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In this multi-part article, I want to examine 11 things to consider as you go about hiring a lawyer after being arrested for an OWI offense. A DUI is serious, but rather than adding more academic (boring) or useless (self-promoting) drivel to what’s out there, I thought we could at least make this interesting. To do that, we’ll examine the 11 “R’s” of finding a Michigan DUI lawyer: 1. Relax, 2. Read and learn, 3. Recognize who you are and what kind of lawyer is right for you, 4. Rate those legal skills that are important to your case, 5. Resolve your budget, 6. Reject the meaningless slogans, 7. Resist buying into what you want to hear, 8. Remain skeptical, 9. Realize what’s really “different,” 10. Rank the lawyers by what you need, and, 11. Reach out to those who actually “speak” to you. Although there is an order to how I go over these topics, each section does, for the most part, stand on its own, and can be read individually.

R-1-300x200To the extent it’s relevant, I will focus on OWI cases in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, where I concentrate my practice as a Michigan DUI lawyer. Most of the time, a person arrested for a DUI is held in jail overnight, and then released the next day, often with various papers (these include, among other things, a temporary driving permit, a bond receipt, a property list and a citation, or ticket) and some instruction to either contact the court, or just wait to be contacted. Most people aren’t at their best when all this goes down, and often don’t remember exactly what they were told. If you hire a DUI lawyer, like me, you don’t have to worry about all this stuff, because it will be taken care of for you. Chances are, though, you’re still freaking out a bit.

While you shouldn’t rush into any decisions too quickly, neither should you wait too long to get going on this and at least start looking for a lawyer. Although it’s not important to hire a lawyer immediately, don’t sit on this until the very last minute, either. In the real world, people tend to either rush to hire the nearest lawyer, or else they wait until the 11th hour to start looking. Neither is the best way to go about this, but even if you haven’t taken care of this as timely as you should have, don’t compound your problems by running to the first lawyer who calls you back, or getting desperate enough to call one of those “phones answered 24 hours” operations. The first thing you need to do is relax.

A fair-sized number of my clients are people who, before hiring me, have lost a previous attempt to either win back their license or obtain a clearance to remove a Michigan hold on their driving record. In this article, I want to talk about losing a license appeal. I don’t have much experience losing. Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance appeals are my special niche (I handle more than 200 a year), and I guarantee to win every case I take, so we’re talking either about someone who has tried on their own, or with some other lawyer. Among the cases I handle after someone has lost, more than half have tried on their own, with no lawyer. Almost without exception, those people who did hire a lawyer hired someone who did not specifically concentrate in license restoration cases, but may have listed them, or had a blurb about them, on a website. Almost every out-of-state client who has previously filed for a clearance and lost did it on his or her own.

maxresdefault-300x223It is not unusual for me to be contacted by people who’ve lost right after they get the bad news from the Secretary of State. One of the first things they want to know is if they can appeal the decision. I have to explain that while appealing to court is, legally speaking an option, your chances of winning are somewhere between slim to none, especially for those people who played lawyer and represented themselves. Not to put too fine a point on it, but over the course of my 27-plus years as a lawyer, I have NEVER seen anyone who lost a do-it-yourself appeal who I thought had ANY chance of winning an appeal in court.

It’s important to understand that if you appeal to court, it has nothing to do with merely disagreeing with the result, but rather proving that the process used by the hearing officer to get that result was legally flawed. In other words, the law provides the hearing officers with a lot of discretion to say yes or no, and even if a Judge concludes that he or she would have ruled differently, that’s not enough to overturn the decision. Instead, the Judge basically has to find that the hearing officer committed a certain kind of significant legal error. Good luck with that. Of the handful of court appeals I’ve done over the last decade or so, I’ve won them all, but those were all cases that I personally handled. If you’ve lost, or you do lose a license restoration case, it almost certainly means that you’re going to have to wait until you can file again next year to get it right.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re facing a Michigan OWI charge. The more you research, the more you learn and the more you realize how much there is to learn. You could, quite literally, spend forever on this. There is a lot for even the world’s greatest DUI lawyer to keep learning. Rather than drive yourself crazy, the best thing you can do is to hand your troubles over to a professional who can figure out exactly what to do. Everybody in this situation wants the same thing – either for the whole case to just go away, or to get the best and most lenient outcome possible. Despite how freaked out you may be right now about jail, get that off your mind. In a 1st offense case, and with only one possible exception in the whole Tri-County area of Oakland, Macomb and Wayne County, you’re not going to jail, period. In fact, I can more likely than not keep you out of jail in most 2nd offense cases (and in plenty of 3rd offense cases, as well). You need to take a deep breath and relax, because you’re going to get through this.

