One of the most important issues that I face as a Michigan criminal and DUI lawyer is a person’s prior record. It is absolutely critical to how things work out in just about every case. Curiously, it is a subject that has largely been overlooked on lawyer’s websites, mine included. In this article, I want to take a look at how a person’s prior record can affect the outcome of his or her case, and how this applies across the board, from serious things like 3rd offense (felony) DUI all the way to a simple traffic ticket, and everything in-between, including 1st and 2nd offense drunk driving cases, as well. This is not a pretty topic, because the simple truth is that it’s not good for a lawyer’s business to be writing things that can make a case seem tougher as opposed to all the things that can make it better, but your record is a necessary topic to discuss, and any lawyer worth a nickel is going to have to address it at some point with his or her client. I think it’s about time to drag it out into the light and give it a good once-over.
In some cases, the importance of a prior criminal record (or lack thereof) is obvious; for example, in DUI cases, because a person with a prior conviction within 7 years will be charged with a “2nd offense.” In DUI cases, there is no getting around a case being a 2nd offense or 3rd offense, whereas a person arrested for something like possession of marijuana may be charged and ultimately treated like a 1st time offender, even if he or she has a prior record for the very same thing. Worse yet, there seems to be little or no logic as to why, beyond just being “lucky,” in a manner of speaking. In other situations, a person may have a prior record for a completely unrelated offense, or even multiple offenses; those convictions may be recent, old, or a even a combination thereof. It goes without saying that having NO record at all is better than having any kind of record, but given that a prior scrape or two with the law isn’t that uncommon, lots of very good people have some missteps in their past. That said, I’m sure the reader understands that the fewer of those on record, the better. This should make sense without the need for any kind of further explanation.
This can get weird, however, because in the real world, a prior record can be a big deal in some cases, and not matter much, or even at all, in others. I have, for example, represented someone with a rather bad record charged with his or her 1st DUI and have been able to easily reduce the drunk driving charge because the person doesn’t have any prior drinking and driving convictions. By contrast, there are some really tough jurisdictions (thankfully most of which are NOT in the Detroit-area) where a single, unrelated and old conviction can be a stumbling block to a plea bargain in a new and completely unrelated case. With these somewhat extreme and opposite situations serving as bookends, let’s turn now to how things most often play out in the real world.