Success in a Michigan DUI Case Depends on Having the Right Strategy

An effective and intelligent legal strategy is required to properly handle a Michigan DUI charge. The reader will likely come across terms like “aggressive,” “fight” and “tough” as he or she looks around online. None of those qualities are worth anything unless they’re part of a smart plan. Often enough, the evidence in a DUI case is solid, leaving little to actually fight, and that’s when strategy becomes even more important. If a case can’t be dismissed outright, then we must do what’s necessary to avoid as many of the legal penalties and negative consequences as possible.

A good result in a DUI case is a matter of strategyTo be viable, a plan must make allowances for all reasonable possible outcomes. In addition, it should take into account the “where” factor, meaning the location of the case. As I have often pointed out, controlling time (as in slowing things down) can be an important component of handling a DUI charge. However, if the case is assigned to a “rocket-docket” Judge who wants everything done yesterday, then there needs to be an alternative approach. It’s a losing strategy to rely on a tactic that’s guaranteed to fail.

Thus, a DUI plan must make allowances for the facts of the case, and everything relevant to it, like its location, the person’s prior record, if any, and his or her current life situation. This is not a bunch of meaningless marketing talk, either. For most people, a DUI simply reflects a single instance of over-indulgence and bad judgment. For others, however, it may come as a wake-up call that his or her drinking had become troublesome. Each person will have to decide that for him or herself.

One of the more common concerns people have is whether or not anyone is going to find out about their DUI case. Fortunately, most of the time, nobody ever has to know about it (especially employers). However, there are some people who may be legally obligated to report it to their employer and/or a licensing body. That subject was covered in a recent article I published, and any reader interested should read it to learn more.

To be sure, the best thing that can happen for anyone facing a DUI charge (technically, in Michigan, what everyone calls a “DUI” is actually termed “Operating While Intoxicated,” or “OWI,” for short) is that the whole thing gets thrown out of court. If it CAN all just go away, then there’s nothing to worry about. Obviously, that’s the ultimate goal, and the real “holy grail” of DUI results. Not surprisingly, though, such outcomes are the exception, and not the rule. In other words, most DUI cases are not so catastrophically screwed up by the police that they’re just waiting for some sharp lawyer to get them dismissed outright.

That said, any worthwhile DUI strategy must begin with the assumption and mindset that there IS something “wrong enough” with the case to get it knocked out. The lawyer, in turn, needs to begin his or her work on the case with the determination to keep digging until he or she finds it. Of course, that won’t change the facts as they exist, but it is simply wrong-headed for a lawyer to merely look over the evidence to see if anything “jumps out” at him or her. If there is a problem with the evidence, it’s likely to be in 1 of  the 3 key areas noted in the previously-linked article.

When there is no catastrophic problem with the evidence big enough to get the charge thrown out of court, there are often little problems with it that can help drive a better outcome, and, ion many cases, a really lenient plea deal. In the real world, the vast majority of DUI cases are resolved through some kind of negotiated plea bargain.  Sometimes, a sentence agreement can be arranged, as well, either separately, or as part of an overall agreement to resolve the case.

Developing a plan to secure either or both of these things is an important component of a proper DUI strategy.

Sometimes, the facts of a case can seem horrible and “airtight.” That’s no reason to give up in despair. Instead, it’s exactly the time to heed the grandmotherly advice that, “When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.” Let’s look at an example (taken from a real life case) that helps explain this:

Imagine that Stumbling Sally goes out one night and really overdoes it. On her way home, someone sees her hit a parked car and calls the police with her license number and the direction she’s driving. The police quickly find her. When she’s pulled over, it’s obvious that she’s wasted.

Living up to the nickname we’ve given her, she stumbles out of the car and fails the field sobriety tests miserably. Sally winds up breath testing at .16, twice the legal limit of .08. While a breath test result of .16 is high, it’s still below the .17 legal standard for the super-drunk “High BAC” offense.

Really drunk and hitting parked cars – that sounds pretty bad, right? If the lawyer allows that to become the narrative of Sally’s case, then it IS bad.

