In part 4 of this article, we began looking at the mandatory alcohol assessment (screening) in Michigan DUI cases, how that’s part of the larger, PSI (pre-sentence investigation) process, and how all of that is influenced by the alcohol bias. As I pointed out, one of the questions on every alcohol screening instrument (test) asks if the person completing it has ever been arrested for an alcohol-related traffic offense. Thus, anyone taking such a test because of a DUI begins with a handicap. Moreover, the fact that a person is in a probation office for an interview following a DUI means that, on at least one occasion, drinking has had a substantial negative impact on his or her life. Here, in part 5, we’ll direct our focus to the written sentencing recommendation that is sent to the Judge by the probation officer after, and as a result of, the pre-sentence investigation and alcohol assessment.

AAAAA-300x293This is really THE key to what happens to anyone going through a DUI, and you can take this much to the bank: Every Judge, in every court, follows the PSI sentencing recommendation very closely. Most will follow it to the very letter, but you won’t find ANY judge who will deviate significantly from what has been recommended by his or her probation officer. This means that the sentencing recommendation is really the blueprint for what is going to happen in a Michigan DUI case.

This means that it is imperative to be thoroughly prepared for the alcohol screening test and the PSI (especially the interview with the probation officer) beforehand, because the key to success is to get a better (meaning more lenient) sentencing recommendation in the first place. Remember, success in a DUI case is always best measured by what does NOT happen to you. In that context, less is always more. Part of being thoroughly prepared means coming to understand how the alcohol bias does, in fact, affect the PSI and screening process.

In part 3 of this analysis of how the alcohol bias in the court system affects all DUI cases in Michigan, we saw how the endless parade of DUI arrest videos does nothing but reinforce the alcohol bias. We also saw how the bias is further reinforced because, while every DUI driver promises that “it won’t happen again,” some of these same people (or others who have made the same promise to a different Judge) return to court for their 2nd or 3rd DUI charge, or otherwise test positive for alcohol while under a probation condition forbidding them from drinking. We left off having touched on how the alcohol bias affects the key role of the probation officer plays in determining what happens in a DUI case. Here, in part 4, we’ll take a closer look at what the probation officer actually does, and why that’s so important.

102088255-stock-vector-hand-holding-banner-with-pay-attention-please-vector-illustration-300x251In DUI cases, it is the probation officer who administers and scores the legally required alcohol assessment test. He or she will also conduct an in-person interview with the person going through the DUI, and then put together a full background and profile of him or her. Using these things, and relying upon the results of the alcohol screening test, the probation officer will thereafter write up a sentencing recommendation that must be forwarded to the Judge, outlining exactly what kind of sentence the person should receive.

It’s really impossible to overstate how decisive the written recommendation made by the probation officer is to the outcome of a DUI case. In fact, it’s not wrong to say that, in many ways, the probation officer is as important as the Judge, while in other ways, the probation is even more important. As we’ll see, the alcohol bias directly affects how probation officers perceive and do things, and therefore directly impacts how they go about their jobs. Here again, I don’t mean to imply anything ill-intentioned or nefarious about this, other than to point out that the alcohol bias is just there. Although it escapes conscious notice, it does, in a very real way, directly impact what ultimately happens to everyone who goes to court for a DUI charge.

In part 2 of this article, we continued our in-depth examination of the alcohol bias in DUI cases. Here, in part 3, we’re going to keep going, and we’ll begin by exploring how police car dash-cam video reinforces the bias. From there, we’ll move on to the “it will never happen again” promises Judges hear every day, and then conclude this section by noting the ultra-important role of the probation officer, which we’ll analyze more fully in part 4. The point I want to drive home right now is that what Judges and the rest of the people in the court system (including probation officers) see and hear every day only reinforces the alcohol bias and their existing notions about drinking and DUI drivers. As DUI lawyers, it crucial for us to understand this, and help each client navigate around it, rather than letting him or her plow straight into it.

445_220505-1-300x300One of the most “visible” reinforcers of the alcohol bias is video, and specifically, video of traffic stops, field sobriety tests and DUI arrests. It is pretty much standard practice, in our office to obtain and watch the police-car, dash-cam video in every DUI case we take. Along with that, we’ll often obtain any other related videos, like the booking video, or body-cam video, or any other video that we think relevant. Over the years, we have seen more DUI arrest videos than we could possibly count. We do this to find something we can use to get a case knocked out, or to drive a really favorable plea bargain.

Videos can be great, but it must be used in a very calculated way. For example, in one particular DUI case that I managed to get dismissed, I presented only the specific, limited part of the video – up to the traffic stop – that showed how my client was NOT driving erratically, contrary to what the police officer had described in the written report. For strategic reasons, I stopped the video at the very point when my client stopped his car and didn’t present anything that happened afterwards.

