A 3rd offense DUI case must be handled properly. There is a lot to that, but in this article, we’re going to keep it short. We’ll examine the 3 things that most affect what can and will happen to you. Of course, the first hope for anyone facing a 3rd offense felony DUI charge is to get out of it completely. If that’s not possible, then the goal is to get out of it as much as possible. This means avoiding as many of the legal penalties and negative consequences as we can. To do that, however, we need to get past a number of things, including the 3 that we’ll discuss below.
First, and although it seems obvious, we need to recognize the seriousness of the whole 3rd offense DUI situation. This goes well beyond the fact that, in Michigan, a 3rd offense is a felony. We’ll get to the legal stuff later. For now, the very idea that a person has been arrested a 3rd (or subsequent) time for drunk driving is enough. Perspective matters here, because for the person facing the charge, it can seem like bad luck. To everyone else, however, it’s a sure sign of dangerous behavior, and a serious problem.
Practically speaking, anyone who gets a 2nd DUI looks like someone who didn’t learn their lesson the first time. By the time they rack up a 3rd offense, the outside world sees them as an outright threat, at least on the road. The simple fact is that nobody who DOESN’T have a drinking problem racks up 3 or more DUI’s. Most people never get a single DUI. Plenty of people get one, but the vast majority of them never pick up another. By the time a person has been arrested a second time for drunk driving, society generally sees him or her as having a problem.
This means that excuses like “I don’t drink that much” won’t fly. In fact, the less a 3rd DUI offender does drink, then the greater the risk every time he or she does. Think of the old saying, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” As Michigan DUI lawyers, my team and I handle loads of 3rd offense DUI cases. We’ve had plenty of clients for whom their 3rd offense charge was the turning point that got them to quit drinking.. By the same token, we’ve seen quite a few people who just can’t stop drinking, and who keep racking up DUI’s.
In Michigan, there is no higher drunk driving (technically, it’s called “Operating While Intoxicated,” or “OWI”) charge than 3rd offense. I remember representing one client, in particular, for his 12th DUI, but it was charged as a 3rd. I subsequently learned, a few years later, that he was on to number 13. The way the law works here, #13 would still have been charged as a 3rd offense.
Even with only 2 priors, the simple fact that a person is back for his or her 3rd DUI screams risk and trouble. The more priors, of course, the worse things look.
Second, there are serious legal implications at play. Under Michigan law, a 3rd DUI in a person’s lifetime is a felony. Once a person has racked up 2 DUI’s within 7 years or 3 within 10 years, he or she is legally categorized as a “habitual alcohol offender.” As a consequence, he or she is presumed, by law, to have an alcohol problem.
In addition, the person’s driver’s license will be revoked.
The only way to get it back is to file and win a hearing before the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office of Hearings and Administrative Oversight (OHAO). There, the person must show that his or her alcohol problem is under control, and likely to remain under control. What that means is that the state will need “clear and convincing evidence” that the person has been completely alcohol and drug free (this includes recreational marijuana) for a legally sufficient period of time.
On top of that, and even more important, the person must prove that he or she is a safe bet to stay sober for life. In other words, he or she must demonstrate both the ability and commitment to remain alcohol and drug free permanently.
Beyond the loss of driving privileges, a 3rd offense felony DUI conviction carries a minimum of 30 days in jail, UNLESS a person is admitted into a sobriety court or specialty court program. Someone with a bad prior record can get up to 5 years in prison. If the person is a habitual felon, he or she can face additional penalties for that, as well.
This is where the practical and the legal aspects collide, and make a bigger “bang.” There is simply no Judge who is going to look at a 3rd time drunk driver and accept any explanation other than that the person has an alcohol problem. When you walk into court for a 3rd offense DUI, you’re in deep trouble. This has nothing to do with getting locked up, either
My team and I have kept plenty of our 3rd offense clients out of jail. However, you can be sure that any trade-off for no jail is made up for by time spent in counseling, treatment, and being monitored.
Here’s the catch, though: Plenty of people facing a 3rd offense have had previous 3rd offense cases, and they still go back to drinking. I can’t count how many people we’ve represented who’ve had 5 or more DUI’s. On the outside, you’d figure a person would get his or her 2nd, or 3rd, and the light bulb would go off. That would be the end of the road.
