I Got a DUI – Now What?

Everyone arrested for a DUI wonders what’s going to happen, and what they can and should do about it. In this article, we’re going to change from the perspective of the DUI attorney, because I’ve examined all that in many previous articles. Instead, we’re going to look at what happens through the eyes of a person actually going through a Michigan DUI case. Although what we’ll cover is generally the same all over Michigan, it will be drawn from our firm’s experience in the Metro-Detroit area, meaning the courts of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and the surrounding counties.

I got a DUI - Now what?There is, of course, plenty of overlap between what the client and the lawyer experience in a DUI case. For example, both individuals must appear in court for certain hearings. However, to the client, it may sometimes seem that the lawyer is doing little more than merely “showing up.” As DUI lawyers, however, we are always working the case in some way or other.  Thus, while it may not look like we’re doing much, we might just be trying to use time strategically, in order to procure a better outcome in the case.

As a DUI attorney, I’m rather comfortable explaining things from my point of view. My team and I have, quite literally, handled thousands of DUI cases. However, we’ve always done that as lawyers representing someone else facing the charge. Although we know exactly “what’s going to happen” at every step along the way, and we can explain that to our clients, we’ve never actually been through a DUI as the person facing the charge. This article is going to be an attempt to do that as the person going through it. Now, with that in mind, let’s start:

Almost all DUI cases begin with an a traffic stop and arrest, although in rare cases, a person may be transported to a hospital, instead. We won’t waste more than this paragraph on the arrest, because the reader has almost certainly already been through it. On a side. note, this makes me wonder about the “What to do if you’re pulled over for a DUI” articles and videos I’ve seen online. Who needs legal help in anticipation of getting arrested for drunk driving at some later time? If you’re facing a DUI, it’s already too late for that…

Nobody ever goes out and plans to get a DUI. Instead, it just “happens.” When it does, though, you’ll suddenly finds yourself in an very unfamiliar world. You will be inundated with words and terms you’ve never heard before. For example, you’ll soon learn that, in Michigan, the actual name for everyone calls a DUI is actually “Operating While Intoxicated,” or “OWI,” for short.

Being let out of jail the next day always comes as a relief, but the memories of your stay, however brief it may have been, tend to linger. So does the smell of jail that seems to need a really long, hot shower to scrub away. Feeling overwhelmed is normal; a DUI is stressful for everyone.

Unfortunately, that sense of relief following your release is short-lived, because it’s not like you walk out of jail with your car keys and then get to drive home. Most of the time, your vehicle is in impound, and now you have to make arrangements to pay and get it out.  The good news is that if you posted any money to get out of jail (that’s called an “interim bond”) it will usually be all you have to pay to stay out. The bad news is that the money faucet has already been turned on, and you’ll have to cough up even more to get you vehicle out of impound. That alone is usually several hundred dollars.

Once you get back home (usually – but not always – after getting your vehicle back) you’ll want to get a handle on your situation, and figure out what to do. At this point, most people go online and start looking for information. Here’s one thing to keep in mind as you do that:


That’s not to say our site (or others) aren’t good and helpful (I think this blog and our website are awesome!), but always remember to take everything you find with the appropriately recommended “grain of salt.”

Without a doubt, the very best thing anyone looking for legal services can do is to compare lawyers. Read around, then call around (I’ll repeat that at the end of this piece, as I do in every article). Don’t fall for any legal marketing message just because it sounds really good. While there is a lot of money to made by lawyers in telling people what they want to hear, there is also a lot of disappointment in store for anyone who buys into that.

Some marketing tactics try to make it seem otherwise, but the simple truth is that there is no particular DUI attorney knows so much more than any other DUI attorney, or who has some special, magic legal move to make a whole case just go away. Instead, always remember that, without exception, it’s good work, concentrated in the fundamentals, that produces the best results. As a consumer of legal services, you need to find an honest lawyer who provides real information to address your concerns, and with whom you feel comfortable.

You are far better served by a DUI attorney who will be truthful, and tell you what you need to hear, rather than someone selling you a boatload of BS, and just telling you what you want to hear. Okay, with that caveat out of the way, let’s move on to what will happen…

If you hire a DUI attorney before your arraignment, he or she will handle everything regarding that for you. An arraignment serves as the “opening bell” of a criminal case (and a DUI case IS a criminal case). The reader can use the link in the previous sentence to learn about arraignments in more detail. For now, all you need to know is that at an arraignment, a person is advised of the charge(s) against him or her, advised of his or her constitutional rights, and asked how he or she pleads.

