather is warmer. Boats get put in the water, barbecue parties happen all the time, the concert season swings into full gear, and people are just more inclined get out more than they do in the colder months. Whereas most of my 250-plus DUI articles focus on a particular aspect of drinking and driving cases, I want to put up a short installment here that is more about general observations rather than specific analysis of drunk driving cases.
Cell phone tips about drunk drivers are relatively common nowadays. Absolutely everyone has a cell phone. The Police are experts at detecting signs of impaired driving, but when another motorist sees it so plainly that he or she picks up the phone and calls it in, it’s not unusual to find the driver was really, really drunk. To date, I’ve never heard from anyone who has been erroneously called in and subsequently pulled over for being drunk and was found not to be. In fact, I have not, in my 25-plus years, even met more than a couple of people who have ever been asked to step out of their vehicle who was not ultimately arrested for drinking and driving. By the time a police officer gets to that, and barring a miracle, you’re going to jail. If there’s a summary to this paragraph, it is probably that if you get called in as a suspected drunk driver or are asked to step out of the vehicle by the police, you get arrested.
If you have no prior DUI convictions within 7 years, you should almost always take the breath test. The bad news here is that there is no way you can know when you should refuse. If you decline, the Police will write you up for that refusal, and your driver’s license will be suspended for 1 year, unless you win (unlikely) a hearing at the Secretary of State or go to circuit court (different from the court where your DUI is pending) and file a petition for a restricted license. That costs a lot of money and takes weeks and weeks, during which you cannot legally drive. In 2nd offense and 3rd offense DUI cases, refusing the breathalyzer isn’t quite the same deal, although it almost never helps anyone, and, moreover, some 2nd offenders are finding themselves eligible for a restricted license if they go through a sobriety court, all of which is really complicated by having an additional suspension for refusing the breath test. On top of all this, you can generally count on the police getting a warrant for a blood draw, especially for someone who has a prior DUI (or even more than one) on his or her record, so all refusing the breath test really does is make you look bad and causes you to come back with a elevated BAC (blood tests usually produce higher BAC results than breath tests). Short answer; take the test.
Location matters. In a recent article, I examined how location can be a determining factor in how any given DUI case turns out, and is one of the most important factors in why the outcome in a case in one jurisdiction is so much different from a case in a different city. DUI cases are always accidents of geography. No one ever plans on getting pulled over for drunk driving (most people, no matter how unrealistic the idea in any particular circumstance, would argue that they never planned to drive drunk in the first place), and where you’re coming from or going to is just part of the evening’s travels, not part of some plan to avoid getting pulled over for a DUI in a really tough jurisdiction. In that sense, some people get “lucky” by getting pulled over in a place that’s more lenient, while others watch as things go from bad to worse when they find out the court they’re in is known as less forgiving. This is not something that is ever planned.
Location also affects costs. In my DUI practice, my prices are set (and, unlike just about everyone else, published online), but court costs are all over the map. Personally, I hate the “big secret” approach to money, and I won’t do business with anyone who won’t at least give me a general idea of cost up front (“add item to cart to see price” – no thanks), but then again, courts aren’t competing for your business, and don’t have to worry about your customer satisfaction. I usually have a decent and general idea of what each court charges, and certainly know which ones are “expensive” versus those that are not, so at least my clients are never surprised about that.
Driver’s license penalties are set by law and the court has nothing to do with them. It does not matter how much you “need” a license; what will happen to your license is set in stone, handled exclusive by the SOS, and purely a function of your prior record and the charge to which you plead. For most 1st offenders, this means winding up on a restricted license for a while. Again, there is NO mechanism for any kind of relief other than the exact and specific sanctions set by the Michigan Secretary of State. You can find out all about those on my website and this blog.
Every DUI case must be examined carefully by the lawyer. In my office, this means that our first meeting will usually last about 2 hours. I have to get to know you – really know you. Who you are as a person matters in this process, or at least I make sure it does. I want you to tell me what happened, and then I want to ask my own questions about your DUI. Every lawyer wants to get the police report, but normally, I will want to obtain a copy of the police in-car video, as well, and maybe other evidence along with it. It’s hard to “beat” a DUI case, but if you just assume that you can’t, then you never will. The only way to find a way out of any specific charge is to look for a way out. Even when there isn’t one, at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve examined all of your options.
Central to every DUI case is what I have dubbed the “alcohol bias.” It has been proven that DUI drivers have a statistically much higher incidence of drinking problems than the population at large. Unfortunately, this has devolved into a situation where just about everyone going through a DUI is made to feel like he or she has an alcohol problem. This is ironic, because the law requires that in every drunk driving case, before a Judge can sentence someone, he or she must undergo a mandatory alcohol screening (a written test) that is then scored, and that numerical value checked against an answer key that plots where a particular score falls on the continuum from no problem to severe drinking problem. This all means that the test is supposed to determine whether or not a person has, or is at an increased risk to develop a problem with alcohol. Despite the legal requirement for at this quasi-diagnostic assessment, everyone familiar with the DUI process will tell you that you’re treated like you have a problem right from the start. Anyone reading this who is required to test as a condition of bond, for example, is getting a taste of that right now. In part to counter this, I decided to complete the coursework in a post-graduate level program of addiction studies. I use that clinical training to help my clients not get all caught up in endless, expensive and unnecessary classes and counseling. This I can say with certainty: When I walk into a courtroom, I am the foremost expert on addiction issues; I have to be. I understand the development, diagnosis, treatment and recovery from alcohol problems better than anyone else, so I can help protect my client from this bias as much as possible with knowledge and arguments based on hard science.
The whole issue of drunk driving fires up a lot of opinions, and often strong ones, at that. When it comes to screening for the presence of an alcohol problem, however, opinion must take a backseat to facts, and it is through the lens of science, and not opinion, that we discover those facts. Sure, drunk drivers present as being more at risk to have a drinking problem, but that doesn’t mean that every person charged with a DUI has one, and my job is to use the tools at my disposal to prevent someone from being seen as having a problem that they don’t. This is really the key to producing the best results in a DUI case that isn’t so botched that the Judge will just toss it out of court.
This is important stuff. The real risk in a DUI case is that you will wind up being ordered into all kinds of treatment, yet no one in the process of screening you for the presence of an alcohol problem or deciding that you have one and should go to treatment is a practicing clinician. In essence, we have probation officers and Judges reaching clinical conclusions, and they are all influenced by public opinion and the power of groups like MADD. Do you think there has ever been a Judge that overthought whether to follow a recommendation to send someone to treatment or not? And how can anyone refer to proper clinical criteria if he or she doesn’t know what those criteria are in the first place?
I have often pointed out that the best results in a DUI case are achieved by combining a thorough knowledge of the facts of the case and the applicable law with the skillful management of time, science and perception. There is a lot to this, so either you have an idea of what I mean or you don’t. Either way, I do, and that’s what really matters. As I have pointed out before, success in a DUI case is judged by what doesn’t happen to you.
Finding the right DUI lawyer takes work. Just about every lawyer has a website. Some are more stylish than others, but most are written by the web companies that design them, and those that aren’t tend to say very little, focus on years in practice, and urge you to call now. You have to be a good consumer and take the time to read carefully. Read articles like this. I have published over 250 DUI articles, almost all of which are far more informational than this one, and by doing so, I have written more articles in the last several years about DUI than most lawyers will ever handle by way of actual cases in their whole careers. You not only have to read, but read between the lines, as well. Then, pick up the phone and call around. I have the nicest and most helpful staff you will ever find. As much as I can tell you this, just make sure you call my office when you make your inquiries. We’re here to help, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and can be reached at 586-465-1980.