As busy Michigan DUI lawyers, we interact with a lot of people facing drunk driving charges. When we say we have represented “countless” clients in DUI cases, that’s no exaggeration, as that number is well into the multiple thousands. All that experience has not only taught us a lot about DUI cases, but also about the DUI clients at center of those cases. In this article, I want to look at how a person’s attitude can – and will – affect the final outcome of his or her DUI case.
This goes well beyond merely how a person presents themselves to the court. Obviously, having the right demeanor in front of the Judge is important. Over the course of my 30-plus years working in the courtrooms of Metro-Detroit, I have watched many times as things have gone from bad to worse as someone (not any of our clients, thankfully) has taken the wrong tone with a Judge. That just never turns out well. Although it almost sounds flippant, these people need a real attitude adjustment, and, at least when they act up in court like that, they usually get one from the Judge.
What I want to explore in this piece is how that kind of personality type actually shows up long before any lawyer ever takes the person’s case, and why that’s important. Unfortunately, someone with the kind of bad attitude I’m trying to describe probably won’t recognize any of this in him or her self, but other people who know them certainly will. You don’t have to go far in the world to run into someone who just can’t help but get in his or her own way, and there is an endless supply of people who simply have a natural tendency to make things harder than they otherwise need to be.
In the context of DUI cases, though, a “problematic” attitude can be very subtle, and can exist in an otherwise seemingly nice and polite person. Sometimes, the individual you’d least suspect can turn out to be a walking nightmare.
Some lawyers put up with this because they have no choice but to take whatever cases they can get.
Others rather effectively (and profitably) market themselves to this crowd. All I can say is, have fun with that.
My team and I are fortunate in that we’re busy enough to be able to carefully screen potential clients to make sure we don’t get involved with anyone who isn’t a good fit for us, and people with a bad attitude certainly are at the top of that group.
That’s an important point, because as much as it works for us to avoid anyone who isn’t a good fit with our firm, it’s also good advice for every person looking for a DUI attorney to check out his or her options to find the lawyer that’s the right fit for him or her, as well.
Let’s look at a couple of examples to help explain what I mean:
Imagine that Cranky Carl gets arrested one night for a DUI after the police pull him over for swerving. Carl takes the breath test, blows a .12, and is charged with OWI (Operating While Intoxicated, the legal term in Michigan for what everyone just calls “DUI”).
Throughout his arrest and processing, he is not happy, but nevertheless cooperative with the police. When he gets out of jail, he tells everyone who will listen that he doesn’t think he was swerving, and that he believes that he was pulled over just because he was driving at 2:30 in the morning.
Carl first calls the law office of Honest Alice, who patiently explains to his how things work in DUI cases, and that, no matter what, the first order of business is to get all the evidence, evaluate it, and then decide how to proceed.
Carl, for his part, tells Alice that he just “can’t” have a DUI on his record.
Alice responds that however true or not that may be for him, what’s going to happen with his case depends on the evidence, and that his insistence that he “can’t have” a DUI on his record isn’t going to make any difference in that regard.
Carl remembers that, as he was looking online, he saw plenty of lawyers that promised to “fight” everything about a DUI charge, and he isn’t happy that Alice doesn’t seem fully committed to just marching into court and getting the whole thing dismissed.
Carl is stuck on the idea that he just “can’t have a DUI” on his record, and wants a real fighter…
As he continues looking around for a lawyer, Carl eventually talks with Bragging Barry, who markets himself as just that kind of “fighter.”
When Carl mentions that he just can’t have a DUI on his record, and that he doesn’t think he was swerving before the police pulled him over, Barry quickly agrees (even though he hasn’t seen a single shred of the evidence), and tells Carl he’ll be tough and aggressive and will fight the stop and the admission of all the breath test obtained thereafter.
Barry talks a good game. Carl likes this. “Finally,” he thinks, “I’ve found somebody who will stand up for me and get me out of this mess.”
Even though Bragging Barry charges more than Honest Alice, Carl has decides to hire him, instead.
In this example, Carl has exhibited a version of what is called “confirmation bias.” Confirmation bias is defined as “The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.”
In the sense we’re using it here, it means we respond favorably to things we agree with. Of course, everyone responds well to what they want to hear. Carl likes what he heard when Barry agreed (without any basis for doing so, other than to get Carl’s retainer) that the police were just out looking for someone to pull over at 2:30 a.m..
Confirmation bias is really a “blind spot.” In more serious situations, like when one is facing a DUI charge, it’s far better for a person to be told what they need to hear, rather than merely what they want to hear.
However, it’s less profitable for the “we fight everything” lawyers, like Barry.
Honest Alice was entirely correct when she told Cranky Carl that before any decisions could or should be made regarding a defense plan, the evidence must first be obtained, and then examined. That’s no different than a doctor wanting test results before deciding how to treat a patient.
Carl, though, is being led more by his hopes than anything else. His attitude makes him just the kind of client (or, one could say, “easy mark”) Bragging Barry wants, because Carl is far more willing to pay for what he wants to hear rather than what he needs to hear.
Carl’s attitude caused him to pass over Honest Alice, the better choice, even though she was spot-on and entirely truthful and with him given the information he had about his DUI case.
Carl, for his part, is the kind of person who often seems “cranky,” because, in his view, he’s always getting screwed.
With regard to his DUI, he begrudgingly accepts responsibility for driving while over the limit, but is quick to ask who hasn’t driven home with a buzz, and point out that there are plenty of rapes and murders and B&E’s that need solving.
