As a DUI Lawyer, I am in Court almost every day. Ask any Lawyer who has a DUI Practice, and you’ll soon find that each and every one will note a profound difference in the way these cases are handled in Macomb County as opposed to Oakland County. Right down to the garden-variety Drunk Driving case, the differences between the 2 Counties are so significant that it almost makes the Lawyer feel like he or she is Practicing in 2 different States.
It is a well-known fact that Oakland County is the toughest of the 3 “Tri-Counties” in which to face a Criminal charge. In DUI cases, that difference is often made clear even before the person even Bonds out of Jail.
In most DUI cases, a person is Arrested in the evening, and typically let out of Jail sometime the next morning. Most often, the person will either post a small Bond (frequently about $100) at the Police Station, or simply be let go with a Notice to contact the Court within 10 or 14 days.
Sometimes, however, a person will be Arraigned, often by video, by a Judge or Magistrate, before they are let out of Jail. In those cases, the Judge sets a Bond amount, and imposes various Bond Conditions. Those conditions always include not leaving the State without prior permission of the Court, and no use of alcohol or drugs. Sometimes, especially in cases involving a 2nd or 3rd Offense, or those involving a high BAC result, those conditions include breath or urine testing. Such testing is far less frequent in Macomb County than it is in Oakland County.
Once the person and their Lawyer come to Court to begin resolving the case, the differences become more pronounced. In those 1st Offense cases brought by a State Police Arrest, the County Prosecutor, as opposed to a local City Attorney handles the charge. In Oakland County, it begins to becomes more difficult to get a Plea Bargain to Impaired Driving when a person’s BAC (Breath Test Result) goes above a .12. In Macomb, the general cutoff for that kind of a deal goes up to about .16. Of course, exceptions abound, and the reason a person pays a Lawyer is to try and get one of those “exceptions” in the first place. Still, facing that kind of hurdle at the outset of a case is only a sign of things to come.
Even in a 1st Offense case, for example, where a Plea Bargain to Impaired Driving is worked out, what actually happens to the person can be strikingly different in one County as opposed to the other.
Let’s be honest. In pretty much EVERY COURT in either County, except the 48th District Court in Bloomfield Hills, a 1st Offender WILL NOT be sent to Jail. The 48th District Court is so much different than any other Court one could fill a Library about it. Whatever one’s thoughts about the approach of its Judges, the fact remains that in that Court, a 1st Offender does run the risk, especially if their case is assigned to 1 particular Judge, of seeing a little time.
This means that pretty much every 1st Offender will serve a term of Probation, and not Jail.
In Macomb County, that term is most often 1 year, or 12 months. In Oakland, it is not unusual to see an 18-month term of Probation.
There is almost NO Macomb County Court that imposes “Community Service” as part of the Sentence. On the other hand, almost every Oakland County Court DOES require it.
In Macomb, it is possible, in any number of Courts, to avoid a term of Reporting Probation, and wind up with Non-Reporting Probation instead. That NEVER happens in Oakland County.
Oakland County typically imposes a number of Classes or Counseling programs as part of any DUI Sentence. Macomb does out far fewer such requirements.
When any kind of breath or urine testing, beyond mere “random testing” is required as a condition of Probation, Oakland hands down Orders for such testing to be more frequent and of longer duration than Macomb.
If someone misses a test, and even if they have a legitimate explanation, such violations are met with more sever consequences in Oakland than Macomb. Macomb seems to have a more “forgiving” approach, at least the 1st time or so, than Oakland. Whereas a Macomb County Defendant who misses a test will be told that any other such miss will result in Jail, Oakland, when it does not order Jail right out of the gate, typically orders a few days on a “work program,” or “work detail” to underscore its point.
In terms of Fines and Costs, Macomb does, in many Courts, hit harder than Oakland, and is generally less inclined to allow “payments” of those Fines and Costs, requiring the whole thing to be paid up front. Most people, however, would rather live with that disadvantage over all the others outlined above.
The bottom line is that getting a DUI is not, and is not meant to be a pleasant experience. The underlying policy is to make the experience so unpleasant, in fact, that a person will make sure it never happens again. In that regard, Oakland County seems more “progressive” in its approach to DUI’s, and Macomb tends to follow Oakland, although by a matter of years. The way Macomb County handles cases now is more like the way Oakland County used to do it 10 or 15 years ago, although the Community Service thing has always been a factor in Oakland, and never in Macomb. Perhaps in another 10 or 15 years Oakland County will be doing things much differently than it is now, and Macomb will then be like the Oakland County of today.
For all of that, the first question I ask any DUI caller is where the Arrest occurred. When I hear a City name from Macomb County, I breathe a little easier, knowing that my Client will at least have a better go of things than if the Arrest happened on the other side of Dequindre Road. When I hear the name of an Oakland County City, although I don’t feel that immediate sense of relief, I take comfort in the knowledge that, with perhaps that 1 exception noted above, my Client will not be going to Jail, and that because of my 20-plus years of experience in these local Courts, I can at least begin to prepare them for exactly what they can expect to happen.
In an upcoming article, we’ll look at how the Wayne County District Courts in which I practice handle DUI’s and how those Courts compare to their counterparts in Oakland and Macomb County.