Everyone knows that a 3rd offense DUI case is a felony, and is serious. The last thing anyone needs is some lawyer going on and on about it, only to ramp up his or her anxiety even more. The good news is that, if you’re facing a 3rd offense, things probably aren’t nearly as bad as you fear. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that you can get through this relatively painlessly. This article is going to focus on the big picture, and how you can get relief from the stress of a 3rd offense DUI charge. That starts by handing the whole thing over to a good lawyer.
Specifically, this means putting the case, your worries, and all strategy concerns into your attorney’s care. This article is not going to be some thinly disguised promotional piece for our firm. Of course, we’re Michigan criminal and DUI lawyers, and in we’re in business to earn our incomes. However, what we’ll cover here applies to everyone, including people who live outside of our geographic practice area. Our criminal and DUI practice is concentrated in and limited to the Metro-Detroit area, meaning Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and the surrounding counties.
It’s a great relief to hand over a 3rd offense DUI case – and all the stress that goes with it – to a good and honest lawyer. However, a person is still going to have to put in a little work to find that person. As much as my team and I are open for business, we also realize we’re not the right lawyers for everyone. By the same token, not everyone with a 3rd offense DUI case in our local are is the right kind of client for us, either. We’ll come back to this later, because it’s an important part of how someone should approach his or her quest for the best representation.
In a recent article on this blog, I pointed out that DUI cases are complex – because they are. A 3rd offense DUI case, however, is a whole order of magnitude more complex than 1st and 2nd offense cases. To be sure, some of that has to do with the seriousness of the charge:
A 1st offense DUI carries a maximum of 93 days in jail, although most people will never serve a single day of that.
A 2nd offense DUI carries up to a year in jail, yet most people can be kept out of jail for this, also. For those who do get some time for a 2nd DUI, it’s typically measured in mere days.
That, however, changes when someone is convicted of a 3rd, felony OWI (“Operating While Intoxicated,” the actual legal term in Michigan for what we all just call a “DUI”). Under Michigan law, it carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison. Before the reader freaks out, understand that getting a sentence anything like that is highly unlikely, unless a person has a terrible prior record.
At least here, in the Metro-Detroit area, a person will have to have something like 4, 5, or more prior DUI’s, or an otherwise lengthy felony record before he or she has a realistic chance of being sent off to the state prison.
On the downside, though, the law requires that, at a minimum, anyone convicted of a 3rd offense DUI must serve a minimum of 30 days in jail – WITH ONE EXCEPTION: If a person is admitted into a specialty court program, like a sobriety court program, the Judge can waive all or part of the minimum jail sentence.
That’s huge, but it’s only a small part of what makes these cases so complex. Since we’re specifically trying not to get lost in the weeds here, and focus on the big picture, the reader should check out some of my prior articles about 3rd offense DUI cases. They examine just about every aspect of these cases in detail. To learn more, I’d encourage the reader to explore the linked sections.
Circling back to the larger point, it’s important to remember that DUI cases are, of course, criminal cases. However, they are a special kind of criminal case.
That said, it’s worth noting that the overwhelming majority of DUI cases are 1st offenses. There are far fewer 2nd offense DUI cases, and in turn, even less 3rd offense cases.
Both 1st and 2nd offense OWI are misdemeanor offenses. This means that they will be handled in the local, district court.
Because a 3rd offense DUI is a felony, like all felonies, these cases begin in the district court, but then are “sent up” to the county circuit court for final disposition. This does not apply if the 3rd offense felony charge can be plea-bargained to a misdemeanor in the district court before being “sent up.” In those situations, the matter will then stay in the district court.
Here’s the thing: Even the busiest DUI lawyer isn’t going to handle nearly as many 3rd offense cases as he or she will 1st and 2nd offense cases. This, by itself, can be an obstacle to gaining enough overall experience to properly handle a felony DUI case. Because my team and I also have a robust criminal practice, we are REGULARLY in both the district and circuit courts handling other kinds of felony charges, as well.
Although every 3rd offense DUI case is unique, it is decidedly helpful for an attorney, like my team and I, to have the extensive experience we do from having handled so many other felony cases. It’s precisely this kind of experience is something a person should be looking for in any lawyer he or she is considering for a 3rd offense charge.
