Every Michigan DUI case begins with an arrest. When you look back, it becomes fairly obvious that the arrest itself was just about a foregone conclusion the moment you were asked to step out of your car. No matter what line of work you’re in, you just come to “know” certain things from experience, and most police officers become very good at “knowing” when a person is over the limit for alcohol. In the real world, almost every traffic stop that progresses to include field sobriety tests ends up with a drunk driving arrest. How many times do you think the police pull someone over, see behavior that makes them suspect the person is drunk (particularly at 1 or 2 in the morning), only to discover the person really is sober enough to drive? How many times have you won the lottery 3 days in a row?
I want this article to be an honest discussion about DUI cases in the Metro-Detroit, meaning Tri-County (Macomb, Oakland and Wayne) area. My intention here is to be straightforward and informative, and help someone facing a DUI learn something. Accordingly, I’m going to try and avoid all the meaningless marketing lawyer talk about being “tough” and “aggressive” and all that.
In the real world, when you’re put in the back of the police car, you are probably still wondering if there is some miracle chance that you can avoid a formal DUI. For most people, it’s being led into the police station that really drives home the idea that this whole nightmare is “official,” and not likely to end with just a warning. Between the breath test at the police station and the booking process, most people start wondering about outcomes. You worry about your job, your driver’s license, and, of course your family. At this point, it is not uncommon to have a kind of see-saw mental process going on that fluctuates between “I’m screwed,” and “I will hire the best lawyer in the state and get out of this.” Minutes pass like hours as the mental see-saw goes from side to side, until you are finally released, often after posting some kind of bond.
Being released turns out to be kind of a cleanup job in its own right. You’ve got to get the car. In some cases, if you’ve been arraigned before release, you may have to go sign up for alcohol testing. When you finally get home, get showered, and settle down enough to really think about things, you start to wonder about the whole system. From the moment of the traffic stop to the moment you get home, it seems like everyone has made you feel guilty. Even if a person knows he or she was over the limit, it is frustrating to be treated like you’ve already been found guilty. It can feel like the whole “presumption of innocence” thing has been turned on its head.
Still, you want to make this go away, or at least make as much of it go away as possible. In my practice, I deal with DUI drivers every single day. I deal with nervous, first time offenders who are highly unlikely to ever get in trouble again, as well as people who have multiple prior DUI’s. The idea of “beating the charge” is certainly appealing, and should always be explored. Yet for most thinking people, a certain reality begins to dawn; I was over the limit, and I got caught. Sometimes, a client will ask me if his or her case is going to go to trial. A trial is something you set up when, and only if, you either have a good reason to think you can win (meaning be found “not guilty”), or if you utterly have nothing to lose, like if you’re facing your 8th DUI in 9 years.
To clarify, however, holding a trial is not the same thing as examining and challenging the evidence to try and get the case dismissed, or work out some kind of really great plea deal. If there’s one other thing we can learn from the numbers, it’s that about 10% of all DUI charges do get dismissed before trial because the lawyer is able to keep evidence out of court. And to be clearer still, no DUI charge ever dismisses itself. As a DUI lawyer, I employ a careful and critical eye to look for irregularities in the way the evidence was gathered, or other technical “things” to use to my client’s advantage.
Still, if you’re required to submit to breath or urine testing while your case is pending, then you have to feel the weight of the system bearing down upon you. It is important to realize that while these feelings are normal, they are also heightened because you’ve been sensitized to them. In other words, unless this really is your 12th DUI in a decade, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and things are almost certainly not nearly as bad as they might seem. In fact, a DUI is a lot like a root canal: It sucks when you’re going through it, but a year or two down the road, it just seems like a bad memory.
This is particularly important in 1st offense cases, because, at least in the Detroit area there isn’t any real chance of going to jail (with one exception, made by one judge in Bloomfield Hills’ 48th district court), and even in 2nd offense cases, jail can most often be avoided. Even in what are called “true” 3rd offense cases, meaning those cases where a person only has 2 prior DUI’s, jail can be minimized, and even sometimes completely avoided, depending on the plea deal that can be reached. This is why a careful examination of the evidence is so important. I base this not on wishful thinking but rather my own very busy DUI practice. About half the cases I handle are 1st offenses, with 2nd offenses counting for about 35%, and 3rd offense (felony) DUI cases making up about 15%.
