In part 1 of this article, we saw that, of the 30,896 regular DUI arrests that took place in Michigan in 2019, only 30 people managed to “beat” their case at trial. That’s a mere 0.097% (zero POINT zero-nine-seven percent). While everyone who gets a DUI understandably wants to get out of it, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of people (more than 9 out of 10) charged with an OWI offense DO NOT. Unfortunately, too much legal marketing ignores this reality, and instead, tries to cash in by telling people what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear.
Here, in part 2, we’re going to continue looking at the real numbers, and the real-world implications of the Annual Drunk Driving Audit conducted by the Michigan State Police (MSP). As I pointed out, this audit is legally required, and takes into account every OWI and substance abuse-related driving arrest that takes place in the state. There is no such thing as a case that isn’t counted. As such, we can absolutely rely on these figures for accuracy, and the story they tell is critically important to anyone facing a DUI and looking to hire a lawyer.
For all the things that could, in theory, be “wrong” with a DUI case, the simple reality is that they don’t occur very often. As the numbers show, a total of 2067 cases out of the 30,896 DUI arrests in 2019 were dismissed based upon “merit.” This means that only 6.69% of people charged with a DUI were able to successfully challenge the evidence and get their charge(s) dismissed. Therefore, a person should hire a lawyer who will try everything to beat the charge, but who also knows how to produce the best outcome in those more than 9 out of 10 cases that do go all the way through the court system.
If there’s one simple thing we’ve learned thus far, it’s that the idea of basing your defense plan on entirely “beating” an OWI case is not a good idea.
However, as bleak as the numbers may seem, it does also mean that plenty of DUI cases can be successfully challenged.
My team and I get DUI charges dismissed as often as anyone. We take on every case assuming we can find some way to beat it, and carefully examine all the evidence to find something we can use to do that.
Being successful in handling DUI cases requires a very different approach than just “looking at” the evidence and waiting for something to jump out. Even when, as in most cases, there is no catastrophic or fatal flaw in the evidence big enough to get the whole case dismissed, this technique helps us find other things we can use to negotiate a plea-bargain and/or drive a better outcome.
Nevertheless, anyone facing a DUI has to come to terms with the statistical reality that, in 2019, of the arrests that did result in DUI charges, only 6.68% were “knocked out” of court though a legal challenge, including trial. As I have noted before, these numbers are largely consistent from year-to-year.
Thus, if you are facing a DUI charge, it’s fine to hope you can be in that group lucky enough to get out of everything, but it’s more realistic to at least plan a defense in light of the likelihood that you’re not.
Unfortunately, this reality clashes directly with the marketing messages so often found on legal websites.
This is why the reader should proceed cautiously, and be an informed consumer, rather than one who is simply “hopeful. It’s worth repeating that, while it’s great to be told what you want to hear, it’s far more important to be told what you need to hear.
In that regard, consider these illustrations of the kinds of cases that can win at trial:
The police are called because someone sees a vehicle with license plate number ABC 123 weaving all over the road. The police respond, but they can’t find the vehicle on the road, and, instead, find it parked in the registered owner’s driveway. They note the hood is still hot, and when they knock on the door, a very intoxicated man, later identified as the vehicle’s owner, answers. When asked if he was just driving the car, he says yes.
The police ask him out of the house and he complies. When they ask if he had been drinking prior to getting home, he responds “no,” and tells them that he went into the house and just downed about 6 shots of whiskey within about 3 minutes.
He is arrested anyway, and charged with a DUI after testing out with a BAC of .16.
Although no case is “easy” to beat, this would be one that would be ripe for an acquittal, because the police don’t have any solid proof that the driver had, in fact, been above the .08 legal limit while he was driving.
Here’s another example (this one actually happened):
On a dirt road beside a cornfield, a deputy comes across an empty car parked off to the side. The deputy pulls behind the car and waits a few minutes, only to see an obviously drunk man come staggering out of the field. When the deputy inquires, the man indicates that he had to urinate, and so did the guy he met at the bar who he had let drive his car to where it was parked.
