DUI, Ignition Interlock and Probation Violations for Drinking – Stop and Think!

The underlying idea for this article came from Ann, my senior assistant, as we were discussing a case where someone had violated the terms of either their ignition interlock or probation by drinking. Although I can’t recall which it was, I had Ann send me an email using the exact phrase she used in expressing her own frustration at the time – “when has NOT drinking ever screwed you up?” – and waited for the right time to use it in an article. My practice is concentrated in DUI cases pending in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties and Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance appeals for people who live anywhere in Michigan, or who have relocated to some other state. As such, I deal with fallout from people drinking alcohol all day and every day. In this article, I hope to give someone who is in any kind of legal trouble where they should not be drinking a reason to pause and think twice before doing so.

3010-267x300The consumption of alcohol leads to a lot of problems for some folks. To be sure, most people never run into legal issues as a result of drinking. If they do its something like an MIP as a kid, or maybe a DUI as an adult, but they learn their lesson and never get into trouble again. Yet for all of those who either never get in trouble or who get past one unfortunate incident involving alcohol, there are plenty enough who seem to keep drinking despite the fact that they keep getting into trouble for it. This kind of self-defeating behavior is clear in repeat offense DUI cases, but it also is there, if not so obviously, in probation violation and ignition interlock violation cases where someone gets caught after having consumed alcohol when they shouldn’t have. As I noted in the previous installment, the problem with articles like this is that most people usually find them after the fact, when they’re already in trouble. Even if that’s the case here, I want to give the reader something to think about so that he or she can resolve to not make the same mistake again.

The majority of probation violations, especially in DUI cases, occur because someone tests positive for alcohol. This is really the crux of what Ann meant; when someone keeps getting in trouble for drinking, it might be time to take a break and ask, “when has NOT drinking ever screwed me up?” Although many probation violation and ignition interlock violation cases share the same cause – drinking – everything else about them is different. In DUI cases, I make my living in court keeping my clients out of jail, even after they’ve violated probation by drinking when they were forbidden by a Judge’s order from doing so. As we’ll see, things are a lot different, and, yes, even worse, if someone drinks alcohol and winds up with an ignition interlock violation brought by the Michigan Secretary of State, because it means losing your license all over again. For good. Let’s start there first, and get to probation violations in the latter part of this article.

Essentially, if you’re caught drinking alcohol after winning a license restoration appeal, you are royally screwed. As I’ll explain, you should be, too. Remember, the whole point of the license restoration process is to only put those people back on the road who can show that they’ve honestly quit drinking and have the tools and commitment to remain alcohol-free for good. In other words, you won reinstatement of your license because you proved you were genuinely sober and fully committed to remaining so. The state, for it’s part, has drawn a line in the sand and will only return a license to someone who can prove they are permanently done with alcohol. The underlying idea is that people who don’t drink are not a risk to drink and drive.

If a person has gone through the license restoration process and convinced a Michigan Secretary of State Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) hearing officer that he or she won’t ever drink again – only to violate by picking up and drinking again, it is game over. License revocations are the result of multiple DUI’s, and the state presumes that anyone who has lost his or her license for this reason has a drinking problem. Winning a license back requires proving sobriety, meaning that the person has acknowledged his or her problematic relationship to alcohol and taken steps to never drink again. After all that, and while still required to use an interlock device, if a person does, in fact, consume alcohol, the penalty is quick and severe: their license will be revoked all over again. Beyond all the issues of having testified about a commitment to live an alcohol-free life and the underlying causes of relapse, such a person is simply (and correctly) seen as an unacceptable risk.

We’ll skip the analysis of how such a person can get his or her license back and circle back, instead, to the question “when has NOT drinking ever screwed you up?” You can bet most people who get re-revoked for drinking regret having taken that drink. But not everyone. Certain people have to try to get sober any number of times before it really sticks. I have won licenses back a second time for plenty of clients (on average, I do so about twice every month) who had previously gotten it back, only to lose it again for drinking. These people will tell you they “needed” to bottom out this way to fully realize they simply could not drink again, ever. Even though that’s true, and relapse can be an integral part of the recovery process, it still underscores the significance of the idea that NOT drinking has never caused anyone a problem.

Thus, the simple fact about drinking after winning a license restoration appeal is that if you get caught, you’re done. Period.

