In part 1 of this article, we began our examination of the arraignment in Michigan DUI cases.  Our purpose in this 2-part article is to look at what happens in the real world, and what a person going in for an arraignment can expect after a DUI arrest.  As I noted in the first part, not all drinking and driving charges require that a person actually go to court for the arraignment, and, as a DUI lawyer, I can waive (essentially meaning cancel) it in many cases so that my client doesn’t have to show up.  We learned, in part 1, that the legal purpose of the arraignment is to inform a person of the charge or charges being brought, advise him or her of their constitutional rights, explain the various bond conditions, including that there is to be no drinking or drug use while the case is pending, set a bail or bond amount, if any, and then set up a “testing” schedule that will require the person to provide breath and/or urine samples at specified intervals to make sure he or she isn’t drinking or using any drugs.  In this second part, we’ll begin by looking at the standard conditions of bond that apply in every DUI (and every criminal) case in Michigan, and then we’ll move on to look at the testing requirement.

timothy-mcginty-judgejpg-a0d5cf2c7ae03aa6A quick history lesson may help put things in context here:  Going back over 25 years, to when I was a new lawyer, there was no such thing as testing as a condition of bond because there was no such thing, at least in 1st offense DUI cases, as a “no-drinking” requirement as part of any bond.  In fact, even when 1st offenders were put on probation, it was common for a Judge to only order, as a condition of probation, that a person not drink and drive.  In other words, Judges didn’t order that a person not drink, just not drink and drive.  Then, as social attitudes toward drunk driving evolved, it became common for Judges to order that, while on probation, a DUI offender not drink at all.  Back then, compliance was checked by “random” PBT and urine tests, and those were most often administered when a person would report to his or her probation officer.  It was a later idea to require that anyone arrested for a DUI and waiting for his or her case to come up be required, as a condition of release, to not drink.  It didn’t take long, as the whole testing industry began to boom, to thereafter ensure compliance with an order to not drink while on bond by requiring regular testing, as well.  Slowly but surely this practice has spread throughout the Detroit area and has now become standard operating procedure.

Before getting on to the testing conditions of the bond order, the Judge or Magistrate will either specifically outline the other legal conditions of bond or simply apprise a person that those conditions are on the bond form that he or she has received, or will receive, before leaving court.  Unless otherwise specified on the record in open court, the standard terms and conditions of every bond order in Michigan (for every criminal case, not just DUI charges) always include that the person agree to the following:

The very first formal step in a Michigan DUI (or any criminal case, for that matter) is the arraignment.  This 2-part article will be a real-world examination of what the arraignment is all about.  Nowadays, an increasing number of courts in the Detroit area are requiring people arrested for an OWI charge (the legal term for a drunk driving offense) to show up for this proceeding.  This marks a change from not that long ago, when the vast majority of Detroit-area courts allowed it to be “waived,” or skipped, simply by having the lawyer file certain papers with the court.  The primary reason for this change is the growth of alcohol (and, in some cases, drug) testing as a condition of bond and release in DUI cases.  Because our limited purpose here is to look at what actually happens and what you can expect at an arraignment, we’ll forego all the legal double-talk and any kind philosophical analysis of the whole “testing” requirement.  As we’ll see, testing just is what it is, and that includes often being an exercise in frustration, and always an inconvenience, for those required to do it.

1006-n-mcb-redistrict-wright-750x447There isn’t much difference between what really happens at an arraignment and how it is defined and described in law dictionaries and rule books:  An arraignment is a hearing, held in open court, in which the person charged with an offense (the defendant) is told of the precise charge or charges against him or her, the possible penalties that may be imposed for each, is asked to enter a plea, and is then given rules to follow (conditions of bond) in order to stay out of jail.  Part of the process requires that  bail amount (also called “bond”) be established.  To determine what bail or bond, if any, is set, the Judge or Magistrate will examine a person’s prior record, the nature of the current charge, and his or her ties to the community.  Sometimes, a Judge or Magistrate may release the person without requiring any money.  This is called a “personal recognizance” or just “personal” bond.  This brief description leaves a lot out, but that’s consistent with our mission here, which to bypass all the technical stuff (at least as much as possible) and examine how things really work when you’re standing there, in court.  If you’ve been charged with a DUI and you have to go to an arraignment, it will be in a real courtroom, not in a laboratory or law library.

