In part 1 of this article, we began our examination of the role of a person’s relationship to alcohol in the context of a Michigan DUI case. We began by looking at how the court system perceives anyone facing an alcohol-related traffic offense, and how that perception must be managed. I noted that the court, for its part, has what amounts to a built-in alcohol bias, and that this is made all the worse because it is an established fact that DUI drivers do, as a group, have an increased rate of drinking problems than the population at large. Everyone arrested for a DUI will try and explain that they’re not any kind of “big drinker.”
In the real world, you can count on a person facing an OWI charge insisting they don’t drink a lot, or they don’t drink that often, and so on. It’s normal for people to “hurt” after a DUI, no matter how it came about. Because of this, a person picked up for drunk driving will automatically try and do some damage control relative to his or her drinking. The truth, however, is that even if a person hardly ever drinks, that misses the point. While it’s easy to think of a drinking problem in terms of frequent over-indulgence, or the “need” to drink regularly, those things are markers of just one kind of drinking problem.
People who rarely drink can still have issues with alcohol. If a person only drank a handful of times in his or her whole life, but has wound up getting a DUI, that tends to show that drinking is risky for him or her. One of the biggest misconceptions is that a person needs to be an “alcoholic” before he or she needs help, and that a drinking problem is defined by frequency and quantity. A drinking problem is really any drinking that causes any kind of problem.
Consider the hypothetical example of Abby and Beth:
Abby likes to play the lottery, and enjoys going to the casino. Over the years, she starts spending more and more of her time and money at the casino, to the point where she has racked up over $20,000 in credit card debt from cash advances taken while there. It has now gotten to the point where she goes to a party store almost every lunch hour to buy scratch tickets.
Beth never plays the lottery, and only goes to the casino once in a rare while. She doesn’t think of herself as any kind of gambler. A few years ago, on a “girls’ night out,” she found herself at the casino, and, having recently taken out a home equity loan, had a “feeling” it was her lucky night. She made a few big bets, but ultimately lost $10,000.
She felt horrible, and had no desire to ever go to a casino again, until she got talked into going to Vegas with a group of friends. On her first night in Vegas, she won over $2000, but over the course of the rest of the entire weekend, wound up losing all of that, an another $12,000 on top of that, to boot.
Abby has a clear, almost stereotypical gambling problem. Yet Beth, who doesn’t appear to be any kind of gambler at all, also has a problem. This is true even though she hardly ever gambles.
There’s a great old saying that puts things like this into perspective – anything that causes a problem IS a problem. I hinted at that before when I said that a drinking problem is any drinking that causes any kind of problem.
As a DUI lawyer, and because I have the title “Attorney and Counselor at Law,” I’d be ethically and professionally remiss for NOT examining the role of drinking in my DUI clients’ lives. I’d also be naive to just spinelessly nod my head when I get the expected explanations that he or she isn’t a big drinker, doesn’t indulge that often, and so on.
Even if that’s true, it doesn’t rule out that the person is just plain unlucky when it comes to alcohol, and is simply better off not drinking.
Of course, most of my 1st offense DUI clients DO NOT have any kind of drinking problem, because, overall, most 1st offenders don’t.
However, when someone shows up with a BAC that’s through the roof, I have a moral obligation to explore that with the client, not only to assess its potential impact on his or legal situation, but also how it can affect the person him or herself.
Remember, though, I pointed out that nobody wants to hire a lawyer who thinks everyone facing an OWI charge has a drinking problem. The court system, with its built-in “alcohol bias,” already comes close enough to doing that for us. An important part of my role as the DUI lawyer is to counter-balance that.
No matter what, though, my first duty in a DUI case goes to the legal end of things. I have to try and get my client out of the situation, and, if that can’t be done, then I must help my client avoid as many consequences and penalties as possible.
At the end of the day, success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you.
It’s also very important to understand that if someone is struggling with his or her drinking, it can be incredibly counter-productive to push too hard on that issue when he or she is not receptive.
This is very difficult for people “on the outside” to understand. It must be hell to be a family member watching a loved one rack up his or her 5th, 6th and then 7th DUI and not come crawling on his or her knees for help. Why can’t they see what everyone else does?
