DUI in Michigan – The Danger of Advice from a Non-Lawyer, or Non-DUI Lawyer

One of the more frustrating parts of any professional’s job is explaining something to a person, only to have him or her largely ignore it, and respond with something that’s completely wrong, but that he or she likes better. As Michigan DUI lawyers, we encounter this somewhat regularly. For example, people often wind up hearing (and then believing) all kinds of incorrect things about DUI law (like the legalities of breath testing, or Michigan’s Implied Consent law,) either from someone who is not a lawyer, or from some lawyer who doesn’t concentrate in the DUI field.

GIrl-3-300x239This inevitably devolves into a variation on a theme I examine regularly: People are much more attracted to what they want to hear rather, than what they need to hear. While understandable, that’s a huge vulnerability that makes an otherwise rational person susceptible to getting fleeced into paying some lawyer for a result that sounds too good to resist, but just isn’t going to happen. This kind of misinformation is what drives so many weight loss programs, house-flipping schemes, and fitness crazes du jour.

Have you ever met anyone who went from flab to fab using a gizmo they saw on TV? Yet for all the laughs to be had about such gimmicks, there are still loads of people who want to be in shape so much that the idea of getting a beach body by twisting away on some $20 board for a few minutes a day while watching TV sounds awesome, and who gladly pay up. Moreover, the sellers of these products work hard at making such results seem plausible. Remember, though, and as the old saying goes, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” especially when it comes to DUI cases.

Unfortunately, the reality – meaning how Michigan OWI charges actually play out in real life – seldom matches the desperate hopes people have when they first wind up facing them, and that perception is in no small part shaped by what can be politely called “over-zealous” (or, one might say, BS) marketing by lawyers.

Of course, everybody wants their case to be dismissed outright….

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that just because someone is charged with DUI doesn’t mean it can’t be beat; my team and I do, in fact, beat DUI charges all the time.

Rather, I’m trying to make clear that while everyone who gets a DUI hopes he or she can get out of it completely, such outcomes are always the exception (in Michigan more than 9 out of 10 people arrested for a DUI charge DO NOT get out of it), rather than the rule.

The real truth is that, at least here, in the Metro-Detroit area of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and surrounding counties, if properly handled, a 1st offense DUI can almost always be reduced to a learning experience that’s far more a matter of expense and inconvenience more than anything else (and yes, this means jail is usually not even on the menu).

If there’s one golden rule in this field, it’s this:

Success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you.

In that context, less is always more, and always better.

When someone gets a DUI and reaches out to others, the whole idea of giving him or her hope and making them feel better is often done with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, this often comes from some lawyer (or layperson) giving “advice” on a subject that’s not their field of expertise.

There are, of course, some lawyers who go to great lengths marketing themselves by doing what amounts to telling (actually, more like “selling”) potential clients what they want to hear, even though they know better.

That’s not good for the person who either isn’t told or otherwise gets distracted from the things they really do need to hear.

In our office, we encounter this when callers try to tell us why their DUI case should be dismissed, because they believe the police made some kind of catastrophic legal mistake. This is often the result of conversations they had with some amateur legal “expert” who has only heard their side of the story, but hasn’t seen any (much less all) of the evidence.

If that’s not bad enough, we sometimes get treated to the amateur “expert” legal opinion of some lawyer (usually NOT a DUI lawyer) who’s a family friend, and who offers his or her views, despite not having seen important evidence like the police car dash cam or body cam video, and/or is otherwise not familiar with the court where the case will be pending.

Sometimes, this kind of amateur advice comes from a family friend who works in a court, or is, or is related to a police officer, or, worse yet – none of the above.

For everyone person who has ever weighed in on any case I’ve ever handled or been consulted about, I’ve never been lucky enough to have the unsolicited second opinion come from someone who really could help, like an actual Judge, or another DUI lawyer.

Then again, who needs evidence, or even experience?

Like everyone else in the world, I do, often enough, find myself doing online “research” of some sort, often about some product I’m looking to purchase. Google can make us all think we’re experts…

One of the more frustrating things that bugs me (and it happens all the time) occurs when I’m trying to get an answer to some technical question about a product, and find myself on a discussion forum, and then find some moron volunteering an answer that goes something like “even though I don’t own [the product], from what I’ve seen it should be able to…”


I’m reminded of an old saying: “opinions are like a$$holes; everybody has one.”

However, when it comes to DUI cases that are actually going to be decided in court, the best opinions about them come from DUI lawyers – not lawyers who don’t regularly handle them, or even police officers, who don’t really participate in the DUI legal process at all after the arrest.

Why anyone would listen to some person whose entire education in this field comes from either having had their own DUI, or, worse, yet, from second-hand sources?