After most DUI arrests, a person will either be arraigned before he or she is let out of jail, usually the next morning, or he or she will be advised to show up in court on a certain date for an arraignment.  A lawyer is not needed for an arraignment.  There are cases where I will go, but not usually.  To be perfectly candid, a lawyer does not need to go to a DUI arraignment unless there is some risk of the client getting a really high bond, which is far more likely in a 2nd  offense or 3rd offense case, or a DUI causing injury or death cases (I don’t handle death cases), or if there is something specific to address with the Judge that is best handled by experienced counsel, like securing an exception from an expected or standard condition of bond.  Such situations are far more the exception rather than the rule.

In the previous article, I talked about simplifying things if you’ve been arrested for a Michigan DUI.  Instead of wasting time over-analyzing and over-thinking things like the traffic stop and analysis of the evidence, I pointed out of all the DUI arrests in Michigan, less than 1.5% are thrown out of court, and that less than .15% (that’s correct – POINT one five percent) go through a trial and win by a “not guilty” verdict.  That means that under 1.7% of all the DUI cases get “knocked out” of court somehow, and that more than 98.3% of them go all the way through the system.  Of course, everyone wants to be part of that small, lucky group, but your invitation to that club is not a matter of choice beyond making sure you hire a qualified DUI lawyer who doesn’t miss anything.  No matter how badly anyone wants to, if you’ve been charged with a DUI offense, you have less than a 1.7% chance of beating it.  Accordingly, once the evidence has been carefully examined, and assuming that your case is like the 98-plus percent of all the others, it becomes critically important to focus on making things better.  In this article, I want to look at what that really means.  To avoid turning this article into a textbook, we’ll skip the in-depth analysis and instead take a quick (but good enough) look at some simple scenarios to make our point.

not-getting-results-from-your-workouts-its-not-you-its-your-workout-guru-21731037For purposes of this installment, we will assume that all of the evidence in our scenarios has been examined and that the charge is legally solid.  We also need to assume (because it is a deep subject best taken up in another article) that each situation has been (or will be) properly negotiated, and that the best plea bargain or plea deal possible has been worked out.  In some cases, for example, a charge like OWI with a BAC of .17 or greater (High BAC) can be negotiated down to Operating While Visibly Impaired (Impaired).  In other cases, there are no plea bargains that can be negotiated.  In some situations, a 3rd offense (felony) drunk driving can be negotiated down to a 2nd offense (misdemeanor).  While negotiating the best plea deal is important, it is important to remember that the plea itself is not the be-all and end-all of DUI cases.  I often point out that success in a DUI case is judged by what does NOT happen to you.  I think the reader would agree that if Tipsy Tina manages to get her OWI charge reduced to Impaired driving, but winds up in front of the one Judge in the Detroit area who puts most 1st offense DUI drivers in jail, followed by 24 months of demanding, reporting probation, she didn’t do as well as Swerving Sam, who despite not getting any kind of plea bargain on his OWI charge, only had to pay fines and costs and stay out of trouble for a year of non-reporting probation.

No matter how it happens, we come to a point where the plea is what it is.  Whether a person is ultimately convicted of a 1st offense Impaired driving, a 1st offense OWI, a High BAC charge, a 2nd offense OWI, or a 3rd offense OWI, the most important thing thereafter is to limit the consequences he or she will endure.  This is the point of our discussion.  Let’s be even more clear here: The real goal in every DUI case (and every criminal case, for that matter) is to minimize punishment.  This is done, in each and every case, by combining a clear knowledge of the facts and the law with the skillful management of time, perception and science.  As honest as I am, however, and for as much information as I put up on this blog, I must also be somewhat circumspect and reserved here.  I’ve seen enough of the things I have been the first to write about subsequently recycled on other lawyer’s websites.  While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (and I am genuinely flattered by that), I’m not about to teach every other lawyer with internet access how to get better results like mine.  I spent more money than the price of a car on my post-graduate education in addiction studies in order to help my DUI clients enjoy better outcomes in their cases, and be able to guarantee to win every one of my driver’s license cases.  Perhaps most of all, and this is about the only polite way to say this, magicians don’t tell how the magic is done.  That’s a nice way of saying that there is more than this to what I can say here.  As the magic shop tells it, “The secret is told when the trick is sold.” I always want my clients to know exactly what we’re doing, and why, but much of that is best reserved for our private conversations.  Having said that, we’ll be as candid here as we can…