You-can-get-through-this-237x300Anyone facing a 1st offense OWI charge shouldn’t stress out and waste the mental energy thinking about jail, because it’s almost certainly not on the menu. Once you know that you’re not going to jail, then getting through that DUI means avoiding and minimizing the other legal consequences (usually part of probation) that are realistically possible, and there are plenty of those to manage. It’s similar for anyone facing a 2nd offense DUI. The mechanics of what needs to be done in a 2nd offense case are different, but even if your case is a nightmare and you wind up in front of the toughest Judge around, any realistic jail term is measurable in days, not months. No matter what your situation or who your Judge, however, in a 2nd offense OWI case you WILL get stuck on probation for anywhere from 1 to 2 years (18 months is not uncommon). Probation, by its very nature (especially in a 2nd offense case) does put you squarely in the sights of all kinds of things you have to do, including breath and urine testing, classes, counseling, support group meetings, community service and more. This is what we need to work on and, to the extent possible, help you avoid.

My job, as a Michigan DUI lawyer, is not only to shield you from as much legal fallout as possible, but also to help relieve you of the emotional burden and stress that follows a DUI arrest. I want to make sure you know that I’ve got your back – I will take care of this for you. Knowing you’re in good hands is all well and fine, but most people still have questions about what they’re facing, what’s being done, and what it all means. In terms of explaining things so that you understand what’s happening and why, I doubt there is any lawyer or law office that is as friendly or helpful as mine. I’m the guy on the iPad at 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. answering questions. I HONESTLY don’t think any lawyer has ever had the amount of compliments in his or her whole career that I get every month about my staff and how they’ve helped someone get through all this. When it comes to answering questions and just “being there,” nobody does it better.

In most of my prior driver’s license restoration articles, I have broken down and examined what actually happens in a Michigan license reinstatement or clearance appeal hearing. I’ve also written articles covering the all-important prep session I have with every client before he or she walks into the hearing room. In this article, I want to go beyond the mechanics of the hearing itself and dig deeper, into its real meaning and purpose.

222-300x189Procedurally, a hearing mostly involves answering questions. Depending on which hearing officer is presiding over it, most of the questions will either be asked by him or her, or by the lawyer, instead. Every hearing involves a certain number of the same core questions, although each hearing officer has his or her own particular areas of interest. For example, if a person answers that he or she still goes to AA meetings, one hearing officer may ask something about the steps, a second may want to know how often he or she attends, while yet another may just say “okay,” nod, and then move on to a different subject.

One of the most important things I try to get across to my clients as we start our prep session is to relax, because I think there is a huge overestimation about the importance of the hearing. To be sure, this is a critical step and nothing about it can or should be overlooked, but this general idea that somehow, when a hearing begins it suddenly becomes “SHOWTIME!” is all wrong . As I want to make clear in the next paragraphs, the hearing itself is really nothing more than just an opportunity to tell your story and answer questions about it. It may sound trite, but as long as we’re going in to tell the truth, then there is absolutely nothing to worry about.

This article is about about driver’s license penalties in a Michigan OWI first offense case and will provide simple answers to the question “what will happen to my license?” One of the big problems with most examinations of driver’s license penalties in DUI cases is that they quickly get complicated. This article will streamline all of that and look specifically at what happens to your driver’s license in all 1st offense DUI cases, including regular OWI and High BAC charges. To be clear, a DUI is considered a 1st offense if the arrest for it occurs more than 7 years after a person has been convicted of any other DUI offense. Obviously, if you don’t have any prior DUI’s, then you can only be charged as a first-offender.

ani02-300x213The first thing to understand about a DUI case is that the charge first made against you is not necessarily the charge you’ll wind up with on your record. For now, we’ll forego any examination of the off-chance that the police screwed things up so badly that the whole case against you gets thrown out of court, and focus, instead, on the far more likely situation in which that won’t happen. First offenders are almost always charged with either OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) or High BAC (Operating with a BAC of .17 or greater). Most of these charges, however, can be “reduced” to something far less serious through plea negotiations.

