As a Michigan DUI lawyer, both me and my clients are very lucky to have the help of my wonderful staff. I have Ashlee, my paralegal, and Ann, my senior assistant, and everyone who meets or speaks to them likes them. Unlike some firms, where the support staff has limited contact with the clients, my staff does everything, from answering that first phone call to discussing with me what’s going on in a case and how I plan to handle it to following up with our clients even after their matters have concluded. The other day, a situation came up in a discussion my wife and I were having, and she mentioned that someone (who knows someone who knows someone, ect.) had picked up a DUI and was going to call some family friend for help who is a lawyer, although not a criminal or DUI lawyer. She looked up at me and said, quite seriously, something to the effect that I bet Ann knows more than that guy. I quickly replied that if I was in jail facing a drunk driving charge, I’d rather have Ann or Ashlee represent me, a thousand times over, even though they can’t because neither is an attorney. My staff works on pretty much all phases of drinking and driving cases all day, every day, and is my second set of eyes during all phases, including watching Police in-car video from traffic stops. I wasn’t surprised, therefore, when Ann emailed me the idea for this article based upon her feedback from talking to people all the time about DUI cases.
Picking up on the frustration expressed by so many people, including me, my staff has seen firsthand how the court system tends to fit everyone into the same mold. This comes on the heels of a couple of loosely related articles I recently put up, and some emails I have received in support of them, about how the court system tends to have what I call a bias toward suspecting a drinking problem in almost every DUI case. In fact, just this weekend, another client sent a heartfelt email in response to my prior articles, and while thanking him for his input, I also thanked him for practically writing another article for me; stay tuned for that one in the coming days. In the meantime, Ann suggested this article based on the idea that one size does NOT fit all, and that very often, the circumstances surrounding a DUI can relate to other issues (including no issue, as when a DUI just “happens“), instead of always being about problematic drinking.
It’s important for everyone to stand back once and a while and look at the world around us. As the only lawyer in my office, there are certain things I don’t see that my staff does. They are on the front line. As regular a guy as I really am, people tend to be a bit more formal, if not a bit more polite or proper around me, just because I’m the lawyer. It was, in fact, my staff that had to explain this to me. I suppose there is some truth to this because even I am a little more informal (the modern term here is “real”) with the nurse or tech at my doctor’s office than I am with the physician himself. I guess it’s just natural. Anyway, in recognition of that, I’m not going to re-write Ann’s article because to do so would lose the focus she has. If I changed much of it, it would take on a legal air, and would inevitably carry my perspective as the lawyer, rather than her front line view. Without further comment, let’s get to it…
While all courts see that driving under the influence is a real concern and there very well could be an alcohol problem going on, does it always mean that every person who receives a DUI fits into the same mold? The process of going through court after being arrested for a DUI is pretty much the same for everyone. You will be required to test regularly and be given a written alcohol screening test to fill out. I have heard from many who have gone through this screening and no matter what the answers are, the probation officer pretty much sees everyone the same way, like a one-size-fits-all mold, just because you’re there for a DUI.
Does everyone need the same kind of counseling, or outpatient treatment? Does AA help everyone? Does the alcohol screening test look for, much less identify, all the underlying issues a person could have? There is always cause and effect, and in the courts, it is never looked at as important. Why did you drink and drive? It seems like the courts are only treating the effect of a DUI, meaning the getting caught for drunk driving. What about the cause?
Let’s say you have sores on your hand from a skin condition and you cover them with a band aid. Once the band aid comes off, does it cure the condition? No; you must treat the cause if you really want to get rid of the problem.
Is incarceration the appropriate solution for curing, or even addressing, the cause of the problem (the DUI)? It may keep you away from drinking for a while, but what if the reason you drank too much on that one occasion is because of some stress in your life. Does this mean that when the courts require AA and IOP treatment with all kinds of extensive alcohol testing and monitoring, it will somehow be the end all of your problems? What about when that’s all over? Can all this alcohol testing and these alcohol classes that were ordered be the end all to your stress? Even the threat of incarceration only increases one’s stress. In some cases, maybe the real problem is not alcohol but a different or bigger issue, or the coming together of several smaller ones, or, maybe, you just made a mistake! Drinking and driving is without a doubt an “issue,” but is it not always the result of an addiction, some kind of drinking problem, and not even necessarily the effect of some bigger cause. Sometimes people just go out, drink too much on an occasion, and get caught driving. You can’t fit everybody into one mold.
Now, to understand why Ann would suggest this article, imagine a woman who has talked to thousands upon thousands of DUI clients, from the time when they’d first pick up the phone and call around looking for a lawyer, to the calls of existing clients at various stages of their cases. Clients will call about probation, about their driver’s license, about their court-ordered counseling and/or testing, and for just about any and every other reason you could imagine. With that kind of day-in, day-out experience dealing with DUI clients, anyone would begin to see patterns, and my staff certainly does. Add to the mix that my staff was hand-picked because each is naturally a “people person,” and it was inevitable that Ann and Ashlee would begin to hear the same concerns and fears and frustrations from our clients, with whom they speak regularly. My clients like speaking with my staff. A lot of my female clients like having a woman with whom to talk. Yet even though I’m the only lawyer in my office, we all work as a team. The staff doesn’t just hear about cases from our clients, I talk about things, from beginning to end, as well. As a result, the staff knows all about which courts are tough and which are more “understanding” in DUI cases.
After years and years of watching how things in DUI cases are done, and how things have changed over those years, Ann felt the frustration of the trend toward a “one-size-fits-all” approach the courts have in drinking and driving matters. If the reader has already been arraigned, especially in any district court in Oakland County, then you’ve probably gotten a taste of this because you likely have to “test” to prove that you’re not drinking. Many courts in Macomb County, do this as well, and the courts of Wayne County aren’t far behind in following this trend, either. These measures are taken no matter how clean a record you have, and despite any personal or professional accomplishments you may have. I am a big believer in the importance of who you are as a person in a DUI case, but more and more it takes a stronger proactive approach to make sure that it gets its fair consideration in any particular matter.
The courts are not alone in behaving this way. It’s kind of the way of the world. Call tech support for just about anything and you’ll get an offshore phone bank with ESL people reading from scripts. You can waste hours on solutions for problems you don’t have. Many large companies have automated phone service so complex and depersonalized that it takes forever to get to a live person, if you can even manage it. In certain circumstances, you’re virtually powerless to be heard. In the context of a DUI, I make sure my client gets every chance to be seen and heard as an individual because that’s very important. In the course of every one of my DUI cases, I have a separate, interim meeting with every client that lasts up to 2 hours just to prepare him or her for the mandatory alcohol assessment (screening) and meeting with the probation officer before we go back to court for sentencing. This phase of the case is, by far, the most important and is directly responsible for what does and doesn’t happen at sentencing. It is here that we must do everything possible to make sure the system doesn’t shoe-horn you into some pre-molded, one-size-fits-all category. Like everything worthwhile, it takes effort, and, as the saying goes, anything worth doing is worth doing right. Of course, if you’re facing a DUI in any court in the Metro-Detroit area (Macomb, Oakland or Wayne County) and you need to hire a DUI lawyer, make sure that you do your homework; read what lawyers have written, and call around, making sure to call my office, as well. We’re here to help, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 to 5:00, and can be reached at 586-465-1980.