Sally, for her part, explains that she doesn’t really drink that much, but has little else to offer to help herself out. Of course, all the evidence in her case has to be carefully examined. In addition to everything else, part of any good DUI strategy for Sally would be to change that narrative about her being a runaway drunk that was bouncing off parked cars as she was driving.

Here’s one way to do that:

Instead of just letting Sally look like a stumbling drunk, we emphasize the fact that she is NOT a regular drinker. We show that she’s actually a “lightweight” who doesn’t drink very often, and therefore has never developed much of a tolerance to alcohol. Thus, on the night in question, she was more affected by the alcohol she had consumed than even a normal social drinker would have been. We help the Judge to get to know Sally – as a person.

As it turns out, Sally is pretty much a homebody, and an evening at the bar really was out of character for her. So as not to appear rude, she accepted an invitation from acquaintances for a group get-together, and while everyone else was easily handling their booze, Sally was getting hammered to the gills. The others, who drank just as much as her, didn’t get nearly as intoxicated, and they all made it home.

Sally, however, couldn’t even drive straight enough to avoid a hitting a parked car.

In the context of a DUI, it’s always best to be perceived as a minimal risk to drive drunk again. A regular, social drinker who has developed any kind of tolerance to alcohol is more of a risk than someone who rarely drinks, and has no such tolerance. In other words, it’s better to be a lightweight, like Sally.

Part of a good DUI strategy would be to demonstrate that the whole DUI experience has had a profound impact on Sally. We’d use the fact that she is a lightweight to her advantage, instead of letting her level of intoxication define her negatively. Because she prefers being at home, doesn’t drink much, and given the stress she’s experienced as the result of this DUI charge, Sally is highly unlikely to ever do anything like it again.

In a legal situation like Sally’s, this is a simple, binary choice. Either a lawyer will explain it this way – or not.

Of course, there’s a lot more to DUI strategy than just trying to put a “spin” on things, but the point I’m making is that EVERY part of the case has to be properly “handled”. A good DUI lawyer won’t let anything NOT be worked over in the most favorable way possible for his or her client.

This, of course, is all done in addition to putting every last shred of the evidence under the legal microscope. A DUI case won’t dismiss itself, and no Judge will toss one out unless he or she has no other choice.

It’s our job to force that lack of choice, if at all possible.

For that majority of cases that are solid enough to go through the system, a proper DUI strategy must be comprehensive. It must safeguard the client from as many of the legal penalties and negative consequences as possible. This includes much more than just what happens in court. We have to protect the client’s ability to drive, his or her record, and make sure that whatever happens to him or her is the absolute bare minimum.

One of our firm’s operating principles is that success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you. That’s not just talk, that’s a very real metric. It’s always true that, in a DUI case, less is more. That doesn’t happen by accident, however, and must be achieved through the implementation of an intelligent DUI strategy. As we observed earlier, that strategy will be unique to the case itself.

If there’s any kind of grand takeaway here, it’s that a DUI strategy involves more than just a raw intention to “fight” the case. If any of the evidence can be challenged, then it should be. No case should ever be allowed to move forward until every last part of it has been carefully evaluated. The simple truth, though, is that the kinds of mistakes that are fatal to a DUI case and can get it completely dismissed are, as we noted earlier, the exception, and not the rule.

In those cases that do go through the system, there has to be a DUI strategy to produce the very best (meaning the most lenient) outcome possible. As with everything, it’s good work that leads to good results.

If you are facing a DUI charge and looking for a lawyer, be a savvy consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers analyze the DUI process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.

This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable and updated weekly with new, original content. As of this date, I have written and published over 610 articles in the DUI section alone. The reader can find more useful information here than anywhere, but don’t take my word for it – check for yourself.

Once you’ve done enough reading, start calling around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person.

If your case is pending in the Metro-Detroit area, meaning anywhere in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, or one of the surrounding counties, make sure you give our office a ring.

All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. We’ll also be happy to compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.

We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at either 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.

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