Bond will also be considered considered at an arraignment, but if you paid any money to get out of jail (remember that’s called an “interim bond”), that amount will almost always be considered sufficient, and no more will be needed by the court.

If you are required to attend your arraignment, you should ALWAYS plead “not guilty.”

If you hire a DUI attorney beforehand, the arraignment can, in some cases, be “waived,” meaning you won’t go to court and that “not guilty” plea will automatically be entered for you. Other times, you may show up with your lawyer. Sometimes, you may just go on your own. This can happen either if you don’t yet have a DUI lawyer, or, if he or she tells you go by yourself and plead “not guilty.” Most of the time, however, if you have to attend an arraignment, your lawyer will be there with you, as well.

Nothing substantive (like a finding of guilt or innocence) happens at an arraignment; it is entirely a procedural matter.

After the arraignment, your next court date will be what’s called a “pre-trial.” In some courts, if an arraignment hasn’t already taken place separately, the first court notice you receive will identify the hearing as an “arraignment/pre-trial.”

A “pre-trial” is a court date for the prosecutor and DUI attorney to get together to discuss the case. There can be multiple pre-trial conferences in any given case, and there are often are. At the pre-trial, you’ll basically wait for your lawyer to meet with the prosecutor while he or she tries to resolve the case. Many times, those discussions (especially early on) don’t result in any kind of final resolution, but instead deal with issues that need to be addressed for a future meeting (meaning another pre-trial) to resolve the case.

The prosecutor may need some specific information about the person charged (like proof that he or she is in counseling). Other times, the defense may need more information from the police, or the prosecutor. In addition, there are sometimes things that need to be addressed with the court directly, like when  someone has travel plans and needs permission to leave the state. Thus, a pre-trial can serve many purposes.

The ultimate goal of the pre-trial meetings, though, is for the parties to negotiate a resolution to the case. Of course, the first order of business for the DUI attorney is always to try and find a way to beat the charge. That, however, can only be done by implementing an intelligent defense strategy. No honest lawyer should “fight” just for the sake of fighting (and getting paid).

In the real world, the overwhelming majority of DUI cases are, in fact, resolved through plea negotiations. Very often, a plea bargain and/or a sentence bargain is reached. Ultimately, however, YOU are the one who decides if that’s the way you want to go. Your lawyer will (or at least should) explain everything clearly, so that you can make an informed decision about how to move forward.

I have to pause here and make an observation. Over the years, we’ve represented plenty of people who have told us that a previous DUI attorney didn’t explain things clearly to them. One of the more common things we hear when someone is calling around is that we’ve given them more information than anyone else with whom they’ve spoken. While we’re proud of the way we do things, the point I’m driving at is that a lawyer should always make sure that you clearly understand everything about your situation.

When you hire a DUI attorney, you’re not handing your money over for someone to keep you company as you get bounced around the legal system like a pinball. Just keep that in mind as you look around. Legal representation is not the place for the “strong, silent type.” A lawyer and his or her entire firm needs to have a good attitude right from the start, and at every step along the way. Anything less is simply not acceptable.

In most DUI cases, a final resolution will involve some kind of plea bargain and/or a sentence agreement or bargain. Note, though, that I said in most cases, because sometimes, it won’t. Sometimes there is no “deal.”

Once an agreement -whatever it is – has been reached (and, of course, you consent to it), you will then go into court to to enter a plea

Offering a plea is rather straightforward. The Judge will swear you in, and then review the terms of the deal to make sure everyone is in agreement about what’s happening. Rather than try to explain it here, the reader should click the link to this recent article, which explains, step-by-step, exactly how a plea is taken in court.

In a DUI case, once the plea process has been completed, the person will then be scheduled for 2 return dates:

The first is for the mandatory alcohol screening that is required, by law, in all DUI cases.

The second is for the sentencing, when you come back before the Judge to find out what’s going to happen to you. For everything there is to know about DUI cases, it’s what happens to you that matters most.