This means that when a person receives a ticket or a court notice that indicates they’ve been charged with OWI or OWI w/BAC .17 or greater (High BAC), it’s quite likely that a plea deal can be made to drop that more serious initial charge to something less severe, which will, in turn, mean they’ll get less serious penalties, including driver’s license sanctions. This is huge, because often enough, people will start looking things up online and then freak out about losing their driver’s license. The first takeaway here, then, is that there is a very good chance you will not have to deal with the license penalties that accompany the DUI charge that’s on your ticket, or otherwise initially made against you.

In part 1 of this article, we examined the first 2 requirements for a successful license appeal file with the Michigan Secretary of State: being genuinely sober and legally eligible. A person who has not honestly quit drinking is exactly who the state wants to prevent from getting back on the road. We also saw how you must be legally eligible, time-wise, to file an appeal. No matter how sober you are, you can’t file until your period of revocation is over. Although the initial period of revocation is straightforward, this can become a problem because revocations get extended if someone gets caught driving in the meantime. I also made clear that while these 2 things are essential to being able to file and win a license restoration or clearance case, there is one other key requirement, that you be “practically eligible,” as well. The notion of being “practically eligible” is kind of an umbrella term that means you must meet all of the state’s other criteria for granting a license appeal.

three-300x208What are those “other” criteria? Here we stumble into things that have developed as interpretations of the license appeal rules. Most of these things are either not obvious or otherwise unknowable no matter how many times you read the published rules. In many of my previous articles, I have called these mostly unwritten requirements “a million little rules.” How many ever there actually are, the larger point is that these are not specific points of law, but rather the interpretation and application of the broader law and rules in the real world.

Consider this example: “sobriety” is counted only when it’s considered “voluntary sobriety.” This means that, generally speaking (with a huge and notable exception for sobriety court – more on that later), any time a person spends on probation or parole without drinking is still not considered voluntary sobriety, because the person is under orders to not drink and risks punishment for doing so. Such oversight with the underlying threat of punishment is called a “controlled environment.” Often enough a person will quit drinking right after a DUI arrest. The way the state sees things, it doesn’t matter how strongly such a person may have committed to sobriety on the inside, but rather what can be observed on the outside. Thus, it’s really only when a person is no longer required to not drink that we can see his or her sobriety as being truly voluntary.

As a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer who handles and wins about 200 cases a year, I must be able to quickly assess a situation to determine if and when a person can move forward and win his or her license back. This analysis is instinctive to me and my staff, as it should be for any office that concentrates in driver’s license restoration cases. As I was thinking about this, I realized that explaining it would make a good article, because there are 3 primary things that determine if and when a person can move forward with a license reinstatement or clearance appeal file with the Michigan Secretary of State. In this short, 2-part installment, we’ll look at each of them, and how they interact.

There is a specific, important order to the 3 conditions that that must be met in order to file and win a driver’s license appeal, and I’ll explain why as we go through them. First, and by far most important, I need to know if you have quit drinking. If not, then there’s no need to look at anything else, because you must be genuinely sober to win a license appeal. Second, I must confirm that you are legally eligible to file. The state has very specific rules about when you can proceed, and there is no getting around them. Third, you must also be able to win (or, to put it another way, “practically eligible” to win) your case. This means that beyond the sobriety and simple time requirements, you must also meet certain other criteria established by the state.

In the last article posted to the driver’s license restoration section of this blog, I outlined how my first-time win guarantee is not only good for the client, but also helps keep me in check from taking a case that won’t win. As I pointed out, I handle about 200 or so license cases each year, but, in truth, those represent less than half the inquiries I receive. Most people who contact my office – ready and willing to pay my fee, no less – aren’t completely sober. I don’t take those cases. Beyond all the ethical, moral and practical considerations (the whole point of the license appeal process is to make sure a person has honestly quit drinking and is a safe bet to never drink again), I guarantee to win every case I take, and people who are unable to prove they’ve really quit drinking simply cannot win. My guarantee ties me to each client until we’ve won, and to be blunt about it, I make my money winning these cases the first time around, not getting stuck doing “warranty” work that effectively doubles my effort while slashing my income in half. This makes it imperative that I correctly sort the winners from the losers before I jump in. Now, let’s examine how I do that.