Generally speaking, a person will be better served by hiring a “DUI lawyer” for a DUI case. This is also true, but with a “twist” of sorts, when it comes to a 3rd offense, felony DUI case. Here, a broader knowledge of criminal procedure isn’t just advantageous, it’s downright necessary.
In addition – and keenly important – so is a working knowledge of the different circuit court Judges, and how they do things where the case will be decided. In essence, for a 3rd offense DUI case, you need an attorney who is both a DUI lawyer AND who also handles other felony and misdemeanor cases.
To put this another way, the best kind of lawyer for a 3rd offense DUI case is a DUI lawyer whose practice has a strong focus in DUI cases, but who also regularly handles other kinds of felony cases, as well.
This is where the reader is going to have to do a little work. Just about every criminal lawyer handles some DUI cases. Most won’t flinch at being called a DUI lawyer. However, in the context I’m using it here, “DUI lawyer” means an attorney for whom DUI cases makes up a substantial – as in major part – of his or her practice.
It’s important to understand that an expensive criminal lawyer who regularly wins high profile murder cases is almost certainly NOT the person to take on even a simple DUI case. Consider this example: In today’s legal market, there are plenty of lawyers who make it affordable and convenient for someone to have a simple will drawn up.
Even though a will may be “simple” to an estate attorney, my team and I have no experience with them. We’d be the last people who should screw around with them. Whereas the estate attorney has done hundreds, and even thousands of them, we’ve never even done one.
Would it be fair for us to learn about how to do a will while someone pays for that?
Without exception, legal fees should be paid over to buy a lawyer’s experience, and not has his or her tuition to gain it.
In less populated areas, there are fewer lawyers, and therefore fewer options for the legal consumer. In smaller towns, the same law firm may handle divorces, wills, and criminal and DUI matters. In those places, the best a person can do is look for is the most relevant experience he or she can find.
In the larger metropolitan areas, however, people have a lot more choices. Here, in the Metro-Detroit area, a person can find a lawyer with just about any kind of specialty or sub-specialty imaginable.
The whole idea of “de-stressing” if you’re facing a 3rd offense DUI charge begins with finding the right lawyer for your case. As noted, this is going to take at least some effort. Most people put in a little time and exercise good consumer skills when they buy a new refrigerator, or a new TV. Here, where your future is on the line, you should at least invest as much in your lawyer search.
In plenty of other articles, I’ve covered how one should look for the “right” DUI attorney. Check some of them out for more information. Here, we’ll stick with that big-picture perspective and look at a 5 ways NOT to do that:
1. Don’t be impatient and jump to hire the first lawyer to call or write you back. Always do some comparing.
2. Avoid the “we fight everything and make it all go away” pitch. The only thing that always “goes away” is your money.
3. Be wary of all fear-based marketing tactics. You already know this is serious, so there’s no benefit in having your anxiety ramped up even more.
4. Look out for any message that sounds too much like what you want to hear. It may not be as pleasant, but keep an eye out for the kind of real information you need to hear, instead.
5. As you sift through endless and glowing reviews, do so with a healthy does of skepticism. There is a whole industry built around acquiring curated and positive reviews. While reviews are great, you need information, not hype.
As an old clothing company used to say, “an educated consumer is our best customer.” My team and I certainly feel that way about our practice. Beyond that, however, make sure that you fit that description. If you can honestly consider yourself an educated consumer, then you can breathe easier knowing you’ve hired the right lawyer, and hand over the burden of a 3rd offense DUI case to him or her.
If you know you’re in good hands, then you can let the him or her worry about all the complexities and details of your case.
If you are facing a 3rd offense DUI (or any DUI, for that matter), and looking for a lawyer, be a savvy consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers explain the DUI process and how they describe their various approaches to it.
This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable and updated weekly. There are over 595 original articles, to-date, in the DUI section. The reader can find more information there than anywhere else.
Don’t take my word for it, however; look around for yourself.
After you’ve done enough reading, start checking around. You can learn a lot by actually speaking with a live person. If your case is here, the Metro-Detroit area, make sure you give our office a ring as you do that.
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’ll also be happy to 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.