Very often, when a new DUI client sits across the desk from me, one of the first things they want to me to know is how much the DUI charge is out of character for him or her. Chances are, if you’re facing a DUI charge, and even if you’ve had one (or even more than one) in the past, you feel that this situation is not representative of who you are as a person. It is not unusual for a new client to somewhat sheepishly begin by saying something to me like, “I’m sure you hear this all the time,” or “I know it probably doesn’t matter, but…”. While the reality is that I do “hear this all the time,” it is also true that who you are as a person does matter, as does the fact that a DUI charge presents a distorted impression of your true character.
I can attribute some of this to the type of clients that I serve. Beyond all the hype about experience and qualifications, if you take the time to read even a little of my voluminous writings about DUI, you should (or at least I hope you do) glean that I’m a pretty nice guy. For better or worse, I suffer from “nice guy” disease. I have a conscience (it tends to just cost me aggravation, time and money), and I live by the rule that you should treat others as you wish to be treated. I’m the kind of guy that gets roped into doing things like inconvenient favors that eat up time I don’t have, and I chalk that up to the cost of being a friend. Being the proverbial “nice guy” also means that I’m forever stuck in the “do the right thing” mode, which means that I will leave no stone unturned in trying to make everything better for my clients.
Fortunately, the karma payback for this is that I have a client base that is mostly made up of really nice people, as well. My clients are people with good jobs and who worry about the implications a DUI; these people have lots of questions and concerns, and are looking for a comfortable, conversational environment in which to find answers. I’m pretty much the guy for that, and I tend to be found by people who likewise have that kind of kinder, gentler and talkative soul. So how does any of that matter in a DUI?
About the first thing you figure out in a DUI situation is that being a good person is far from enough to get you out of it. If you’re you’re lucky, you’ll get a nice police officer who might even acknowledge your cooperation. That’s great, but it sure would be a lot better if he or she just made you get a ride home, right? That, however, never happens. Amongst all the political correctness and concern about safe driving, DUI cases are also a prime source of revenue for police departments and municipalities. One of the more frequent questions I get is whether or not it matters if a person has never been in trouble before. Rest assured, stuff like that does matter, but not enough to make a DUI just “go away”. Yet we can still use all of your achievements and good qualities, called “social capital,” to your advantage (while also understanding that the court system wants a piece of your financial capital). Let’s look at how this works…
It goes without saying that the whole arrest and booking process is humiliating, and it can be scary, as well. If you’re put in a holding cell, you may find yourself with precisely the kind of people that you try and avoid in life. You soon realize that whatever role you play in the outside world, in that holding cell, you are nobody. If anonymous ever felt like anything, it’s those hours that seem to stretch on forever as you wait to be released. Believe me, I’ve spent so much time listening to my clients as we go through the details of each and every arrest that I have vicariously lived, a million times over, every step from being first asked to step out of your car to finally walking out of jail when you’re released.
Here’s a thought to hold, in the corner of your mind: As you recall your own uncertainly at each step of the DUI arrest and release process, and the trepidation you no doubt felt as you went through the arrest, booking, holding and release process, contrast your background and life story with someone who could smirk to the police officer and say, “yeah, I know the drill.”
When at last you do get out and get home, it usually takes a good shower to wash the “ick” off your body and help cleanse your mind from what has happened. You probably had to figure out a way to get your car back, as well. Most often, that requires a trip (meaning a ride from someone else who winds up hearing all about the whole experience) to the impound yard, and more money. To the otherwise law-abiding person with a good sense of morality and social conscience, having to go through all of this feels wrong. You feel as if everyone is missing something about you. From the inside of most people, there is a feeling that, “I’m different.” That’s normal, and if nothing else, it usually shows that you are well grounded and anchored in a good place in life. These are not the feelings of anyone who could say, “I know the drill.”
How we use this to your advantage depends on the interplay of many factors. First, and probably most important is where your case is pending. A DUI is really an accident of geography. No one plans to drive home under the influence. You can live a million miles away from where you get pulled over and discover that the court handling your case is decent, or you can get pulled over in front of your own home only to learn that you live in a very tough jurisdiction. Here is one fact you can take to the bank: All other things being equal in any given case, where that case takes place and the Judge overseeing it are the 2 biggest factors in what will happen to you.
Right up there in terms of impact on your case is your BAC result. If you’ve been charged with a High BAC offense, then you already know how important that number is. While High BAC charges can often be negotiated down, the larger point is that your BAC result says a lot about you. First, it signals how drunk you were. Second, it tends to create an impression of how much of a drinker you are – or aren’t. Important here is making sure that we don’t let a higher BAC number define you. While we cannot change the result itself, we can make sure we do everything to negate the impression you have developed a high tolerance to alcohol. Here is where I can help in an unequalled way, because I am formally involved at the University level in the post-graduate study of alcohol and addiction issues and treatment. I know how to protect you from being seen as having a problem you don’t have.
