Michigan OWI 2nd Offense and the Issue of a Drinking Problem in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties – Part 1

There is nothing good about picking up a 2nd Offense DUI charge anywhere. In fact, depending on where the charge arises, it’s fair to say things simply go from bad to worse. This article will focus on those individuals who use that 2nd Offense charge as a life-changing wake up call and start dealing with a drinking problem, and how that can positively affect the outcome of their case. This article will be based upon my 20 years’ experience as a DUI Lawyer who has made a nearly lifelong study of Alcoholism and Recovery, and how those concepts are so fundamental to handling DUI cases. It’s a long, involved subject, so our discussion of it will be broken into 4 installments.

The exact statistics are debatable, but it is safe to say that the overwhelming majority of people who pick up a 2nd Offense Drunk Driving charge have an alcohol problem. Under Michigan Law, a 2nd Offense DUI within 7 years makes a person a “habitual offender,” resulting in additional penalties and mandated alcohol treatment. In other words, the State basically concludes that a person who gets a 2nd OWI within 7 years has an alcohol problem.

Drinking Problem2.jpgExcept for the truly rare person facing a 2nd Offense DUI who DOES NOT have an alcohol problem, there are really 3 kinds of people in this situation:

  1. Those in Denial, or who just don’t see a problem (yet),
  2. Those who sense something is wrong, but are struggling to control or fix it, and
  3. Those who finally have the light switch flipped and really get it.

Let’s first talk about that 3rd group. Very often, when I meet with someone who really “gets it,” they talk to me in terms of “surrender, ” being sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and “not being able to lie to myself anymore.” I’m often told that as they sit in the Jail cell, waiting for whatever is going to happen to happen, they realize that the common denominator to all the crap and trouble in their life is alcohol. Quite often, this “epiphany” is more a confirmation of a lingering feeling they’ve wrestled with than a surprising “a-ha” moment.

I think that most people fall into the 2nd group, those who can no longer deny that there is some kind problem, but who have not yet clearly defined it. These are the people who have had, to some extent or other, that “lingering feeling” I mentioned in discussing those who finally “get it.”

At a minimum, most people sitting in jail waiting to be Bonded out on for a 2nd DUI know they “can’t do that again.” Exactly what that means will be the subject of an internal debate raging inside them. And this provides a convenient stopping off point to discuss what I see, time and time again, as one of the hallmarks of a drinking problem and one of the landmarks of Recovery.

This whole notion of “I can’t do that again” is really symptomatic of a recognition of a need to get control over a problem. In other words, if a person facing a 2nd DUI has thought no further about their drinking than to conclude they simply can’t get another DUI, it represents the first ray of light cast upon their problem. They know something needs to be fixed.

Let’s say Debbie Drinker has just been arrested for her 2nd DUI within 7 years. As she’s sitting in Jail, waiting to be released, she knows she has to reign in her partying. She knows that she cannot afford another DUI, so she vows to never drink and drive again, ever. She hasn’t gone so far as to decide not to drink, just not drink and then drive.

This is a classic case of a felt or perceived need to control or cut down drinking behavior.

Perhaps Debbie is successful for a while. She may even completely avoid drinking and driving. Statistically speaking, however, it is quite likely that at some point, Debbie will come to realize that her drinking is the problem, not just drinking and driving. Debbie will see that most, if not all of the problems in her life arise from her alcohol use.

If, at some future time, Debbie does give up the ghost and become clean and sober, she’ll look back on this attempt to control or limit her drinking as clear evidence of a problem, and not any viable attempt to deal with it.

Let’s use another example: Most readers have been to some little kid’s birthday party at one time or another. Whether it was 15 years ago, or last week, most of us can relate to going to little Timmy’s Sponge Bob party, or Baby Tina’s Barney party. You get there, present in hand, and at some point the mom gives you a little Sponge Bob or Barney paper plate with a slice of cake on it. In addition, you get a Sponge Bob or Barney napkin and a plastic fork.

How many people have to seriously think about limiting the number of pieces of cake they eat at such a party? Does anyone have to go into that party with a working plan to only eat 1 or 2 pieces of cake? Of course not!

The reason, of course, is that practically no one has a birthday-cake eating problem. You might eat one piece, maybe two. Perhaps you’ll pass altogether. Whatever you eat or not, there’s no conscious plan to control the amount of birthday cake you consume.

Someone with an eating disorder can’t do that. Why? Because they have an eating problem!

At the point there is any need, or perceived need, to control or limit the amount a person drinks, they already have a problem. Any temporary success with actually limiting their consumption misses the point. The need to limit it in the first place ONLY exists because they already have a problem.

The irony of this is that its truth is only recognized in hindsight. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to convince a person who feels a need to limit their drinking that such a need is proof itself of a problem for which the only solution is to stop drinking. Once a person stops drinking, however, and as they look back over the evolution of their problem, right up to the point of finally getting sober, they see those attempts to control, cut down or limit their drinking as desperate, doomed-to-fail attempts at reigning in a problem with which they hadn’t yet come to grips.

In part 2 of this article, we’ll continue our examination of 2nd Offense DUI and how a person’s Denial or recognition their alcohol problem can affect the outcome of their case.