In part 3 of this article, we continued examining how, in all Michigan DUI cases, the courts are going to focus on a person’s drinking because, as simplistic as it may sound, the fact that a person already has a DUI makes him or her an identified, increased risk to do it again. I reiterated that multiple studies have shown that, as a group, people who previously had a DUI (or multiple DUI’s) test out with a higher incidence of alcohol problems than everyone else who hasn’t had one. We then concluded by noting that, despite everything else, sometimes, a DUI just happens.
Yet for as much as a DUI can “just happen” to just about anyone, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of people never get one. There are about 30,000 DUI arrests in Michigan each year, representing around 0.3% of the state’s nearly 10,000,000 person population. This means that more than 99.7% of people don’t get arrested for a DUI in any given year. Moreover, out of those 30,000-some cases, more than 9 out of 10 are NOT dismissed for any legal (or other) reason. While it’s understandable that everyone wants to get completely out of their DUI, the simple truth is that such results are the exception, and not the rule.
As I noted before, this isn’t the sexy kind of stuff that most DUI lawyers use to market themselves. However, and as I often try to make clear, it is far more important to be told what you need to hear, rather than just what you want to hear. Too many legal websites play on peoples fears and pander to the idea that a DUI is like the end of the world. Some make it seem that the reader is just a phone call away from having everything just magically disappear.
Even though they’re not on the menu, it’s normal for a person to get freaked out about a DUI and worry about things like getting locked up, losing their job, their driver’s license, and/or any professional license they have.
Worry about such punishments, while frightening, is also grossly misplaced in a 1st offense DUI. Here’s the reality:
1. Most people (like better than 99%) don’t get any jail time – ever.
2. Almost nobody loses their job, unless they’re a school bus driver, and even then, the person can often transfer to a different role with his or her employer.
3. A driver’s licenses is NOT revoked for a 1st offense DUI; instead, some restrictions are imposed upon it.
4. Nobody loses a professional license for a 1st offense DUI, although just about everybody is required to report the case to their licensing body.
However – and this is important – just about every person going through the court system for a DUI is going to wind up on probation, get at least some kind of alcohol education, and is otherwise very much at risk to be ordered into more extensive counseling or treatment, as well.
I often tell my clients that even if the Pope got a DUI, he’d be required to complete some kind of alcohol education.
For reasons that go well beyond what we can explain in this article, the court system has a built-in, inherent alcohol bias. This means it tends to “see” drinking problems that aren’t there, “see” those problem that do exist as worse than they are, and never lose sight of the fact that, as a group, DUI drivers have a higher incidence of alcohol problems than the population at large (meaning everyone who hasn’t had a DUI).
Consequently, the the courts will ALWAYS err on the side of that “better safe than sorry” approach I mentioned earlier, particularly when it comes to counseling and treatment for DUI offenders.
Moreover, the alcohol bias is reinforced every day, in just about every court, by the very people going though DUI charges.
In other words, the bias, however inconvenient, is rooted in fact. One upshot of all the alcohol testing ordered by the courts is that a fairly consistent percentage of people ordered to abstain from alcohol as a condition of bond and/or probation just can’t do it, and get caught drinking. This certainly doesn’t lead to any Judges thinking of “lightening” up on such compliance measures.
The whole subject of the alcohol bias is so important that I have dedicated an entire section of my blog it, and would strongly encourage the reader to check that out. Understanding the court system’s alcohol bias really puts everything about the DUI process into proper context.
Fortunately, most courts show a strong preference for rehabilitative measures over punitive consequences, like jail.
That’s good news.
Even so, you can be sure that no Judge is going to lose any sleep over having possibly required a person to complete more counseling or treatment that may have been more than necessary, instead of having sent him or her to jail.
And just like no Judge is going to worry about having ordered a DUI defendant into unnecessary counseling or treatment, I have never met anyone facing a DUI who would rather go to jail instead of having to go to counseling, either.
Given all of that, it then falls to us, as DUI lawyers, to help prevent our clients from getting forced into any kind of counseling or treatment that’s not needed in the first place.
Remember, from the court’s point of view, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
This is the point where everything we’ve been talking about so far ties together, and the court system’s focus on drinking and why things proceed the way they do becomes most understandable. Let me explain:
By law, anyone convicted of a Michigan DUI cannot be sentenced until he or she undergoes an alcohol assessment, sometimes called a “screening.” This is part of a larger process called a “PSI,” which stands for pre-sentence investigation.
Michigan’s OWI statue requires every person convicted of a DUI to complete this screening “test,” the answers to which have a point value.
Those points are totaled up, and compared to a scoring key that, based upon a person’s final score, indicates whether or not he or she has a drinking problem, or not (and, if so, how “bad” it is), or, alternatively, whether the person has a measurably increased risk to eventually develop one.
Generally speaking, the higher a person scores, the worse things look.
This is without a doubt THE most important facet of the whole DUI process for all the cases (93-plus percent) that don’t get dismissed.
Essentially, based almost entirely on a person’s score on this test, it is concluded that he or she has, or is at risk to develop a drinking problem, and therefore needs counseling or treatment above whatever other preventative education-type measures the court will order.
In other words, how well or not a person does on the alcohol assessment is the single biggest determinant of what will (and what won’t) happen to him or her in a Michigan DUI case.
Worse yet, the very fact that a person is answering the test questions precisely because they got a DUI adds points to his or her score, meaning he or she starts out with a handicap.
In addition to completing the written questionnaire, every DUI driver will also be interviewed by a probation officer, who must gather information about the person’s background (where and to whom he or she was born, where and with whom he or she was raised, and what that was like), what his or her life is like now, and all the facts of the case itself.
This part of that larger, pre-sentence investigation (PSI).
Then, combining all of that information with the person’s “score” on the alcohol assessment test, the probation officer must generate a formal written sentencing recommendation that is sent to the Judge, advising exactly what should be ordered by way of rehabilitative, punitive and supervisory measures.
Here’s why all of this matters so much:
Every Judge, in every court, follows this recommendation very closely, if not exactly. Essentially, the recommendation is the blueprint for what a person’s sentence will be.
This makes it critical to score as low as possible on the assessment “test,” and get a favorable recommendation in the first place. Accordingly, one of the most important part of a lawyer’s job in a DUI case is to prepare the client for the screening test and the probation interview.
Since every Judge basically goes along with the sentencing recommendation as it’s written, it follows, then, that getting a better recommendation is the key to a better outcome.
My team and I focus our efforts on making sure that happens.
And here we come full circle: In a DUI case, the court is always going to focus on a person’s drinking more than anything else. As Michigan DUI lawyers, we know that, and, therefore, we focus on it, too, but we do so in a way to make sure we produce the best, most lenient outcome possible for our clients.
Remember, success in a DUI case is always best measured by what does NOT happen to you.
If you’re facing a DUI anywhere in the Metro-Detroit area and are looking for a lawyer, be a good consumer and do your homework. Read how other lawyers explain the DUI process, and how they explain their approach to it.
When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. 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 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.