Things are very different, and, really much better, in the context of a probation violation, even if a person is on probation for an OWI. No matter what, it is just a “given” that a certain percentage of people will get caught drinking in violation of their probation order. It is also understood that, amongst that group, some will drink because they do, indeed, have a problem with alcohol, while others do not, and simply drink for reasons unrelated to a substance abuse issue. Neither of these is a really great position to be in, because if your drinking is perceived to be the result of an underlying alcohol problem, you’re going to be required to get all kinds of court-ordered help, and the help you get may not be the kind of help that’s best for you. On the other hand, if you’re drinking seems unrelated to any kind of substance abuse issue, then it looks like you’re just giving the middle finger to the Judge.

There are a lot of legal considerations involved in properly handling either of those things, and I have certainly examined each in great detail in plenty of my other articles. Here, however, I want to circle back to the cold and simple reality that, after drinking and getting yourself back in trouble again, you should really be required to answer the question, “When has NOT drinking ever screwed you up?” You can be sure that, just as with ignition interlock violations, the majority of people who violate probation by drinking seriously regret having done so, while a very few are grateful that the episode may have been the real “a-ha moment” they needed to finally decide to quit drinking, embrace sobriety, and ultimately change their lives for good.

Obviously, it would have been better to have thought all this through before getting into trouble again. For anyone who hasn’t violated on the interlock, or tested positive in violation of bond, or probation, next time you think about drinking, ask yourself, when was the last time that NOT drinking caused any problems for you? For those who are reading this because they’ve gotten themselves into a fix, then perhaps we should talk about how that question can be used to change the way you think about your future. Forget terms like alcoholic or problem drinker, and think, instead, of the idea that your relationship to alcohol may just be risky, or troublesome. There’s an old saying that holds, “Anything that causes a problem is a problem.”

If you have violated probation, then my job is to make sure the Judge doesn’t slam you with all kinds of additional testing and classes and counseling, nor send you to the slammer, either. Sometimes, we can can learn things that can be useful in helping you avoid either of those things by having that conversation I mentioned in the preceding paragraph. The problem with the kind of “treatment” you might get from a court for violation probation by drinking is that it is chosen for you without any actual clinical assessment. Thus, a Judge may order all kinds of AA to any and everyone who gets caught drinking while on probation, even though AA may be the exact wrong approach for some fo those people.

It was, in part, situations like this that prompted me to go back to the University classroom a number of years ago and complete a post-graduate program in addiction studies. Learning, as I did, from the clinical side of things, I fully realize that despite what I know, I am NOT a clinician. However, I also know that the court is not capable of filling that role, either, so I make sure that my clients don’t get ramrodded into some kind of inconvenient “one-size-fits-all” counseling or treatment program based upon a probation officer’s idea of what should be done. If my clients are going to be ordered to get “help,” then it’s my job to make sure it is the right kind of help, and, when necessary, we’ll call upon a real clinician to help us in that assessment.

While saving a client from all kinds of the “wrong” help sounds great, we have to make sure the Judge doesn’t decide to fall back on just sending you straight to jail. Plenty of people have had their epiphany while serving time in jail. Locking someone up to send a message and give them time for self-reflection is an easy call for any Judge, so while we need to make sure we don’t talk you into too much rehab, we don’t want to talk you into jail, either. To bring this back to the point of the article, the idea here is that you’re in this fix because you drank, despite being under a court order to not do so. Your answer to the question, “When has NOT drinking ever screwed you up?” is not only helpful to you, as a person, but can be helpful in the way we explain things to the Judge, especially if you can show how that question, and your answer to it, has made you rethink your relationship to alcohol and how it will affect your decisions going forward.

I hope that the reader really takes a moment to consider the significance of the question, “When has NOT drinking ever screwed you up?” and the importance of your answer to it, especially if you are in a legal situation caused by drinking in the first place. As I noted before, you don’t need to get caught up in terms like “drinking problem” or “alcoholic,” but rather just come to accept that, for whatever reason or reasons, if you find yourself in trouble, again, for drinking, then it’s almost certain that your relationship with alcohol has become troublesome. Just being open to that is good enough.

If you are facing some kind of trouble as a result of drinking – whether it’s a DUI, a probation violation, driver’s license restoration or an ignition interlock violation, do your homework as you look for a lawyer. Read around, then check around. All of my consultations are done over the phone, right when you call. We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST) at (586) 465-1980 or 586-465-1980. We’re here to help.