If you’ve been arrested for a DUI in Michigan, you could almost spend forever reading websites and relevant blog articles.  Sometimes, for as much information as a person can find, it is just better to avoid getting overwhelmed and simplify everything by finding a lawyer you can trust to examine and handle everything for you, especially if you’re not being overcharged or getting sold out.  In my role as a Michigan DUI lawyer, I have published well over 250 DUI articles, and most of them are rather detailed, often providing an up-close examination of one, or just a few key aspects of the drunk driving case process.  In this article, I want to skip all of that and focus, instead, on the very real experience of just wanting to get past a DUI as painlessly as possible while knowing that the facts of the case were properly checked out and that the course of action you choose is the absolute best, under the circumstances.

raf,750x1000,075,t,353d77_4d8b4ffd91We cannot overlook that there is big money in the more complicated approaches marketed by some lawyers.  The simple truth, however, is provided by the Michigan State Police Annual Drunk Driving Audit.  This audit is required by law and accounts for every single drinking and driving arrest that takes place each year, as well as every step taken in every one of those cases in every court within the state:  Last year (2015), out of 43,553 DUI and related arrests in Michigan, only 62 people fought their cases at trial and won.  That equals .144% or, to put it in words, zero point one four-four percent, meaning less than .15 percent.  Over the last 5 years, from 2011 through 2015, there have been 244,839 DUI related arrests in Michigan; only 334 of those people went to trial and were found “not guilty” dropping the average success rate from .144 in 2015 to .136% over that 5-year period.  A quick perusal of lawyer websites reveals the popular marketing tactic of listing all the things that “could” potentially be wrong with a DUI case, although, as the numbers show, not often enough to even equal one-quarter of one percent acquittal rate.  A variation on this theme is to run through all the things the police must get right for a DUI charge to stand up in court.  You can do that with just about anything in life and make success sound like a miracle, but the fact is, we all do things involving multiple steps a million times every day without incident.  Making coffee can be made to seem like a ballet of complicated and risky steps, but for most of us, it’s something we do almost on auto-pilot.  Once in a while, we might turn on the coffee maker before we’ve added water, or maybe added 1 scoop of coffee too few, or too many, or even drop and break the mug, but those are the exceptions, and not the rule.  Ditto for DUI arrests.

At the end of the day, a DUI case is all about being able to prove that the person arrested was over the legal limit at the time he or she was driving.  The protections of the legal system are put in place to keep an innocent person from being found guilty of a crime he or she didn’t commit.  If you were not drinking, or you only had 1 or 2 drinks with dinner, then the system is supposed to prevent you from being convicted of DUI.  If you did have a few too many, however, then your only hope to get out of the case completely is that the police hopelessly bungled the evidence against you.  And while things do go wrong for the police once in a while, for the most part, they’re typically not botched so catastrophically that you’ll find a Judge who is anxious to throw a DUI charge out of court.  Judges do NOT view drunk driving cases as a game in which they sit and just hope to find some technical little flaw in the evidence so that they can dismiss all charges.  When is the last time you ever heard of that happening in a drinking and driving case, or, for that matter, ever heard about a Judge known for being “easy” on drunk drivers?  The answer, of course, is never.

If you have been arrested for a drug possession offense in Michigan, whether it’s the simple possession of marijuana, possession of analogues (meaning drugs like Vicodin and Xanax), or other controlled substances, including things like cocaine, ecstasy and heroin, a lot goes through your mind.  Of course, you’re undoubtedly filled with regret (certainly regret at being caught), but chances are, the reality of a possible drug offense on your record also has you worried.  The point of this article is to reassure the reader – whether you’re the person facing the charge, or you’re researching for your child, partner, or someone close to you – that in most cases, many, if not all, of the negative consequences, including a drug conviction on your/their criminal record, can be avoided.

Criminal-RecordsAs of this writing in July of 2016, possession of marijuana (spelled marihuana in the law book) still violates state law except with a medical marijuana card.  Certain municipalities have either de-criminalized or even legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, but chances are, if you’re reading this, it’s because you were pulled over and found to have some in a jurisdiction where it is still illegal.  I point this out because the attitude of some people regarding marijuana is a bit ahead of the law.  For all the argument and analysis about how things should be, or likely will be down the road, the fact is that if you are found to be in possession of marijuana in most places, you will face a misdemeanor drug crime, and like all other possession charges, that subjects you to suspension of your driver’s license, making it all the more important to avoid such penalties by keeping the whole thing off of your record.