The 2 things examined above, where the case is pending and your BAC result, are 2 of the 3 most important aspects of any DUI case. The 3rd is who you are as a person. This is often referred to as “social capital.” Fair or not, people are defined in society by what they do. I’m a lawyer; my dad was a mailman, and my mom a secretary. You may be an electrician, or an accountant, an engineer or a waitress. Whatever you do, having a label is important. We’re not talking about some hierarchical arrangement of job prestige or earnings, but rather the difference between someone who goes out and earns his or her keep and someone who doesn’t. It’s a lot harder to negotiate a more lenient outcome for someone who isn’t busy working, or otherwise can be defined as a “criminal.”
Generally speaking, men get into more trouble than women, although the disparity isn’t as great with respect to DUI cases, however. Younger people get into more trouble than older adults, while married people tend to get arrested less than unmarried people, and employed people tend to wind up in less trouble than unemployed people. Thus, a married, gainfully employed older woman is just way less likely to wind up in handcuffs than an unmarried, unemployed young man. This probably explains why in the news we seldom see the mug shot of a middle-aged, married career woman, but we see plenty of scruffy-looking young men. You cannot instantly change this kind of social status, but if you have any to use to your advantage, then now is the time to do it.
If you have a really good job, for example, it can be explained that the very thought of losing it because of this case is enough to act as a complete disincentive to ever get another DUI. When you can look the Judge in the eye and tell him or her that the thought of going to jail or otherwise getting slammed with all kinds of negative consequences is a threat to your career, family life or future, you are just in a much better position to ask for and get a break than some career criminal who really doesn’t have much, if anything, to lose.
When it comes to explaining how out of character a DUI is for a person, his or her involvement in the community matters a lot. We could write an endless list of things that tend to make a person “solid,” from taking care of elderly parents or other family members to doing charity work, or working with kids, but the real significance of a person’s ties to the community is how that juxtaposes with the idea of him or her facing a Judge for drunk driving. The greater the contrast, the better it is as ammunition to use in your favor.
For a 1st offender, the whole idea is to show how unlike you, as a person, and how out of character this DUI really is. In a 2nd offense case, we have to use these same assets, but we must also be fully aware that the Judge knows you’ve probably said all that before. We need to focus on how another instance of bad judgment doesn’t equate to you being a bad person, or developing a bad habit. This is, of course, a gross oversimplification of the underlying issues in a 2nd offense DUI, but the idea is that we have to use your social capital again for all it’s worth, even if you have already borrowed against it before.
In a 3rd offense case, we need to point out that you are separate, as a person, from your drinking. The whole world will have already concluded you have a problem, and frankly, given my clinical knowledge, I don’t have the desire to pretend that I haven’t, either. Look, if you’ve racked up 3 DUI’s, something is wrong. Whatever else is going to happen, you’re going to get counseled and rehabbed by the court system, anyway, so you might as well get proactive and get a head start that can only help you out down the road. The AA people have a saying, “fake it ’till you make it,” and if that’s all you can do when facing a 3rd offense, you’re a lot better off doing that than trying to convince the Judge that this arrest show a troubled relationship to alcohol. In case I haven’t been clear enough, there isn’t a Judge in this world who will buy that argument, but almost every Judge will lose his or her patience if you make it, so leave that losing tactic in the trash, where it belongs.
In a 3rd offense case, we can, and must, really, separate you as a person from what and when and how you drink. Here, instead of fighting the idea that your relationship to alcohol has become problematic, we acknowledge it, and seek help for it. We can get a lot farther if you are seen as a good, hard-working person burdened with a drinking problem, who is finally getting help for it, than we’ll ever get trying to convince a Judge that you there is no problem, no matter how bad things look.
My job is to make things better. I look out for my client’s interests. I will use counseling or rehab to our advantage when I can, but I will also help my client get into counseling or rehab and not say a word about it if doing so will complicate his or her case. In other words, I don’t just look out for my client’s legal interests, but his or her personal interests, as well. If someone is at a point in his or her life where drinking just isn’t fun anymore, and he or she sees that drinking has become the common denominator to many of the things that are problematic in his or her life, I will help that person find the right kind of help. If such a person is facing a 1st offense, where bringing all this up will do more harm than good, then we’ll keep this to ourselves. In a 3rd offense case, and in some 2nd offense cases, reaching out for help before being ordered by the Judge to do it anyway can be very beneficial in avoiding tough consequences, so we’ll use those things in whatever way helps us best.
Whatever else, the uncomfortable feelings you have when facing a DUI, the idea that being is this situation is so contrary to who you are and what you have done as a person almost certainly signifies that you have accumulated some real social capital. To help make things better in your DUI case, you’ll need to borrow from it. If your case is brought in any court within Macomb, Wayne or Oakland County, I can help make sure that you’re appreciated for your full value as a person, and not valued by a regrettable mistake.