More than almost anything else, where a DUI case arises is the single most important factor in how things will work out. If we took the identical set of facts regarding an OWI arrest and charge and watched how that case would play out in several different courts, it would become obvious that location is the key variable. In this article, I want to restate the importance of the “where” factor in DUI cases here in the Metro-Detroit area of Oakland, Wayne and Macomb Counties.
The whole issue of location is easy to bring up, but quite a bit harder to explain, because it must be done diplomatically. Everybody knows that some courts are tougher than others, and that Judges can be all over the map in terms of being lenient or not. No lawyer, including me, wants to disparage any Judge, or in any way play “favorites.” Our job is to work with them, day-in and day-out. It’s a given that, in the privacy of a lawyer’s conference room, a client might hear that this Judge is a “teddy bear,” and that one is a “hard-a$$,” but not in an article like this.
By design, I limit my DUI practice to the Tri-County area (Wayne, Oakland and Macomb). My team and I are in multiple local district and circuit courts every single day. The breakdown of where we go is pretty evenly split amongst the the 3 counties. I’d honestly say the breakdown is something like 35% in Oakland, 33% in Macomb, and 32% in Wayne. We deal with the idiosyncrasies of the various local courts every single day, and have the experience of thousands of cases to know how they do things, what they have in common, and how each one is different from the others.
In that regard, there are certain general things that are pretty much the same in all courts. In a 1st offense DUI case, most Judges will generally impose a probationary sentence that ranges from relatively easy to very demanding.
It’s knowing the exceptions that is critical for a local DUI lawyer. For example, there is 1 Judge in the Greater-Detroit area who often (but not always) sends first offenders to jail. This is an exception to the general rule that, if you’re facing a 1st offense DUI, you’re NOT facing jail time.
Similarly, most local Judges whose courts don’t have a sobriety court program will consider transferring a 2nd offender to a sobriety court in another jurisdiction, but there is at least one local court that won’t. Those are the bad news exceptions…
By contrast, there are still a couple of Judges who will, in certain situations, wrap up a 1st offense DUI charge with little or nothing more than fines and costs. These are the good news exceptions.
Although location is, in an overarching and general sense, key to the outcome of an OWI case, it is also true that, even within the same court building that houses multiple Judges, you can sometimes find VERY different ways of doing things. As a result, you can expect very different outcomes in the same case, depending on to whom it’s assigned. All lawyers (I’m sure prosecutors will privately say, although for probably the opposite reasons of a DUI lawyer like me, things like, “Let’s just hope we get Judge So-and-So,” or, “Let’s pray we don’t wind up in front of Judge So-and-So”).
Sorry to Judge So-and-So. You can be sure, though, that even Judge So-and-So said the same thing before he or she got on the bench, back when practicing law. Some Judges are simply “easier” than others. In that same way, certain Judges have pet peeves, so that in an otherwise “easy” case, a person may have done the ONE THING that pisses him or her off.
If that hasn’t happened already, it is the lawyer’s job to make sure the client knows what to do and say, and, equally important, what not to do and/or say.
Although it’s not a perfect example, let me borrow an analogy from the retail world. I live locally, in the Suburban Detroit area. There is a Target store very near my house, and my wife and I usually shop there. Our daughter attends college in Ann Arbor, so we also got used to going to the Target store there. One day, I found a bottle of Salsa at the Ann Arbor Target (Curt’s Special Recipe), and it turned out to be the best I’d ever had.
Later, I looked for it at our local Target, and couldn’t find it. When I asked, I was told that while all Target stores contains most of the same merchandise, there are some differences in what they stock that are “local” to each.
That sounds a lot like how Judges handle DUI and other criminal cases.
No answer to any kind of “what will happen” DUI question is completely accurate if it doesn’t take into account where it is brought, and what Judge will be deciding it. There are some things, like license penalties (and those are imposed directly by the Michigan Secretary of State) that are consistent across the board, but the where of any given case is really critical to how it will turn out.
If I’m approached by anyone about a DUI matter (especially my staff), the very first question I ask is “where?” In almost every case, location trumps everything. A person facing a High BAC DUI (assume he or she blew a .20) in one city may be a lot better off than someone facing a regular OWI (assume this person blew a .10) in a different place.
In fact, it IS entirely possible that, if the High BAC happened in one of several places, with good legal work, the person could have his or her charge negotiated down, not just to OWI, but even further, to OWVI (Impaired Driving), and, of course, not do any jail time, either. We do this all the time.
On the flip side, it is also entirely possible that the person who blew a .10 could wind up in front of the one local Judge who often gives first offenders some jail time.
In that sense, DUI cases are alway accidents of geography. But that geography is important. Every person who gets arrested for drunk driving hopes to find out his or her court is considered lenient, and every DUI lawyer would much rather have his or next 3 cases heard in those courts rather than anyplace that’s considered “tough.” In the real world, though, a DUI happens where it happens.
While the reader would probably love a breakdown of the easier versus “tougher” courts, I also trust the reader understands that those discussions are, as I noted before, best conducted in the privacy of your lawyer’s conference room. The takeaway from this article is that location not only matters, it is really the key to the outcome of any DUI case here in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb County.
Of course, it is important that your lawyer not only understand this general concept, but know the ins and outs of how things are done in the various local courts where he or she practices. That’s why I limit my DUI and criminal practice to the Tri-County area. I believe a client should pay me and my team for our experience, not pay tuition for us to learn how things are done somewhere new.
If you are facing a DUI charge anywhere in the Metro-Detroit area (Oakland, Macomb or Wayne County) and are looking for a lawyer, be a good consumer and do your homework. Read around, and then check around. All of my consultations are done right over the phone, when you call in. We’re really friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. You can reach my office Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 586-465-1980. We’re here to help.