To keep this article short, I’ll skip the in-depth analysis of the “legal maneuvers” required to keep a possession charge off of your record.  In the real world, there are generally 2 ways this is done:  For those who are under 24 years of age (in other words, the day of the arrest or citation must be before the person’s 24th birthday), a conviction can be avoided by what is called “HYTA” (pronounced “hi-ta” and formally known as the “Holmes Youthful Trainee Act.”  Until recently it only applied before a person’s 21st birthday, but that has changed.), or what is commonly referred to as 7411 (said like “74-11” and referring to the actual Michigan Compiled Law –MCL 333.7411).  Let’s repeat that more simply; drug possession charges are kept off of a person’s record by either using “HYTA” or “7411.”  Unfortunately, in the real world, cases are often a bit more complicated, like when a person charged with possession of marijuana is also charged with possession of paraphernalia, or a DUI offense, as well.  For anyone over 24, there is no HYTA available, and a conviction for possession of paraphernalia cannot be deferred under section 7411.  This means that the lawyer will often have to do some creative negotiating to keep your record clean.  No matter how you cut it, the bottom line is that you hire a lawyer to make things better, and in the world of drug possession and related charges, that means, first and foremost, keeping everything off of your record.

Many, if not most, of my out-of-state clients who hire me for a Michigan driver’s license clearance case have previously tried and lost an administrative review filed with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS).  Virtually all of these “do-it-yourself” attempts are made without a lawyer.  For as many years as I have been a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I have pretty much learned that most people who hire me for a clearance will do so after having first taken a shot at it on their own.  Accordingly, I don’t waste any time trying to convince someone that he or she shouldn’t try it, but rather just reassure him or her that I’m here if and when things don’t work out.  In this article, I want to remind the reader just how much these “appeals by mail” are statistically doomed and why, if you really want to win a clearance of Michigan’s hold on your driving record, you need to come back to Michigan for a live hearing.  Of course, it is a necessary first requirement to winning a license or clearance appeal that you have honestly quit drinking and are genuinely sober.  If you at least have that, then read on.

Julio_Signals_EMBL-e1441896917423For everything there is to back up these numbers, the plain and simple fact is that about 3 out of 4 administrative reviews are denied.  That means that anyone who thinks about going this route needs to also think seriously about how a 1 out of 4 chance of winning sounds.  Worse yet, you cannot file another new appeal for an entire year, although this is often a source of confusion because a person who is denied can request a hearing to review that denial, although no new evidence can be presented, and that hearing is not “another chance” to plead your case, but rather an opportunity to prove that the first decision was unlawful, which explains why I’ve NEVER seen one of those appeals succeed.  Think of it this way, if you have a 3 out of 4 chance of losing by mail the first time, then you have about a 99.9 out of 100 chance of losing at an appeal which essentially considers whether that initial denial was legal or not.  If luck has anything to do with it, a person should realize that he or she is not on any kind of roll coming off that first loss to begin with.

In some of my other driver’s license restoration blog articles, I explain why I will never do video hearings in any of my license appeal cases.  Even though the local SOS branch office with a video terminal closest to my office is LESS than 5 minutes away, I will gladly drive nearly an hour to conduct my hearings live, and in-person, at the Livonia (Metro-Detroit area) hearings office.  It should be obvious that if I won’t avail myself of the incredible convenience of a nearby video hearing because I think it is so inferior to a live proceeding, I certainly don’t believe in any kind of case being decided with no hearing at all.  To fully understand why an administrative review is about as bad an idea as seeking financial advice at a homeless shelter, you need to know a few important facts about the whole license appeal process, beginning with the very rule under which every single clearance and restoration case is decided, known as “Rule 13.”

In almost all of my 340-plus driver’s license restoration articles (whew, that’s a lot!), I explore, often in great detail, the processes involved in winning a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case.  Perhaps because I have written so much, I am a very busy license reinstatement lawyer.  And for all the cases I do take on (well over 100 per year) before the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS), my office is contacted by lots of people whose cases I cannot accept.  Most of these are people who are not yet genuinely sober.  Given that I guarantee to win every driver’s license appeal that I file, I only take cases for people who have honestly quit drinking because that’s the real crux of a license restoration case, anyway.  In this article, however, I want to talk money.  While I am the only lawyer that I know who posts his fees on his website and on his blog, enough people miss that and eventually ask, “How much do you charge?”  Personally, I despise the whole “secret” thing that surrounds fees and pricing (that’s why I post mine), so let me list mine again, right here:  I charge, as of this writing, $3750 for a license appeal, broken into 3 equal payments of $1250.  In exchange for that, if I do take your case (and your money), I guarantee to win your license back, period.  You will only pay me once to get back on the road, and, as we’ll see, I am every bit as interested in winning your license appeal the first time as you are.  The last thing I want to do is warranty work.  In fact, precisely because of that guarantee, you can say that I am fully invested in your case.