When nobody else comes out of the cornfield, the deputy, understandably suspicious, asks where the other guy went, and the drunk guy just shrugs and says, “I dunno; maybe he got lost, or maybe he just decided to walk home.”
After administering field sobriety tests, the deputy arrests the drunk guy and charges him with DUI. At the Sheriff’s station, he tests out at .14.
Even though common sense seems to suggest differently, the simple fact is that there is no hard proof that the drunk guy was, in fact, the person who had driven the car (even though it was his car) and parked it at the side of the road. This is another case that has a genuine chance to win at trial.
Now, let’s change things up a bit and circle back to the drunk guy who answers the door after the officers traced his license plate to his home:
Imagine that, instead of denying having consumed alcohol before he drove, the guy admitted that he had been drinking at the bar, and just walked in the door a few minutes before, and, when asked, replied that he had not consumed any alcohol since he pulled into his driveway.
That’s a case ripe for a conviction, rather than an acquittal.
These examples are, of course, rather different from the “usual” kind of DUI case, where a person gets pulled over after swerving, or for speeding, or something like that. As I noted above, in those cases, the only realistic way out of it is if the police screw up the evidence in some serious way, or if they are found to have been without probable cause to initiate the traffic stop, in the first place, and those things just don’t happen very often.
Although we don’t know what led to the acquittal or dismissal of any of the cases from the most recent MSP drunk driving audit, even if every last one was beaten because the police screwed things up, it would still mean that such catastrophic mistakes are far more the exception, rather than the rule.
The takeaway, then, is that anyone looking for a lawyer should not just be looking for ways to “beat” the case, or get it knocked out somehow, but instead, how to make things better in the more than 93% chance that his or her case doesn’t get dismissed somehow.
It’s great to hope to be the exception, but it’s not wise to bet your whole defense on that.
In DUI cases, a “better outcome” means avoiding or minimizing as many of the consequences as possible in those cases.
I like to put it this way: Success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you.
This translates to things like protecting your driver’s license, staying out of jail when going is a realistic possibility (although it’s almost never on the menu in 1st offense DUI cases here in the Metro-Detroit area, meaning in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and the surrounding Counties), avoiding unnecessary counseling or treatment, and not getting stuck on what can seem like over the top, never-ending probation.
Any lawyer who doesn’t spend time addressing those things, or who only pays lip service to them, rather than the “sexier” notions of getting the whole case tossed out, is either dangerously ill-informed, or just out to make a lot of money by telling people what they want to hear.
In the real world, keeping one’s driver’s license, avoiding nightmare probation, and staying out of jail (when jail is a real possibility) should be the focus for everyone facing a DUI charge.
Of course it doesn’t hurt to hope that your case is one of the lucky 0.097% of those whose case can be beaten at trial, or even one of the lucky 6.69% of those whose cases can get dismissed somehow. This kind of optimism is why most of us buy a lotto ticket at least every now and then.
However, as much as it’s a fool’s strategy to confuse winning the lotto with any kind of retirement plan, it is equally unsound to bank on “winning” a DUI case as one’s only defense plan.
DUI cases, like so many things in life, are best handled by lawyers who are careful, conscientious, honest, and skilled.
At the end of the day, hiring a DUI lawyer is about buying results – nothing more, and nothing less. Slick marketing can “tell” someone what they want to hear, but as we noted before, a person if far better served being told what they need to hear. That’s a hallmark of honesty.
I once referred a civil case to a colleague of mine years ago, and told him that I chose him because I knew him to to be an unquestionably honest man. He thanked me, and then joked that being “honest” had cost him a lot of money over the years. There is a kind of ironic humor in that observation, and I hope the reader catches that drift.
If you’re looking for a DUI lawyer, be a smart consumer and do your homework. Read around, and try and “read between the lines,” as well. See how lawyers explain the realities of the DUI process in the articles they put up, 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 the Greater-Detroit area (meaning anywhere in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, or the surrounding counties), give us a ring, as well.
All of 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 and explain things. 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.