Thus, one of our firm’s longstanding mottos is that success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you. In other words, a good outcome in a DUI case is not merely staying out of jail (although that’s a good start). In almost all 1st offense DUI cases, that’s relative easy. It’s also distinctly possible to avoid jail in plenty of 2nd offense cases, and even in some 3rd offense cases, as well.

Your ultimate goal, though, is to make sure you avoid as many of the other possible legal penalties and negative consequences that you can. This means things like protecting ability to drive and not getting forced into expensive and unnecessary counseling or treatment, along with long and demanding probation.

Within a few weeks after your plea, you will be “screened” by a probation officer. This, like every other stage of the DUI process, in an entire subject in its own right. Again, the reader is advised to check out this and the next link for more information. For now, here is the short version:

Michigan law requires anyone convicted of an alcohol-related traffic offense to undergo an alcohol screening before he or she can be sentenced. The screening consists of a written alcohol assessment. This is basically a written test, with every answer having a point value. The total number of those points is added up, and then compared to a scoring key to determine if a person has – does NOT have – or is otherwise at risk to develop a drinking problem.

Your results on this screening will, by far, have the biggest impact on what happens to you.

The alcohol screening itself is part of a larger process called a “PSI,” or “Pre-Sentence Investigation.” That larger PSI process includes an interview with a probation officer. In addition to speaking with you, he or she will gather background information about you, as well, like where and to whom you were born, where and with whom you were raised, your education, work history, personal relationship history, and prior record, if any.

Based upon all of that, the facts of the case, and your score on the alcohol assessment, the probation officer will generate a written sentencing recommendation that advises the Judge what to do to you.

In the real world, just about every Judge follows the recommendation very closely (if not to the very letter).

This means that the way to get a better (as in more lenient) sentence is to get a better (as in more lenient) sentencing recommendation. It also means that you need a DUI attorney who can help you through this.

A few weeks after your screening and probation interview, you will return to court to be sentenced. This is when the Judge decides what to do to you. In large part, this is the result (outcome) of the case.

Before the Judge calls your case, you will review the probation officer’s report and recommendation with your lawyer. When you’re before the Judge, he or she will ask it you’ve read it, and if it is accurate. This is important. What if the probation officer got mixed up and based the recommendation on the idea that you had a previous DUI conviction 8 years, ago, when it fact that never happened?

Thus, we have to make sure everything in that report is, in fact, accurate.

When addressing the Judge, your DUI attorney will speak on your behalf first. This really is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. At this point, your lawyer will either make things better for you – or not. Whatever else, you don’t want to be in the “or not” group.

Then, you get to tell the court anything you want it to know.

Last, the Judge has his or her say. That, as the saying goes, is “the final word.” The Judge will state aloud what you’re going to have to do, as well as the things you can’t do (like drink alcohol) as part of your sentence. In almost every DUI case, there will be some kind of probation, so the things you must and cannot do are part of that.

When the Judge is done with you, you’re done with court, as well. If all went well, then you got the best outcome possible.

To put this in perspective, imagine 2 people who faced the identical DUI charge and got the identical plea deal but had different Judges and different lawyers.

The first was given 18 months of fairly easy probation. She was ordered to complete a 1-session alcohol awareness class and required to not get in any more trouble. She was further told that, after 9 months, if she had done everything required, the Judge would discharge her from probation and she’d be finished.

The second person was given 2 years of very demanding probation, including all kinds of alcohol and drug testing. He was also ordered to complete a substance abuse treatment program as part of that.

Even though neither person was sent to jail, you don’t have to think very long to realize who got the better result. This disparity in outcomes really underscores the notion that, in terms of results, success in a DUI case really is best measure by what does NOT happen to you.

Of course, an article like this can only summarize the DUI process. Each and every step we’ve discussed along the way would require a long, multi-part article to explain it in detail. However, as an overview, what we’ve gone over here works well enough.

If you’re facing a DUI charge and looking for a DUI attorney, be a sharp consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers break down the DUI process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.

This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable, and is updated weekly with new, original content. To-date, I have written and published over 600 articles in the DUI section. The reader can find more useful information here than anywhere, but don’t take my word for – check for yourself.

Once you’ve done enough reading, start calling around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person. If your case is pending in the Metro-Detroit area, meaning anywhere the courts of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, or the surrounding counties, make sure you 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’ll even 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. (EST) at either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.

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