CHEA-convention-costsMy fee, obviously, isn’t cheap.  If it was me looking for a lawyer to win my license back, I’d want to know why I should consider paying it, and the last thing I’d be interested in is any kind of meaningless lawyer double-talk about commitment and service and, well, blah blah blah….  Anyone asking for blue-chip fees better offer something beyond a fancy lobby and a slick website, and that puts me at a great place to begin this article in earnest:  This blog and my website.  I put up more useful, descriptive information about the license appeal process that every other lawyer out there combined.  In fact, many of the lawyers who, in the last few years, have taken up the mantle of “license restoration” attorney have used my articles and site as their primary resource for information.  That’s fine by me; imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  If you take the time to look, though, you will find that there is no subject relative to license appeals that I haven’t written about first.  Above and beyond all that, however, is the distinguishing fact that my services come with a guarantee.  In the final analysis, I make my money doing these cases right and winning them the first time around, not by taking my “best shot,’ and, if I don’t win, doing it all over again next year.  The real cost for anyone who loses a license appeal, beyond being stuck bumming rides, is being unable to file another appeal for a whole year; the cost for me is that my income gets cut in half while my workload doubles.  I provide my guarantee because I am so sure that I’m going to win almost every one of my cases the first time around that I want to be clear that I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

I handle and win more license appeals than anyone because I don’t just “do” license appeals; my law practice concentrates in them.  I begin each case with a first meeting that lasts about 3 hours.  I finish things with a thorough prep session for each and every client before the day of his or her hearing.  When I walk into the hearing room with my client, I have his or her case memorized, and I’m not exaggerating.  Prior to my preparing a client for his or her hearing, I will study the file so that I have all of the important information committed to memory.  A license hearing is not like a trial, and if the hearing officer asks a questions, or re-states something that isn’t correct, there is NO time to go flipping through a file to find information.  Having the file memorized also shapes the questions I ask of my client.  When I meet my client in the lobby of the hearing office the day of the hearing, we’ll be relaxed, having already done our preparation beforehand.  We’ll talk about the weather, or the drive in, or whatever, but we won’t need to go over any last-minute details about the case.  I honestly cringe when I see some lawyers walk in, greet the client, and then pull out a file to “go over a few things” before their case is called.  That should never happen, and it never does with me.  Preparation is the key to success, and careful preparation must be observed at every stage, from the first meeting right up to the hearing itself.

In my role as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, about the very first thing I need to consider when someone contacts me to win his or her license back is whether or not the person is eligible.  Both in the eligibility section of my website and in the license restoration articles on this blog, I have examined what it means to be legally, as in technically, eligible to file for a license reinstatement.  In this article, I want to direct the focus to what it takes to have a real chance to win a license appeal before the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS).  This is an important subject because people often mistake being legally eligible to file a license appeal with actually being able to win their license back, and the two things are definitely not the same.  Think about it this way; as a U.S. born citizen, I am legally eligible to run for President of the United States, but in reality, I have zero chance of actually winning any election.  The point I want to explore is how long you really need to wait, after you become legally (technically) eligible before you have a chance to succeed in a license restoration case.  My perspective on this is, of course, framed by the fact that I guarantee to win every license appeal case I take.  It makes a good starting point for our discussion to observe that it is almost impossible for anyone to win his or her license back by filing right after the mandatory 1-year revocation period after 2 DUI convictions within 7 years has ended.