One of the best things about my guarantee to win every Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance case I take is that it’s good for the client, but it also serves me well because it prevents me from accepting a case that’s not ready to win. As much as I have written about the license restoration process, how things are done in my office, and even my guarantee, it only recently occurred to me that my guarantee is really a 2-way street, and that it protects me from making a mistake in accepting a case in the first place as much as it does from making one in any case I have already taken.

0a7b6d160fa485dc2a7f97449bf7e3c8-300x278Sure, it’s great for me to be able to boast that any potential client will only pay me once to get back on the road. Most people correctly understand that to mean that I make my money winning license appeals the first time around, not having to come back next year and do “warranty work.” This effectively removes the risk for anyone who hires me. But it’s not just the client who takes a risk in this transaction; I do, as well, because if I don’t succeed, my work load doubles, and my profit gets cut in half. The way I see it, this provides a great incentive for me to win the first time around, but to also make sure that I don’t accept a case that is not quite ready to succeed.  In a sense, it keeps me honest to both my client and myself.

If I didn’t have a guarantee that obligated me to stick with my client until he or she wins, it might be easier to persuade me to take a case that’s not so good. For example, while I am sympathetic to how badly some people need to be able to drive again, needing a license has nothing to do with being able to win it back. People will often express a sense of desperation about how much they need to be able to drive, and how much not having a license is holding them back. I feel for that.  Because of my guarantee, however, I will never get sucked into that kind of mess and file a license appeal unless I know the person can and will win it. As one of the Secretary of State hearing officer puts it, “everybody needs a license.”

This article will be about the penalties for the various OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) offenses in Michigan. We’re first going to look at this from a “real world” perspective, because it’s CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to understand that there is a huge difference between the potential penalties for a DUI on paper and how they’re actually handed down in court. This may help the reader understand what I mean: only a few years ago, before fireworks became legal in Michigan, the law provided a potential penalty of 90 days in jail for blowing off a single firecracker, roman candle, or bottle rocket. Despite that having been the actual written law, nobody EVER went to jail for fireworks. At worst, a person would be given a ticket and required to pay a fine. The point is that there is a difference – often huge – between how things read (in theory) and how they work (in practice).

howI point this out because it’s typical for someone charged with a drunk driving to hop on the computer, do a little research (remember, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”), see the potential legal penalties for their charge, and then start freaking out. My goal here is to explain away those completely misinformed fears. We will, of course, post the potential penalties provided by law, but I urge the reader to take them with the proverbial grain of salt and remember the difference between how they read on paper versus how they are imposed in court.

Let’s start with jail, because that’s everyone’s biggest fear. I concentrate my DUI practice specifically in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, so what we’ll examine here applies to the Metro-Detroit, Tri-County area. No one goes to jail in a 1st offense DUI case, with the only possible exception being one Judge in Oakland County who often enough gives first-timers a few days in the cooler to think about things. In other words, although a 1st offense OWI is, technically speaking, punishable by up to 93 days in jail, there’s no point getting worked about something that’s NOT going to happen. I’m not going to go off on a tangent about “fear-based marketing,” but you should absolutely run away from lawyer or organization selling the idea that they’ll keep you out of jail in a 1st offense DUI. You’re not going, period.

When it comes to driver’s license restoration and clearance cases, winning is everything. For my part, I guarantee to win every case I take, but despite that, lots of people still ask about my win percentage. As numbers go, my win percentage has always stayed right around 98%, but even at that, the lawyer in me cannot resist wanting to explain the other 2%…

– Like when some guy testifies at his hearing that he has been completely alcohol-free for about 5 years, and toy-car-vs-real-car-on-slope0-1-1then the hearing officer spins his computer monitor around and asks why he has pictures of himself and a few of his buddies on a boat from the previous summer, and they’re all drinking and holding beers in their hands.

– Or when a person with 8 or 9 DUI’s and who doesn’t have a ton of sober time asks me if we should wait to file, and I explain that we could wait forever, remaining stuck in what is called the “paralysis of analysis,” but since my guarantee means you’ll only pay me once to get back on the road, I suggest we go for it so that if we do lose early on, we’ll be all set for the next appeal.

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