Carl will quickly share his frustration that the police were out, in his words, “looking for someone to arrest,” and looking for easy money at 2:30 in the morning, instead of being on the look-out for what he calls “real criminals.”
Carl’s attitude has already affected his DUI case; it led him to pass over Honest Alice and hire Barry to “fight” his case, even though nobody has even seen a single shred of evidence yet.
What Barry didn’t tell Carl, and what Carl needed to hear, is that the VAST majority of Michigan DUI cases do not get tossed out of court. Statistically speaking, there is a better than 98% chance that Carl’s case will not be dismissed outright.
The “fight everything” lawyers like Barry will make a big show of challenging everything, but much like the classic “showboat” in the boxing ring, there won’t be any kind of knockout punch behind all that flash. For both Barry and the showboat boxer, it’s just a lot of hot air, and a payday.
When Carl’s case doesn’t get dismissed, he’ll be even crankier. He’ll start to hate all lawyers (forgetting of course, about how candid Honest Alice was with him), wonder why he paid Bragging Barry so much, and never realize that his attitude was what led him in the direction of someone like Barry in the first place.
There will come a point, as Cranky Carl stands before the Judge, when his attitude will once again be important. Even though the Bragging Barry types are really more “dog and pony show” than anything else, it’s critical for Barry to counsel Carl about how NOT to act and what NOT to say to the Judge.
In other words, Barry needs to tell Carl to lose his attitude.
If Carl was my client, I’d caution him that if he says anything to the Judge about the police “looking for” someone to arrest at 2:30 in the morning, or how they ought to be out catching murderers and rapists, or anything like that, he’s going to be digging a hole for himself.
Lesson # 1 for any lawyer (or anyone who has to appear in court) – you can argue your case, but DO NOT argue with the Judge. I’ve never seen anyone “win” an argument with a Judge, but I have seen plenty of people lose, and, as they talked, keep on losing….
Now, let’s turn to our next example for some contrast and context:
Assume that Diligent Diane, like Cranky Carl, gets pulled over at 2:30 am for allegedly swerving while on her way home from a bachelorette party. She winds up charge with OWI, as well. As it happens, she winds up calling Honest Alice, and she likes how Alice advises her that no intelligent decision about properly defending her DUI charge can really be made without looking at all the evidence first.
Being a wise consumer, she continues to call around to find the right lawyer, and eventually winds up taking to Bragging Barry. Diane is put off by his aggressive “fight everything” mentality, especially as he doesn’t seem to be interested in tempering it or adjusting it in light of the facts of or evidence in her case – none of which he has even seen yet.
Diane is polite, but intelligent, and knows that as she looks for a lawyer, she neither wants to be suckered in by being sold a bill of goods that are too good to be true, nor does she want to be sold out by some lawyer who doesn’t have enough “fight” to properly defend her.
The more lawyers and law offices she speaks with, the more she realizes that Honest Alice is the right choice, and Diane ultimately retains her.
When they meet, Alice listens to Diane’s concerns and addresses them, but also makes sure to give her a short course in “how not to piss off the Judge.” Diane isn’t the type to do anything like that, but is glad Alice was more focused on telling her the things she needed to hear, rather than merely telling her what she wanted to hear.
Of our imaginary characters, Diligent Diane has a far better attitude than Cranky Carl.
Diane will almost certainly reap some benefit from that and get a better outcome in her DUI case as a result.
In the real world, there are a lot of people who are almost always mad about something and make Cranky Carl look like a breath of fresh air. Although intoxication can make people do strange things, there is a difference between just being drunk, and being a drunken a$$hole.
Indeed, some people are so confrontational by nature that they start arguing the minute the police show up.
That never helps. If there’s one guarantee a lawyer can make, it’s this: You will never meet anyone who argued their way out of a DUI with the police.
These angry types want to blame everyone but themselves for their DUI predicament. They think that they can find some lawyer who can just erase everything and make it go away, and they buy into this for all the wrong reasons.
They get mad when an honest lawyer tells them that getting their case summarily tossed out of court is not likely to happen, and some will keep plugging away until they find a lawyer who says differently. When they hear what they like, they’re happy to hand over their money.
-At least until they find out that they just bought a first-class ticket on the “too good to be true” express, and their case ISN’T going to be tossed out of court.
Then they get even madder, and that bad attitude feeds itself some more.
A a person’s attitude WILL affect the outcome of his or her DUI case. To be sure, merely having a good attitude isn’t going to get someone out of a DUI charge, but a bad attitude will negatively affect every part of the case, right from the start.
There’s no more delicate way to say it other than candidly: Getting a DUI sucks.
However, there are times in life when, as the old saying goes, you just have to suck it up, Buttercup, and unless your DUI charge can be knocked out of court because the case is compromised in some significant way, then this is one of them.
Accordingly, the first order of business in the MORE THAN 98% of all DUI cases that don’t get tossed out of court is to avoid as many of the legal penalties and minimize as many of the negative consequences as possible. In other words, work for the very best result.
If you’re facing a DUI charge 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 explain their various approaches to it.
When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. You can learn a lot by talking with a live person. If your case is pending in the Greater-Detroit area, meaning anywhere in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer, Livingston, St. Clair or Washtenaw County, 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, explain things, and even compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.
We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. unit 5:00 p.m., at either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.