Me-when-waiting-for-a-reply-from-my-crushOne of the many, but important requirements to win a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case is that a person must prove a period of what is called “voluntary abstinence,” meaning a chunk of time when he or she did not drink by choice, and without the threat of getting in trouble for doing so.  With the exception of time spent on probation in a sobriety court program, any time not drinking while on regular DUI probation does not count, nor does time spent on parole or living in a halfway or three-quarter house while on probation or parole.  To make this simple, let’s assume that Two Time Tina is somewhat lucky in her 2nd offense DUI and only gets 1-year of probation (typically, 2nd offenders in the Detroit area can expect to be put on probation for either 18 months or 2 years).  By law, Tina is “eligible” to file a license reinstatement appeal after her 1-year revocation has passed, but by the time that actually occurs, she will likely still be on, or have just gotten released from, her 1 year of probation.  This means that she will not have any significant period of “voluntary abstinence” where she can prove that she abstained from the use of alcohol without any threat of legal trouble if she did drink.  This doesn’t even begin to take into account that rules governing license restorations also give the hearing officer wide discretion to require an even longer period of abstinence than just a single year.  Above and beyond everything else, the real “meat and potatoes” of a license appeal is that a person has quit drinking for good and is a safe bet to remain sober.  In order to even begin making those proofs, a person will need to have first accumulated some time off of probation or parole without drinking.

This all means that even though a person may be technically “eligible” to file a license appeal after his or her revocation period has ended, he or she may have absolutely NO chance of ever winning it.  It also means that the whole “1-year” thing is completely misleading.  I have never, in all my 26 years as a lawyer, seen any case where a person could file and win his or her license back as soon as their 1-year revocation period had passed, with the exception of a few sobriety court graduates.  In my office, I generally won’t even consider taking a case if a person will not have at least 2 years of sobriety and closing in on 1 year off of probation or parole (again, there is a possible exception for those who have completed a sobriety court program).  This is not a hard and fast rule, however.  The Secretary of State must, as it turns out, count the time on probation during a sobriety court program where a person has been driving with an ignition interlock as “voluntary abstinence.”  This has specifically been written into the law.  Also, given how long it takes to prepare a case for filing, and then from the time a license appeal is filed until a person winds up actually sitting for a hearing before a hearing officer, I will often consider taking a case for someone who has been sober for about 18 months and been off of probation for around 8 months.

In part 1 of this article, we began our examination of sobriety court.  We noted that the goal of sobriety court programs, which usually reserved for 2nd offense DUI cases (and, in some cases, 3rd offenses, as well) is to help people stop drinking through extensive counseling and treatment coupled with intense probation, supervision and testing.  I likened DUI sobriety courts to restaurants, noting that everyone is different, and while I may not care for the one you think is really great, and you might find my favorite to be nothing special, either.  I further pointed out that some sobriety courts are kind of fixed on a one-size-fits-all approach, using the “traditional” intensive outpatient treatment program along with AA as the only treatment option, while others are more flexible, and understand that different recovery methods work for different people.  It was pointed out that, amongst those who ultimately get sober and really “get it,” the light-bulb moment can come at any time, and that some people even have their epiphany after treatment has ended.  We ended by seeing how the old AA adage, “fake it until you make it,” that advises people who aren’t fully committed to sobriety to keep coming to meetings can be both a good thing, especially when it ultimately leads a person into recovery, and a bad thing, particularly where it wastes resources in sobriety court programs on people who are not genuinely interested in getting help with their drinking.  Here, in part 2, we’ll pick up right at that point.

Dollarphotoclub_919693865-500x300I don’t have a solution to the dilemma of who should “do” sobriety court other than to generally, if not gently, advise against it if you’re not truly interested in getting help.  This assumes, of course, that you believe that your relationship to alcohol has been, at least on occasion (as in 2 DUI arrests), problematic.  We don’t need to worry about labels (alcoholic, alcohol abuser, alcohol dependent, binge drinker, etc.) but rather that you merely perceive your use of alcohol as being, at least on those occasions, troublesome, and that you see drinking as not an entirely risk-fee proposition.  You need to see at least this much on the inside looking out, because you need to understand how YOU are seen from the outside looking in.

