Everyone knows that a 3rd offense DUI is a big deal. In this short article, I want to go beyond most of the legal and technical stuff and examine one simple, but important aspect of these cases: the where factor. Here, in the Tri-County area of Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, where you get a DUI has a huge impact on how your case will play out, especially if it’s a 3rd offense, felony charge. I have examined many other facets of 3rd offense cases in my other DUI articles on this blog, so our focus here will be on the importance of location of a 3rd offense case really is, especially when we’re comparing Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, where I practice. To be sure, this is a deep subject, and it would be easy to do a many page, multi-part summary, but that’s exactly what we’re NOT going to do.
In order to really appreciate the influence of geography on 3rd offense drunk driving charges, we first need to sort out a few things. There is a general notion that of the 3 local counties, Oakland County is the “toughest,” Wayne the most lenient, and Macomb, somewhere in-between. There is some truth to this, but it’s not entirely accurate, particularly as it applies to 3rd offense drunk driving cases. As a DUI lawyer who specifically concentrates his representation in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, these differences are important to me every single workday. Any notion of which place is tougher versus more lenient must really account for 2 key factors that underlie every DUI case (and every criminal charge, for that matter): the prosecutor and the Judge.
If you’re familiar with the greater Detroit area, then you know there is a kind of unique “vibe” to each of the 3 counties. This “vibe” is reflected in the bench of each county, meaning the aggregate of its sitting Judges. This can become something of a chicken or the egg debate, but what really matters is that, as a group, the Judges in any particular county are largely a reflection of that county. The county prosecutor, however, is also a key player in all this. Whereas each of the local counties is made up of numerous district and circuit Judges, every county has only 1 elected prosecutor, and that person determines all the policies for how things are done and what kind of breaks (or not) can be given in all criminal cases. The interplay of these 2 factors – the Judge and the prosecutor – has everything to do with what ultimately happens to anyone facing a state-charged DUI. All 2nd and 3rd offense DUI’s are brought by the state, and, depending on the arresting agency (like the Michigan State Police), some 1st offense charges are state cases, as well. Thus, it will ALWAYS be the county prosecutor behind 3rd offense, felony charges.
Consider this example: the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office doesn’t usually plea bargain in 3rd offense DUI cases, whereas both the Macomb County and Wayne County Prosecutors often do. That might lead one to quickly conclude that Oakland is tougher, or worse, but such a conclusion misses the importance of the Judge’s role in the outcome of every case. Let me explain further: Michigan’s DUI law does not require a person convicted of a 2nd offense DUI to do any jail time, but it does mandate that anyone convicted of a 3rd offense must serve a minimum of 30 days. As straightforward as that may sound, it’s not, because it’s entirely plausible for one person to have his or her 3rd offense felony DUI reduced to a 2nd offense misdemeanor yet wind up doing more than 30 days in jail, while someone else, who doesn’t get any kind of plea bargain, may nevertheless be allowed to serve the 30 days on a work release tether program without ever having actually go back and spend another night in jail. Plea bargains are important, but far from the end-all in criminal cases.
When a person is facing a 3rd offense charge, being proactive is more important than ever. That sounds easy enough; you should get into counseling, then, right? The answer is a hybrid between yes and maybe. This is where knowing the differences between the counties becomes critical to producing the best outcome in any given DUI case. This will probably sound harsher than the way I mean it, but there is little benefit to having a lawyer who spends all or most of his or her time in just one county handle a 3rd offense DUI in either of the others. Oakland has a way of doing things unique to itself, as do both Wayne and Macomb, as well. A guy like me knows them all. Thus, I understand that there are things that can easily be done in Wayne that cannot be done in Oakland, and, while possible to accomplish in Macomb, are rather difficult.
Therefore, when a person shows up charged with a 3rd offense DUI, any questions like “Should I start going to AA?” or “Should I get into counseling?” have to first be evaluated in light of where the case is pending. For example, both the Macomb and Wayne County Prosecutors will, in certain situations, allow plea bargains (from a 3rd offense felony to a 2nd offense misdemeanor) that, in turn, will enable a person to get into sobriety court. This is easiest when a person lives within the county where the offense is pending, but at any given time, I am always transferring some client or other into a sobriety court across county lines, and have done that numerous times. The Oakland County Prosecutor, however, will usually not allow for a 3rd offense to be reduced to a 2nd offense, pretty much killing any chance of a person getting into sobriety court.
Accordingly, if a person is considering a sobriety court program, and he or she is a genuine candidate for it, we may hold off on, or at least limit, jumping into any kind of counseling right out of the gate. Remember, this article is an overview, and I could probably write an entire book about this situation all by itself, but for our purposes here, what’s important is that the answer to any question of “Should I get into counseling” is a resounding “it depends.” And as I’ve tried to make clear thus far, one of the primary factors affecting that decision is where the case is pending. This also means, however, that if a person is charged with a 3rd offense DUI in Oakland County, then we’ll look at counseling and treatment options more closely and right away. By contrast, those considerations are not as urgent in many cases pending in Macomb or Wayne.
Another important part of any 3rd offense case is whether or not the charge is a “true” 3rd offense charge, meaning whether the person only has 2 prior DUI’s. Because there is no charge higher than a 3rd offense, a person may have 12 prior DUI’s, and number 13 can still only be charged as a 3rd offense. Many people have 3 or 4 priors, meaning that many 3rd offense charges are actually a person’s 4th or 5th. Here again, where the case is pending becomes a key factor in how things can and should be handled, and how they’ll ultimately play out simply because things are different from one county to the next.
This isn’t to say that there is some rigid, county-specific way to handle 3rd offense cases, but it is important to understand how things are typically done in any and every one of them, meaning to understand the unique “vibe” that is specific to each of the 3 counties. It is important to work within the structure of each county, but to do that, one first has to know exactly what that structure and vibe really is. Beyond that, however, a lawyer must be an effective advocate and a lot better than a mere puppet in order to drive the best results possible in any given case. I have, on many occasions, persuaded a Judge to do something that he or she hasn’t done before by explaining how a Judge in a different court has done it. As much you don’t want a lawyer who doesn’t know better than to bank on some approach or plan that isn’t going to fly, being stuck with an attorney who is merely complacent and resigns him or herself to “this is the way they do it” means giving up control over your own destiny and just getting carried along for the ride. That’s not good, either. Understanding these nuances is basic to developing a successful strategy.
There are countless examples of how things are different in 3rd offense cases between Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, but the larger point here is that they ARE different, and that knowing those differences is key to knowing how to best handle a case is any one of them. As I noted at the outset, there is a lot to all of this, but my goal here has been just to focus on the fact that things are different from one county to the next, and that a lawyer must understand that, and know most of those key differences through experience in order to drive the best outcome for his or her client. I certainly do.
If you’re looking to hire a lawyer for a 3rd offense (or any) DUI case in either Oakland, Macomb or Wayne County, do your homework. Read articles like this, and always try to read between the lines, as well, keeping an eye out for real information. You’ll know it when you see it. When you’re ready to move forward, start checking around. Be a good consumer and ask questions, but don’t just look for the things you want to hear. All of my consultations and initial case screenings are both confidential and convenient, because they are done over the phone, right when you call. You can reach my office Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 1-855-DUI-MICH (855-384-6424). We’re really friendly people and will be glad to give you our take on your situation.