Michigan DUI – Professional Employment and a Professional License – Part 2

In part 1 of this article, I began explaining how, although it is normal for anyone with professional employment, or who holds a professional license, to worry about losing their job or their occupational license because of a DUI, such an outcome is highly unlikely, especially in 1st offense cases. In the real world, this is a fear that almost never plays out. We saw that, contrary to how they’re often perceived, licensing bodies are not angry, punitive agencies just waiting to pounce and revoke licenses for things like DUI convictions.

mmmInstead, as I tried to make clear, beyond having rather strict reporting requirements, the big risk for anyone with a professional license is that the licensing agency will require him or her to be “evaluated” to determine if they have any kind of substance abuse problem, and then required to complete any treatment deemed necessary as a result of that evaluation. As we’ll see in the coming paragraphs, the problem is that this takes place in an environment that, instead of being any kind of level playing field, is tilted far for toward the “better safe than sorry” side of things.

Even so, it goes without saying that a person is better off being able to keep his or her license, but also be required to complete any kind of treatment to do that, rather than simply having it taken away. The reality, however, is that (especially for medical professionals), we’re not talking about a few months of seeing a counselor once a week; the kinds of remedial measures required can be extremely demanding, and often include, in addition to anything the court orders, several AA or NA meetings per week, individual and group counseling, and regular breath and/or urine testing.

To put it colloquially, these requirements can be a real “ball-breaker.”

Thus, it’s far better to avoid any (or at least as much) of this as possible, and a good DUI defense plan includes doing everything practicable to make that happen. This will make more sense as we continue…

I have written extensively about the alcohol bias in the court system, and while not everything about that bias translates precisely within the context of licensing bodies, the overriding notion that “it’s better to be safe than sorry” certainly does, and that’s huge. To be sure, licensing bodies always function more prophylactically than responsively to any specific situation.

This can get deep, but the point here is that a person who does not have a troubled relationship to alcohol (and/or drugs) needs to take extra steps to make sure that’s the same conclusion reached by his or her licensing body, as well. And even if a person does present with some sort of substance abuse problem, or any kind of measurable risk for one to develop, it is equally important to make sure that it isn’t perceived in any kind of exaggerated way, which is a very real risk in these situations.

Part and parcel of the whole prophylactic approach is the reality of “over-diagnosis.” In the grand scheme of things, it is far more likely that, rather than having missed any problems altogether, the people who do evaluations for licensing bodies (as well as the courts) have treated more problems that weren’t there, or have recommended more counseling, treatment, and monitoring than was necessary in any given case.

Remember, the courts and all licensing bodies live by the maxim that “it’s better to be safe than sorry.” In other words, the risk of being “over-diagnosed, or “over-treated” is very real.

Our job, as DUI lawyers, is to help avoid that.

We first do that in the court setting, and then second, in a way that spills over to the licensing forum. Beyond taking the alcohol bias into account, it is critically important for the lawyer to know how alcohol problems are diagnosed, both clinically, and within the court setting. This, in turn, requires a comprehensive understanding of how alcohol and substance abuse problems develop, how they are (and should be) diagnosed, and the whole spectrum of empirically validate treatment modalities.

For my part, I thought all this important enough to complete a post-graduate program of addiction studies so that, beyond practical experience with these issues, I also understand them from the clinical side, as well. Having a deeper understanding of the development, diagnosis, and treatment of alcohol and drug problems has allowed me to help my clients in ways I could never have imaged without such a background.

This is directly relevant to the court case, but can also be very helpful when handling the licensing reporting requirements.

As it turns out, dealing with professional licensing concerns is often easier than dealing with the employment side of things. As I noted earlier, license issues are rule-based, meaning they’re spelled out and far more objective than subjective.

In Michigan, a person’s employment is either governed by a specific contract, or is “at-will,” meaning he or she can be fired at any time, for any reason, as long as that isn’t discriminatory in a way that violates his or her civil rights. You can’t get more subjective than that.

Fortunately, as arbitrary as “at-will” can be, in the real world, it is usually balanced against economic reality, and that’s good news for anyone who has been a valuable employee. Consider this:

If Bad Luck Brenda, a dental assistant for Dan the Dentist, is arrested for a DUI, and unless she is employed pursuant to a contract that specifies otherwise (which is highly unlikely), Dan is perfectly able to fire her just for that reason alone.

However, it’s far more likely that Dan is glad to have Brenda as his assistant because she is a good employee. As such, he’ll almost certainly keep her in her position and wish her good luck with her case.

In my nearly 30 years of practice, I can honestly only recall ever seeing a DUI having any significant negative effect on a client’s employment when driving was a required part of his or her job duties.

While most people do, understandably, get freaked out when they know they’re going to have to report a DUI to their employer and/or licensing body, the reality is that in the vast majority of cases, nothing more comes from doing so other than having had to report it.

Of course, it’s also important, when appropriate, to be able to submit other documentation that shows the DUI to be out of character for the person, and to also provide evidence that it’s not symptomatic of any kind of underlying alcohol or substance abuse problem.

That’s all in a day’s work for a skilled DUI lawyer.

The grand takeaway from all of this is that there is no good reason, really, to freak out over losing your job and/or your professional license over a 1st offense OWI. This kind of situation can almost always be resolved without any kind of negative consequence; we do this all the time. In fact, things are probably salvageable even in a 2nd offense DUI case.

If you are facing a DUI and looking for a good lawyer to help, do your homework. Read around, and see how each lawyer explains things, and how they explain themselves. There is simply no downside to being a good consumer and comparison shopping. When you’ve done enough reading, start checking around.

If your case is in the Metro Detroit area (Wayne, Oakland or Macomb County), give our office a ring as part of your inquiries. 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 and explain things. We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.

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