In plenty of my other DUI articles, I’ve explained that pretty much everyone – meaning the court system, the Michigan Secretary of State, the police, the public, and, most of all the Judge –  sees a 2nd offense drunk driving as virtual proof that the person has a drinking problem.  This is so much the case that the Secretary of State automatically revokes a person’s license for any 2 alcohol-related traffic conviction within 7 years of each other.  In that regard, I can call upon my extensive experience as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, where my client base is exclusively made up of people who have quit drinking for good.  As much as my clinical education and DUI experience bring to the table, it is in having heard (collected, really) the stories of thousands of people who have gotten sober that I have seen how, for some people, a 2nd DUI is THE wakeup call, while for others, it is not.  I’ve handled and won (the first time around, no less) a license appeal for a fellow with 13 prior DUI’s.  The first 12 were not enough for him to see the problem.  Another client with 9 DUI’s had either 22 or 23 prior stints in treatment, and none of them worked; he got sober through AA while in prison.  The point I’m driving at is that while the whole world sees a 2nd DUI offender as having a troubled relationship to alcohol, plenty of those 2nd offenders (and 3rd offenders, 4th offenders, etc.) do not.  What matters, as a starting point, is that anyone facing that 2nd or 3rd offense understands that NO ONE is going to agree that they don’t have some kind of problem, and that it’s just “bad luck” that they got popped again.  That never happens and it never will, and to rely on “unlucky” as part of your defense is a sure way to screw your case up in the worst possible way.  Even if you don’t believe you have a problem, accept, at the outset, that the court system absolutely does.

Sobriety Courts were first introduced in Michigan on January 1, 2011, as a pilot (test) program.  That pilot program became permanent as of January 1, 2015, and the number of Detroit-area sobriety courts (meaning those in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties) has continued to grow ever since.  In this 2-part article, I want to look at what these drunk driving programs are all about, and how they can sometimes come up short.  I want to examine this from a somewhat different perspective than the typical lawyer, and even the average DUI lawyer.  Although I am, first and foremost, a Michigan DUI lawyer, I also have a formal, post-graduate education in the field of addiction studies and fully understand the development, diagnosis and treatment of alcohol problems as much as I understand that you hire a DUI lawyer to get you out of trouble.  The real bottom line is that you pay your DUI lawyer to make things better for you, and, in the right circumstances, sobriety court can be a useful tool to help accomplish that.  The goals of sobriety court programs are great, and there is a lot of potential for these programs to be very successful, but they can also suffer at the hands of close-minded thinking.  There are many ways people achieve sobriety; I have seen, first-hand, how well a more holistic approach can work, having been part of DUI cases where an astute, flexible and well-informed Judge has allowed a person in a sobriety court program a choice amongst various treatment options in order for him or her to find and connect with one that is a good fit.  By contrast, I have also seen how a “traditional,” one-size-fits-all approach that matches a person with the wrong recovery process produces nothing more than a lot of frustration and wasted time.

a4108b710084022c521d7888974850d2The ultimate goal of sobriety court is to help people get sober.  Sobriety courts offer extensive treatment and counseling coupled with intensive probationary supervision.  A person in sobriety court will be tested (breath and/or urine) very often to make sure he or she isn’t drinking or getting high.  The ideal candidate is a person who, faced with a 2nd offense (and, in some cases, even a 3rd offense) DUI, realizes that his or her drinking has become a problem and wants help to stop.  In the real world, a 2nd (or subsequent) offense DUI will cause a person’s driver’s license to be revoked.  This means taken away for good, and not merely suspended.  Because one of the key benefits of sobriety court is that the Judge can override the Secretary of State’s mandatory driver’s license revocation, it can seem like a real lifesaver.  I suppose the problem comes down to this:  Sobriety court sees itself as a way to save a person’s life, and the driver’s license as a reward for all the work a person will be doing; people see the driver’s license as the grand prize, and think they’ll figure out a way to “get by” and make it through the program.  If you’re getting a sense that these are demanding programs, then you’re getting the idea.

From my perspective, the whole concept of sobriety courts is wonderful.  The reality, however, is that sobriety courts are like restaurants; every one is different, and where I may not like the one you think is so great, you may not care for the one that is my favorite.  In that sense, it comes down to “different strokes for different folks.”  Although it’s not some “newfangled” idea, the notion of matching a person to the kind of treatment that works best for him or her is growing in popularity, limited really only by the existence of those who don’t have the skill set to offer it.  In other words, whereas the old-school idea of treatment used to be an intensive outpatient program (IOP) followed by aftercare (often a mix of individual and group counseling).  AA is almost always part of that deal, as well.  This is a solid approach, and it can teach a newcomer some very important basics of recovery.  The problem is, however, that it’s not a good fit for everyone.  Some people dread being in groups and talking about themselves, while others can get “weirded out” by individual counseling.  If there’s one thing that real world experience and studies have repeatedly validated, it’s that pushing someone into the “wrong” kind of treatment will not help him or her get better.  In fact, it can actually scare a person away from coming back for help, because the person doesn’t realize that there are other kinds of help available.