For some, though, it’s not. And here’s the thing: every last person standing before a Judge for a DUI will swear they’ll never do it again. Fortunately, and as noted earlier, most 1st offenders don’t come back. However, every 2nd, 3rd or subsequent offense is someone who has made – and broken – that promise before.
What every Judge knows with 100% certainly is that the last sentence handed out to such a person didn’t work. There is no guidebook for this. Moreover, nothing suggests that taking it easier on someone for committing the same crime a 3rd or subsequent time is a good idea.
These 2 items – the practical and the legal – exert a negative influence on any 3rd offense DUI case. Now, it’s time to fight back.
Third, and a major factor that will affect your case is your lawyer. This is the best tool available to counteract and manage what we’ve discussed above. People often use the term “defense lawyer” to describe a “DUI lawyer,” and that’s technically accurate. However, a better lawyer must go on the offense, and not just play defense. In any kind of contest, the defense doesn’t score any points. All a good defense does is keep the other side from scoring.
In the DUI world, we need to go on the offense. We need to beat and/or avoid the charge and the penalties as much as possible. Remember, success in a DUI case is always best measured by what does NOT happen to you. A really good lawyer will make sure to score points on behalf of his or her client. There is a lot to this, but here are a few quick observations from our own experience:
We have to humanize our client. He or she isn’t “the defendant,” but rather is a person – Jane Doe, or Joe Blow. He or she is someone with dreams and hopes and fears, and yes, a problem, as well. It’s a lot easier to feel sympathy for a person with a drinking problem than it is for some old drunk.
I doubt there is any firm who can present a better case for someone than ours. HOWEVER – that alone is not enough. The client has to do some work, too. Imagine a person who gives us an unlimited budget and tells us to do our best. He or she is rather “hands off,” and has no time to do anything other than show up in court. This person isn’t interested in talking about his or her drinking, either with us, or with anyone else.
We could do a lot better for someone who can just barely pay us, but who is motivated to do what we suggest to bring about the best possible outcome. My team and I speak candidly with our clients about their drinking. Real help is provided by telling a person what he or she needs to hear, not just what they want to hear. We help them in every way possible, and that includes getting into the right kind of counseling.
None of that has any chance of working, however, until a person can at least be open to the idea that his or her relationship to alcohol has become troublesome.
I often point out that person has to compare lawyers before making a hiring decision. However, as lawyers, we also have to “screen” potential clients to make sure we can work with them, as well. Our firm is busy enough to NOT have to take cases for difficult people. Unfortunately, there are just some people in this world who can’t help but get in their own way. They keep plugging away with a bad, or “know it all” attitude.
That’s a liability in a 3rd offense DUI case.
Whatever else, when you’re in a pickle as serious as a 3rd offense DUI, it’s time to follow the advice of someone who probably knows better. DUI cases are a world unto themselves, but 3rd offense charges play out in their own universe. As the potential consumer of legal services, you need to make sure you’re buying a lawyer’s EXTENSIVE experience handling these cases. If not, then you’re merely paying tuition for him or her to get that experience.
That, too, is a liability in a 3rd offense DUI case.
There are a lot of moving parts to any DUI case, but 3rd offense charges have even more. Our firm has unsurpassed experience successfully handling them in the Greater-Detroit area, meaning in the courts of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and the surrounding counties.
And that brings up another point. A case’s location is not only one of those moving parts – it’s one that’s critically important. Anyone looking for legal help needs a lawyer who is very familiar with the court where his or her case is pending. It’s for that very reason that my team and I would not take a case across the state.
At the end of the day, there is a certain practical reality to a 3rd offense DUI. In addition, there is a legal reality. Those 2 things must be managed by the lawyer, who really is the 3rd factor in determining what will happen to you.
For the reader interested in learning more, this blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable and updated twice weekly with new installments. In fact, I recently put up an in-depth, 6-part examination of 3rd offense DUI cases. To date, the DUI section has over 580 original articles. There is more useful information to be found here than any and everywhere else combined, but don’t take my word for it.
Instead, if you’re looking for a lawyer, be a wise consumer and read around for yourself. Pay attention to how different lawyers analyze the DUI process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.
When you’ve done enough reading, start checking around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person. If your case is pending anywhere in the Greater-Detroit area (meaning anywhere in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, or the surrounding counties) give us a call 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 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.