In part 1 of this article, we began a comprehensive, multi-installment look at the “alcohol bias” underlying every DUI case within the court system. In this second part, we’ll continue our examination, this time focusing on how the court’s experiences with DUI cases serves to reinforce the bias. This will not be an examination of the legalities involved in DUI cases, or anything like that. Instead, we’re looking at what those who work in the court system see, day-in and day-out, that builds upon the statistical reality that DUI drivers, as a group, have a higher rate of drinking problems than the population at large, and causes the court to believe that they require “special” handling.

download-xxxEarlier, in part 1, I noted that in Michigan, the State Police are required, by law, to audit and track every DUI case from arrest through final disposition each and every year. Although the marketing messages of many lawyers might lead you to think otherwise, the fact is that less than 2% of all the cases that make it to court are dismissed, or “knocked out” for any reason. Here, it’s worth pointing out again that, within that small group who do manage to get out of a DUI charge, most have their cases dismissed for legal problems with the evidence.

If those numbers aren’t bad enough, it gets much worse when we drill down to the percentage of people who actually “win” and beat a DUI charge at trial. Each year, less than 0.2 (that’s less than 2-tenths of one percent) of people charged with a DUI actually go to trial and get found “not guilty.” Among the more than 31,000 people arrested for a regular DUI in 2018, only 48 went to trial and won.  In 2017, out of the 31,000-plus people arrested for a DUI, a mere 31 were acquitted after trial.

Underlying every Michigan DUI case, and just about everything that happens in it, is the “alcohol bias” in the court system. In fact, it can be argued that this alcohol bias essentially controls how DUI cases proceed through the legal system. This is not to suggest that there is anything malicious about it, because the bias exists independent of anyone’s intentions (good or bad). Understanding the alcohol bias is key to really understanding the court system, and the reasons for the DUI process. Being able to see how the alcohol bias influences those who work within the court system helps explain why it directly and significantly impacts every single DUI case.

TakeNote270x270I have written about the alcohol bias before, but in this article, I want to really dive into it. This multi-part installment will be, by far, one of the most important of the more than 425 DUI articles I have written and published to date, and will have its own section within my blog topics, as I anticipate linking back to it often. What will be covered is fundamental to why courts do the things they do in DUI cases. It’s important to note that the alcohol bias is largely subconscious, generally operating below the awareness of those who work within the court system. Just like oxygen, the alcohol bias may be invisible, but it is also everywhere.

The big impact of the alcohol bias, at least in 1st offense cases, is that anyone coming into court for a DUI is assumed to be at-risk to be a problem drinker. Therefore, this person should be ordered to take a break from all drinking and be required to provide breath and/or urine samples to prove that he or she isn’t. The alcohol bias is grounded in fact; studies have consistently shown that, as a group, DUI drivers have a higher incidence of alcohol problems than the population at large. The real-world implication of that is that anyone walking into court for an OWI charge does so as an identified member of an at-risk group. If a lawyer doesn’t fully comprehend and start from this point, then his or her client begins with a disadvantage.

As Michigan DUI lawyers, we represent people from every profession and occupation, including a lot of medical and technical people. One of the most common concerns voiced by someone facing a 1st offense DUI is the potential impact of a conviction, and how it will affect their employment and/or licensure. Often, we will hear a statement such as, “I can’t have a DUI on my record.” In this article, I want to take a look at why, for almost everyone (at least for those who don’t drive for a living), a DUI is not the end of your career.

XBSE-288x300In the real world, a DUI is almost never any kind of job killer. In my nearly 30 years as a lawyer, I have only had a handful of people whose employment has been adversely affected by a DUI, and ALL of them were people for whom a clean driving record was a condition of employment. Most had a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License), and could no longer drive a company vehicle because commercial driving privileges are automatically suspended as the result of any alcohol-related driving conviction. Even among this group, most were simply moved to different positions within their companies, and not fired.

This reality stands in stark contrast to how people freak out, and what they dread, when they first get a DUI. This is why, in article after article, I caution against acting out of panic. I advise that everyone take their time as they look for a lawyer, rather than hiring the first attorney who returns an email or phone call. At any rate, the larger point here is that there is a very big disparity between how people think a DUI will hurt their ability to earn a living, and what really happens. Fortunately, things almost never turn out as bad as people fear.

In our capacity as criminal, DUI, and driver’s license restoration attorneys, it’s not unusual for us to be contacted by people who already have a lawyer and either want a second opinion, or are interested in hiring a different attorney. In this article, I want to take a short but serious look at how to tell if someone’s dissatisfaction with their lawyer is based on simply having picked the wrong attorney, or because the client has gone in with unreasonable expectations.

sbsb-290x300When a client’s expectations seem unreasonable, it raises questions about whether or not they were too high to begin with, or if the lawyer (as some do) helped create, or otherwise encouraged them. Part of being a good lawyer is to properly educate the client in order to manage their expectations. This is far different than merely exploiting them, and every lawyer with any experience knows that potential clients often hope for things that are simply impossible or unrealistic. The best example of this is when people want their whole case dismissed, and their legal reasoning in support of that is that they just “can’t have” a conviction go on their record.

