In part 1 of this article, we began looking at the “context” of a DUI (OWI). A DUI will affect your life in some way. Drunk driving charges are resolved within the local court system, which is, of course, part of the state court system. That is, in turn, part of the whole American court system. All of this, of course takes place in the larger society. Expectations about what to do with and to drinking drivers, and the laws made by our legislators reflect the broader public opinion. Accordingly, what happens to you in a DUI case flows directly from the court handling your case; that court simply enforces the wider society’s rules and preferences. To get the best results down at the individual level, you must understand how it relates to and interacts with the wider level above. Each of these levels is what is meant by “context.” After having examined things from a societal and then judicial context, we left off with the promise to return and pick up with what certainly matters most – how this directly affects you. It is in this individual context that we resume.
Before we begin, I should preface what I’m about to say with at least some splash of authority about myself. Some DUI lawyers have special knowledge about and training in the workings of the breathalyzer machine. Other lawyers concentrate their efforts on specific legalities involved in DUI cases, like those surrounding the traffic stop. I have always focused my efforts on the role of alcohol, and particularly the scientific understanding of the development, diagnosis and treatment of alcohol problems. Alcohol is at the core and is really the absolute foundation of every DUI case. Years ago, I formalized my learning by completing a program of addiction studies at the post-graduate level. This means I understand both the big issues and the often-overlooked subtleties involved in things like assessing whether or not a person has, or is at risk to develop an alcohol problem. This means I can protect a client from inaccurately being seen as having a drinking problem, or a potential drinking problem by the court. Unfortunately, the court system is “biased” with a tendency to see high risk in everyone, which is why I noted earlier that if you want to be seen as an exception to having a drinking problem, you’re going to have to prove it. In that way, I am unequaled in my ability, as a DUI lawyer, to help. Okay; now what about you?
The first and biggest concern just about everyone has in a DUI case is going to jail. In a 1st offense case, that’s just not going to happen. The only possible (emphasis on possible, as in not certain) exception to that occurs with just 1 of the 3 Judges in the 48th district court in Bloomfield Hills. If your case isn’t there, then you’re off the hook, and even if it is there, the chances are 2 out of 3 that this won’t be concern for you, as there is only a 1 in 3 chance your case will be assigned to her. It is also possible, and in many cases, probable, to avoid jail even if you’re facing a 2nd offense DUI. I do that all the time for my clients. The whole jail in a DUI thing is a topic about which I have written numerous articles, so we won’t detour anymore into it here. Instead, let’s look at what really can and what really will happen to you...
Removing jail from the equation may allow you to breathe a sigh of relief, but in terms of what a DUI means within the context of your life, there is still a lot more to think about. All the things that can happen to you only become possible if and when you’re convicted of an alcohol-related traffic offense. While it is understandable to dread or fear a conviction for a DUI, for the most part, a lot of that fear unfounded. It is not uncommon for someone to get all worried about losing his or her job for a DUI, but that seldom happens. Sure, if you’re an ambulance or school bus driver, a DUI may be a career killer, but even if you’re a medical professional, a DUI won’t cost your career. I’ve handled thousands of DUI cases for every kind of profession, from physicians, engineers, nurses and teachers, to people without jobs, and just about everyone gets through it unscathed. The conviction itself most often turns out to have been a threat with a much bigger bark than bite.
That being said, the actual consequences of a conviction, meaning those things that will, in fact, happen to you, are precisely those things that matter within the context of your life. It is right here where “context” becomes real. Unless your DUI charge is dismissed (this can happen, and while I’ll certainly look for every way to do that, I wouldn’t bank on it), your driver’s license, for example, will at least be restricted for a bit. You will not be allowed entry into Canada for some time after being convicted of a DUI. You’ll be paying lots of money to what seems like everybody and their brother. And if that’s not enough, you run the very real risk of being herded into all kinds of classes, counseling and/or treatment (remember, this is where I can really help you avoid as much as possible) programs.
Beyond the expense and inconvenience of classes and counseling, just being put on probation is itself an imposition. Who wants to report to a probation officer once every month? Nobody wants to have to get out of work to go sit in a probation department waiting room next to who-knows-who while waiting to be called. Add even more to the mix, like community service, and you’ve got a great recipe for humiliation and regret. Without a doubt, the stress and emotional turmoil felt by many people as a result of DUI is, often enough punishment enough to prevent any future recurrence. Even though drunk driving is a criminal offense, I’d hardly consider my DUI clients to be “criminals.” Even so, the sheer mortification some people feel as they wind through the criminal justice system has the effect, as some will say, of “Making me feel like a common criminal.” While I’ll do all I can to minimize that, and while I expect to be able to minimize quite a bit of it, to the extent anyone experiences such feelings, it is probably a sign that he or she does not belong in this world, and speaks well of him or her. It probably means such a person won’t be back again, and that suits everyone just fine. It’s always better to be a novice at the whole arrest and court thing than to be a veteran. That’s not to say you must have a perfectly clean record, but that certainly helps; the cleaner the better, at any rate.
The takeaway from our inquiry into “context” is that DUI cases function on 3 levels: The 1st level is the one you’re on. The 2nd level is the court system in which your case will be handled. The 3rd level is the larger society, and includes things like the role courts are expected to play in dealing with drunk drivers, what society thinks about them, and expects should be done with and to them. It’s all great to get excited about having your case thrown out of court, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, that’s not going to happen. In my experience, most people know this deep down inside about their own case. Most people don’t come to me and say, “I’ve been wrongly accused of a DUI.” Instead, most people understand that they simply got popped. As we noted before, it happens. The 2 questions left are, “What are you going to do about it?” and “How can I make things better?”
To have success in a DUI case, your lawyer must understand you, how the DUI can, and how it will affect you, how the court system handling your DUI does things, and how all of this works in the larger world. Sometimes, this means the lawyer helps the client to see that despite how bad things may seem at the moment, everything will be okay. A few paragraphs back I noted that while some people can feel like a DUI is going to cost them a whole career, it usually never gets that bad. You will have to take some heat for getting caught, but whether you’re a doctor, nurse, engineer, teacher or IT person, it’s almost a certainty that your employment, or employment prospects, will be unimpaired. How your DUI needs to be handled will, of course, depend upon where it fits into the context of your life. If you hold a CDL, then the way we do things may be very different than if you are a teacher. The court in which your case will be handled plays a big role on how things should be handled and how they will turn out.
Context is important. Snapping your fingers in a library is never proper; snapping them if you’re onstage with a band, singing backup, is expected. It’s no different when it comes to drunk driving charges, except that unlike sitting in a library or singing in a band, the consequences are a lot more significant, and the context in which they take on meaning is your life. As always, when it comes time to hire the right lawyer, take your time, do your homework, read through the articles lawyers have put up, and then call around. If your case is pending in any court located within Wayne, Oakland or Macomb County, make sure you call my office, as well, to get my take on things. We’re here to help, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 to 5:00, and can be reached at 586-465-1980.