That’s the nature of addiction, though. If helping someone was just as easy as demonstrating the logic of his or her behavior, and the need to change it, we could fix the whole opioid crisis in no time. It doesn’t work like that, however.
This goes back to what I meant when I said that sometimes, a DUI driver needs someone to talk to them. For those people who had a problem with alcohol and who do get sober, it’s often because they were told something that kept rolling around in their heads. They may not have been ready at the time they heard it, but whatever tidbit got stuck in their mind just kept nagging at them that something wasn’t right about their drinking.
The idea is that while you can’t just “fix” somebody on your time, you may be able to plant a seed that sprouts at some point in the future and helps them realize they need to change.
Or not. That’s the downside of addiction, and it means that a 7th DUI can be followed by an 8th, a 9th, and then a 10th.
I remember having represented a man many years ago for his 13th DUI. He swore he was done drinking forever. Some years later, he was in the news for his 14th. Whatever else, his inability to get over his problem surely wasn’t from lack of hearing about it.
Most people aren’t so hard-headed. If somebody is open or otherwise want to explore their drinking, I have the skill set to do that. Some clients just blurt out that they’ve been thinking about it, or that they know they need help. That’s easy enough.
It takes training and experience, though, to sense when someone is tentative, but is still willing to test the waters a bit and talk about drinking. This is a window of opportunity to help that should never be squandered.
As much as I know about all this, I also know that there’s a lot I don’t know, and that the “counselor” part of my job isn’t to try and be some kind substance abuse counselor, but rather to stand in the role of facilitator and help direct my client find the right options for help.
Instead, I try to help; really help. Sometimes, when the client doesn’t bring up his or her drinking first, it’s as easy as just cautiously approaching the subject of it within the context of their DUI case. Other times, it’s all about letting a person have a good cry and reach their own conclusions right before your eyes. Most of the time, though, it’s far more subtle, and ranges from lending a good ear to making a gentle suggestion. However it plays out, it’s more than just doing or saying nothing.
Once in a while, though, I have to address the elephant in the room, like when my client is on his or her 3rd or 4th DUI. Then, we have to proceed, both legally and personally, based upon the reality that his or her drinking has become a serious problem, whatever else there is or isn’t to it.
In the vast majority of 1st offense cases, the conversation doesn’t have to go any farther than “make sure that doesn’t happen again.” Sometimes, though, even a 1st offense can be a sign that something’s not right. In some cases, the sign can be more obvious to those on the outside, like when a person’s BAC is really high. Other times, there may be no outward indication that the person is in turmoil, other than his or her own internal feelings about the whole situation. My job is to help.
That’s really the great takeaway here. In DUI cases, I think it’s important for the lawyer to have the skill set to pick up on cues that a person may be amenable to exploring his or her relationship to alcohol. If so, then great. If not, then it’s important to not jam the issue down the person’s throat, which will only cause him or her to be even more resistant in the future.
In things like 2nd and 3rd offense cases, the lawyer has to lead the way, because the person’s drinking habits are going to be put under the microscope by the court, and, those habits are going to change – instantly. The court is going to mandate “no drinking,” and require breath and/or urine testing to ensure compliance with its order.
In those situations, I have to help the person understand that the focus on his or her alcohol consumption goes beyond their legal situation, and has become a life issue. I have to drill down, past any notion that he or she isn’t a “big drinker,” and all the excuses and explanations like that.
I’m good at that.
When a person wants to talk, they need somebody who can listen. Sometimes, the “right” kind of listening is more silent (remember, “listen” and “silent” are spelled with the same letters), while other times, it may involve acknowledgment and reflection (“So what I hear you saying is…”).
For everything else there is to all this, the bottom line is that, for anyone facing a DUI, the role alcohol plays in his or her life must at least be acknowledged. Ultimately, what happens from there is always up to the person him or herself. My job is to help, but the best kind of help is to be there and offer it, not run up and beat someone over the head with it.
If you’re facing a DUI charge anywhere in Oakland, Macomb or Wayne County and are looking to hire a lawyer, be a good consumer, do your homework, and check around. Read the articles lawyers have written. See how they examine aspects of the case, like this, that are important to you. When you’re done reading around, start checking around.
All of my consultations are confidential and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are really friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. You can reach us Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 586-465-1980. We’re here to help.