DUI puts a Non-Criminal in a Criminal Situation

Sometimes, when I tell someone that I am a DUI lawyer, they’ll ask me what it’s like to deal with criminals. I will then go on to clarify for the other party that while drinking and driving charges are, in fact, criminal charges, my clients are not, in any sense of the word, “criminals.” If you take the time to read any of my other DUI blog articles, or you poke around my website, you’ll quickly learn that I am candid without being crude, and direct, while simultaneously delicate. Accordingly, I cringe at what people sometimes say, but then go on to explain that although my DUI clients are, in fact, dealing with a “criminal” offense, they are decidedly non-criminals.

i-am-not-a-criminal 2.1.pngI have long said that the litmus test by which I operate is to only take a case for someone with whom I wouldn’t mind having lunch. In other words, I really only want to work with people that wouldn’t make me uncomfortable across a dining table. While I believe that everyone deserves fair treatment under our judicial system, that doesn’t mean I want to hang around with real “criminals.” In my world, most DUI cases involve a confluence of events that usually brings an otherwise law-abiding citizen into under the jurisdiction of the court (meaning the criminal justice) system. That’s really a nice way to say that, at least amongst my clients, a decent person by every standard who may have had a little too much to drink winds up having to deal with a criminal charge.

That alone, however, does not make a person a criminal. In fact, even a 2nd or 3rd DUI offense doesn’t necessarily make a person “criminal.” I’ll admit, for example, that before Michigan made them legal, I would blow off firecrackers around the 4th of July. That certainly constituted a violation of then-existing law; in point of fact, by doing so I was committing a criminal offense, but I didn’t then and don’t now feel like any kind of “criminal.” Indeed, my actions in lighting firecrackers were completely intentional; I intended that they go “boom.” Most people who get caught driving over the limit, however short sighted their evening plans may have been, probably didn’t leave home with an intention to “drive drunk” later on.

For countless reasons, DUI cases can just “happen.” That’s the simple, if not completely satisfactory reality. Amongst my clients, many of whom are professionals, a DUI charge stands in stark contrast to every other part of his or her life. When you juxtapose “DUI” and “criminal charge” against the backdrop of the person’s family, education and career, the whole incident almost exposes itself as truly out of character. After a quarter century of clients imploring me to believe “this is not who I am,” this article is a kind of belated attempt to reassure them that, in fact, I do…

It is important to recognize that while my usual and gainfully employed DUI client may truly be a non-criminal, a pending DUI charge puts him or her squarely in a criminal situation. Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) is a crime in Michigan, as in all states. It doesn’t matter if you are a serial killer or the Pope himself, if you get pulled over for driving drunk, you are going have to deal with a drinking and driving charge. Who you are as a person is definitely important to the outcome of the case, but it won’t make the whole thing just go away. Making things better, or even beating the charge in court requires one to first recognize that a DUI charge is, above and beyond anything else, a violation of statutory law.

As a DUI attorney, this means I have to understand the very fundamentals of criminal law and procedure. No matter where a DUI charge is brought in the United States, certain inviolate and superior principles of constitutional law and criminal procedure apply. This holds true even though there are special “rules” and procedures that govern DUI cases. In this sense, every DUI lawyer is a criminal lawyer, but not every criminal lawyer is a DUI lawyer. In the public lexicon, for example, the term “trial lawyer” is usually applied to lawyers who sue for money. A newer term catching on for that crowd is “TV lawyers,” which is at least a step up from “ambulance chasers.”

Whatever their various labels, none of those lawyers will do you much good in a DUI case, any more that the most gifted cardiac surgeon can fix a broken hip. Yet even surgeons find certain patterns among their patients: Broken bones usually accompany accidents and falls; broken hips are rather common amongst elderly women. Heart surgery is more common amongst older people rather than younger. A coronary bypass surgery is almost always done on an older person whose cholesterol has caused blockages. The bread and butter of an oral surgeon is usually wisdom teeth and other extractions.

Amongst lawyers handling criminal cases, we see patterns, as well. Most often, people who are trying to get money for drugs commit theft crimes; don’t look for an oral surgeon to be breaking into and ransacking your house. Sex crimes are overwhelmingly committed by men, rather than women, and amongst that group are some of the most distasteful offenders alive, and one of the reasons I much prefer the specific label of “DUI lawyer” rather than “criminal lawyer.” More than any other kind of violation, except perhaps speeding, DUI offenses cut across the entire swath socioeconomic statuses (SES). Even the lowest SES DUI offender is usually many rungs up the ladder from someone breaking into houses. We don’t even need to make the comparison to child molesters or rapists…

For a lot of reasons, my typical DUI client is more “well heeled” than even the average person facing the same charge. I am analytical by nature, and I interface well with those of a similar disposition. My clients are definitely cerebral, sometimes to the point that they apologize for emailing me so many questions. As I dismiss their misplaced concern, I point out that if I didn’t want that kind of client in the first place, I wouldn’t be who I am. In other words, I wouldn’t put up these articles, opting instead of dissecting things in an open forum, to be more the strong, if not silent “I’ll take care of it” type. At the end of the day, I’m the curious sort, and I like to understand things from top to bottom; I not only expect the same from my clients, but also wouldn’t know how to work with any other kind of person. I’m at a loss sitting across the desk from someone who doesn’t have much to say or ask, as convenient (and profitable) as that might seem at first thought.

I have probably answered every DUI related question a million times, but I wouldn’t trade that for all the money in the world to have to answer some legal question for an accused child molester. I’ll take the “what’s going to happen to my license” question, or the “I need my license when I travel for work” issues all day long over anything to do with breaking into houses or the like. While it is a fact that a DUI is a criminal charge, it is also a fact that my DUI clients are NOT criminals, in any sense of the word. Criminals don’t worry about career advancement, professional licensure, travel restrictions, or the implications of a criminal record vis-a’-vis their employment. These issues are not only relevant, but often of fundamental and paramount concern to my client base.

In many of my DUI articles, for whatever reason, I find myself talking about the “middle.” I have written, for example, that it is most often the case that the best representation is found in the middle price range; pay too little, and you’ll get what you pay for. By contrast, paying a king’s ransom doesn’t mean you’re getting the royal treatment, although you may be getting the royal shaft. My role as a DUI lawyer is often a matter of working from the middle. I have to combine the roles of tenacious lawyer with the prosecutor, legal diplomat with the Judge, counselor (on multiple levels) with my client, as well as envoy and teacher to all. As difficult as a murder case may be, very little to none of that “diplomatic” finesse is involved. Murderers are criminals. DUI drivers are accountants and dads and doctors and engineers and laborers and lawyers and managers and moms and nurses and supervisors – not criminals.

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