Just because a person has had his or her wisdom teeth removed doesn’t mean he or she is now an expert in oral surgery….

Below are a few issues people often bring up because they start thinking about how to get out of their case after talking with the family friend (sometimes, this can be a lawyer who doesn’t concentrate in DUI cases, but has an opinion, nonetheless), or having read some stuff online:

The police didn’t have any probable cause to pull me over…”

They don’t need “probable cause,” they only need “reasonable suspicion.”

If a person can’t distinguish the legal meaning of each of those legal standards, and explain how they’re different, what good is his or her opinion?

The police said I was swerving, but [I dropped my phone, spilled my coffee, changed the radio station, etc.]

How was the officer supposed to know that? He or she simply saw your vehicle swerve, and that was enough to stop you.

Once the officer approaches a vehicle and then has reason to suspect the driver may be intoxicated, he or she may continue investigating.

This next one goes both ways:

I wasn’t told I could refuse a breath test”

You can, but if you refuse the preliminary breath test on the road, you will get ticketed for “PBT refusal,” a civil infraction that carries 6 points.

If you refuse a formal chemical test (usually meaning the Datamaster breathalyzer at the station) your license will be suspended for 1 year. This very basic law, called “Implied Consent,” was covered in your driver’s ed. classes. Having forgotten it is not a defense.

Here’s the flip side:

The police didn’t tell me what would happen if I didn’t take the breath test.”

If you refuse the preliminary breath test on the road, you will get ticketed for “PBT refusal,” a civil infraction that carries 6 points.

If you refuse a formal chemical test (usually meaning the Datamaster breathalyzer at the station) your license will be suspended for 1 year. This very basic law, called “Implied Consent,” was covered in your driver’s ed. classes.

Very often, a review of the video shows that the police did explain thing (people simply aren’t at their sharpest when being arrested for a DUI), and even if there is no video, the report will almost always indicate that you were properly informed.

In the real world, the only way to successfully challenge an implied consent refusal before the Michigan Secretary of State is to prove the police are lying.

Good luck with that….

Although we hear this kind of stuff all the time, thankfully, most people understand the wisdom of the adage that “you don’t know what you don’t know,” and instead of telling us how their case should play out, ask us about these issues, instead.

As a DUI lawyer, I knew a lot by the time I had handled a few hundred drunk driving cases; by the time I had handled 500 of them, I knew more, and now, having handled thousands of them, I draw from a well of experience shared by few others in this field.

Make no mistake, every one of the issues raised above is important. As such, it’s our job to obtain and evaluate the evidence, and then figure out what’s relevant to the case and how to best proceed.

However, only an idiot is going to give a legal opinion about things like probable cause without actually obtaining and then carefully examining the evidence. Unfortunately, one doesn’t have to look far or hard to find that there is no shortage of idiots, or opinions…

The simple truth is that it’s imprudent for any lawyer to offer an opinion about a particular DUI case without having fully evaluated the evidence, much less some lawyer who doesn’t concentrate in them. This goes double for anyone who isn’t a lawyer.

At least a DUI lawyer will know enough to reserve judgment until he or she has had a chance to review everything.

And after more than 30 years, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that when it comes to explain the nuances of DUI law, non-lawyers almost always get it wrong.

I have a physician friend who once jokingly posted a picture of a door to a doctor’s office that had a sign that read “WARNING!!! Patient will be charged Extra for annoying the doctor with self-diagnosis gotten off the internet.”

I’m sure there was a bit of truth in his humor.

Think about it this way: most of the time, a doctor will listen to a patient’s description of a pain or problem, and then order lab work and/or some kind of other tests, like imaging, before drawing any final conclusions about what there, what’s not, and what to do about it.

No physician would listen to a patient merely say something like, “my chest hurts” and then, without more, reply, “Obviously, you need open heart surgery, so let’s get you opened up!”

Back in the real world, what often happens is that the well-intentioned friend hears enough (and feels badly enough for the person who has been arrested) to try and offer a glimmer of hope, or raise some concern that could be good news for the person facing the charge (“you know, the police have to have a reason to pull you over…”), and the person, keying in on that, thinks it all the way through to a best case outcome scenario for him or herself.

That is what’s called the triumph of hope over experience.

In that regard, I can’t help but think, “you know, if you spend $2 on a lotto ticket, you could win nearly $100 million dollars and you’d never have to work again.”

Yes, but good luck with that, too…

If you’re facing a DUI, do yourself a favor, and hire a real DUI lawyer. The best way to do that is to be a smart consumer and read around. Read how lawyers explain the DUI process and how they explain their approach to it.

When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. If your case is pending here, in Metro-Detroit, know that our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions, explain things, and even compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.

We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.





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