While there is money to be made by lawyers who make it seem like they can just make everything go away, it is also inexcusably wrong (and just plain immoral) to allow someone to falsely believe that is a likely outcome. In other words, this is a 2-way street: on the one hand, it is essentially a given that clients will be hopeful that all the charges can be dismissed. On the other hand, it is also a given that a lawyer should know this, and instead of trying to “play” to it by encouraging false beliefs, should make sure the client’s concerns and expectations are addressed honestly.

You cannot win a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case and also use recreational marijuana. This article will look at why anyone who smokes pot (or otherwise even thinks they can occasionally drink) will automatically lose his or her license appeal. There is an exception to this for people who use medical marijuana for a serious condition, but our focus in this article will solely be on the recreational use of weed, how that stands in conflict with any notion of sobriety, and why that will stop a license appeal dead in its tracks.

ZBYYYYY-229x300As driver’s license restoration lawyers, we field an endless stream of calls from people who want to get back on the road legally. Because we guarantee to win every initial license restoration and clearance case we take, my team and I have to screen carefully to make sure a person can win (meaning that he or she is genuinely sober), before we undertake representing him or her. We don’t want to get stuck doing warranty work on a case that was a loser from the start. The recent legalization of recreational marijuana has given rise to the misconception that a person can somehow use it and still win a license restoration or clearance appeal. As we’ll see, this is 100% NOT true.

People in recovery understand that real sobriety specifically excludes the use of any mind or mood-altering, or potentially habit-forming substances, unless medically necessary, and even then, only when there is no suitable alternative. When that happens, the use of any such substances must take place under direct medical supervision. A person who is clean and sober simply cannot drink or get high, ever again. This is basic, fundamental stuff, kind of like “Recovery 101.”

As DUI lawyers, a regular part of our job is explaining to people what happens to the driver’s license in a 1st offense drunk driving case. In this article, I want to focus on that exact issue, and how what does happen to your license depends on whether or not there can be a successful challenge to the evidence, or some kind of plea bargain. Understandably, people get all freaked out about losing their license, but the good news is that if you are facing a 1st offense DUI case, you simply won’t.

CBJ09-power-wheels-corvette-yellow-d-1-300x300Instead, your driving privileges will be “restricted” for a specific period of time, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the final charge in your case. The specific DUI charge you initially face may very well be reduced by a plea bargain (or through a challenge to the evidence) so that the final charge that does, in fact, go on your record, is less serious than what was first brought against you. Because each of the various types of 1st offense DUI charges carry different license consequences, we’ll go through them one-by-one, and look at the specific restriction periods for each, as part of our later discussion.

A little comparison here will help put things into perspective: if you’re convicted of a 2nd or 3rd offense DUI, rather than a 1st offense, then you will truly “lose” your license, because it will be revoked. Revoked means taken away for good, like being expelled from school. This action is mandatory in all repeat drunk driving cases. First offenders only face a suspension (with restrictions), and not a revocation.

There are 3 things you must have in order to win a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case: First, you must have a sufficient period of abstinence. Second, you must be legally eligible. Third, you must have some basic understanding of how to stay sober. This is not to say that just having these things, by themselves, means you will win your case, but rather that, without all 3 of them, you are dead in the water. This article will provide a single-installment overview of these 3 non-negotiable requirements to win a license appeal.

aaa-255x300It helps to know why the Michigan Secretary of State does things the way it does. The written law specifies that “The hearing officer shall not order that a license be issued to the petitioner unless the petitioner proves, by clear and convincing evidence,” that his or her alcohol problem is under control, and likely to remain under control. This means that the hearing officer does not sit impartially, as if he or she is holding a set of evenly balanced scales of justice, in order to decide “yes” or “no”. Instead, they start out with the scales tipped all the way to the “no” side and then require that you pile on enough evidence to tip them the other way.

This is very different than how we think about court cases, both civil and criminal, where, to use our scales of justice imagery, the proceedings begin with the scales set evenly. Each party puts the evidence on their side, in order to tip the scales in their favor. However, in a license appeal, there is only one side. The person appealing for a license is the only party and has the entire burden of proof to show that his or her alcohol problem is under control, meaning that he or she has a “sufficient” period of abstinence, and that his or her alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control, meaning hat he or she presents as a safe bet to never drink again. Let’s see how all this ties in with the 3 conditions I listed, above.