Because of the honest work I do in the real world, I become a bit impatient with the onslaught of aggressive lawyer marketing that has come to dominate the internet in the last few years. Marketing concerns like web site page rankings and site design have made it hard for the unsuspecting consumer to find real and useful information without having to dig around. Then again, it can be said that anyone looking for a lawyer should take the time to look around and find content more meaningful than self-claims of being “tough” and “aggressive.” This is where I can help.
In a 1st offense DUI case, geography is important. In certain courts, if things are handled just right, even probation can be avoided. In other courts, it can be kept to a minimum, and not include expensive and time consuming classes or counseling, or even testing.
If you’re facing a 2nd offense DUI, then the conversation has to be straightforward. Jail can most often be avoided, but nothing is going to tick a Judge off more, or faster than having someone there on his or her 2nd DUI say that drinking isn’t a problem. I have an extensive background in addiction issues, and am actively and formally involved in the post-graduate level, University study of them. We can have all the interesting, informative and helpful conversations about this in the privacy of my office, but as a DUI lawyer with nearly a quarter century of courtroom experience who knows every Judge he appears before exceedingly well, I can assure you that the “I don’t have a drinking problem” approach will NOT fly. Beyond avoiding jail, the focus in a 2nd offense case is to avoid endless classes, counseling, alcohol testing and probation. These things stand as distinct, real-world possibilities, and they are on the menu in every 2nd offense DUI case.
The straight truth is that if you’re facing a 3rd offense, felony DUI, you should be expecting an honest talk with your lawyer about how to minimize jail. Of course, every effort should be made to work the case out in a way that can avoid jail altogether, and that can happen from time to time, but not most of the time, and certainly not all the time. From the lawyer’s point of view, it’s a lot better for business to avoid this conversation, but as a human being with a any kind of moral compass, doing so is ENTIRELY disingenuous.
What’s the point of all this? Hindsight, they say, is 20-20, and I have the benefit of over 24 years of it. Yes, being arrested for a DUI changes everything. That whole “presumption of innocence” thing does get turned on its head. Nearly 90% of DUI arrests result in some kind of conviction. The whole court system sees the same thing over and over again. Maybe things would be and “feel” different if half of all DUI charges fell apart, but the reality is that they don’t, so just on statistics alone, the assumption that you’re more likely guilty than not beats the “presumption of innocence” you learned about in high school civics class. This is the unpleasant reality, but my goal here is to share the truth, rather than sugar coat it.
A DUI charge can feel like the end of the world. It can be scary. You have lots of questions, and sometimes every answer you get gives rise to even more questions. As horrible as it may seem right now, things never really turn nearly that bad. I absolutely believe that getting a top level Michigan DUI lawyer, like me, does make a big difference in the results you get, but unless you hire the worst lawyer in Michigan, you are unlikely to experience even a fraction of the things that have you so worried right now. It’s just not that bad.
A good DUI lawyer will put the evidence in your case under a kind of “legal microscope.” About 1 in 8 DUI cases get tossed out of court because of problems with the evidence. Even if the “problem” isn’t bad enough to have the Judge dismiss your case outright, it may very well be possible to use it as a bargaining chip and negotiate a far better plea bargain than would have otherwise been the case. As I noted before, DUI cases don’t dismiss themselves. Here’s where a lawyer who concentrates in DUI cases brings a lot more to the table than a more “general purpose” lawyer who just handles DUI cases. A real Michigan DUI attorney knows the subtleties of the law. In addition someone like me knows Judge to whom your drunk driving case case has been assigned and can recognize things that might be overlooked by someone who doesn’t spend all day dealing with these issues.
Yet for everything we’ve examined, what matters is specifically what happens to you. Success in a DUI case is measured primarily by what does not happen to you. While there are all kinds of legal things that need to be done to properly handle a DUI case, there are also some things that the client may need to do in order to help make things better. Sometimes, if you want to avoid 26 weeks of alcohol education classes, you might want to consider a 4 or even 8-hour class that the Judge will accept instead. If your lawyer doesn’t do this kind of work all day, every day, then you may not be presented with this choice because he or she doesn’t know about it. It would certainly suck to find out you missed this option as you hold hands with your circle of new friends at the counselor’s office and sing “Kumbaya” at the end of each week’s session for the better part of the next year…
Above everything else, you need to look for honest information. I hope that we’ve at least started a conversation in that direction.