Nobody ever wants to find themselves in need of a lawyer because he or she has been arrested for a DUI. A recent conversation with a new client, however, made me think about this in a way I never had before. My client’s spouse said, “We felt kind of dirty just having to look for a lawyer. We aren’t the kind of people who need lawyers for stuff like this.” I wasn’t insulted by that statement, but I was a bit surprised by it, because I know how normal and upstanding our DUI clients tend to be.
Our firm represents people from every walk of life. Without fail, our DUI clients are people with good jobs. They are the kinds of people who get involved in their own communities, even if it’s just helping out with their own kids’ activities. At least among those who hire us, each and every one of them feels a profound sense of embarrassment and worry that someone will find out about their DUI Most never thought they’d ever find themselves in the backseat of a police car, much less spending a night in jail.
In no way do our DUI clients resemble any definition of “criminal.” Yet for as otherwise upstanding as they may be, a DUI arrest puts them smack-dab in the middle of the criminal justice system. DUI cases are both criminal and traffic offenses (more specifically, a DUI is a criminal traffic offense). This is not meant to sound like some “suck up” sales-pitch, but my team and I simply don’t see our DUI clients as criminals, or as “dirty” in any way. Having represented thousands of people for DUI charges we see right past that, and look to the person, instead.
Even when someone comes to us for a 2nd offense or 3rd offense charge, and it’s a given that he or she has some kind of troubled relationship to alcohol, there’s still nothing “dirty” about it. As Michigan DUI lawyers, we know that there is nothing morally deficient about getting a DUI, or even having a drinking problem. However, when I thought about if from this DUI client’s perspective, I understood how one could experience those feelings. Being in custody, and everything about it, is humiliating.
A person could be the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, but in the police station, that doesn’t matter. Of course, none of what follows, like getting one’s property back in a bag, retrieving the vehicle from impound, and having to find a lawyer, and then dealing with the court makes a person feel any better, either. The simple truth is that feelings are facts. If a person feels ashamed, then they feel ashamed. Such feelings may be misplaced (and they are, especially in a 1st offense DUI case), but that observation doesn’t change them.
I can tell someone that getting a DUI happens to people at every level, and that there’s nothing shameful about it, but that’s not likely to change how he or she feels inside. Beyond embarrassment and shame, there is a whole lot of stress that accompanies a DUI charge, as well. This is especially true for people who don’t have any experience in the criminal justice system. The thought of going back to jail is horrifying.
Fortunately, getting locked up again is generally not on the menu is a 1st offense case anyway, but that’s cold comfort to someone who’s never been in trouble before. They’ll often obsess over all kinds of “what if” and “what about” questions until they work themselves into a panic. Addressing a person’s concerns and fears is an important part of our job as Michigan DUI lawyers.
One question that comes up rather often, and was the topic of a recent article I put up, is whether or not anyone will find out about a DUI charge. I’d direct the reader to that linked article for a more detailed analysis covering the exceptions, but for the most people, the answer is usually “no.” Nobody (meaning not the court, police or prosecutor), will ever call someone’s family, friends, or employer about a DUI charge.
That said, a person may be contractually or legally obligated to report a DUI (the actual legal term in Michigan is “Operating While Intoxicated,” or “OWI,” for short) to his or her employer. Also, in the case of someone with a professional license through the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), he or she may have to notify that particular licensing body. Similarly, if a person’s place of work runs a background check of his or criminal and/or driving record, a DUI can show up. Absent those circumstances, however, nobody will ever find out about a pending or past drunk driving case.
The whole DUI experience can be a profound teaching moment for anyone who goes through it. The loss of autonomy and the feeling of not having control over one’s own future – even in the short term – definitely makes an impression. Nobody ever wants to go through anything like that (and certainly never again). On the contrary, every last person hopes to beat their case, or at least put the whole situation in the past as soon possible.
As a lawyer, I have spoken in court on behalf of thousands of DUI clients. Like a dentist who has filled thousands of cavities, this is the kind of thing that, to borrow a phrase, “I could do in my sleep.”
Our DUI clients rely upon us to have extensive experience with OWI cases precisely because they don’t. Many of our clients are going through the criminal process for the first time, or close to it. Most probably never thought of themselves as having to go to court for anything other than jury duty.
I can repeat a thousand times over that a 1st offense DUI, while regrettable, isn’t anything shameful. However, that doesn’t mean much to anyone who never thought they’d need a lawyer to get them out of trouble who suddenly finds him or herself in that very position.
And it’s right there that we find a big lesson for us, too, as lawyers.
To be sure, my team and I treat our DUI clients with dignity and respect. Long ago, I decided that I didn’t want to handle horrible cases like rape, murder, or other such matters. Our standard is to not represent anyone with whom we wouldn’t feel comfortable having lunch. As noted, that works for me and my team, but it’s what’s going on inside the client’s head that matters.
I can’t count the number of times I have said “it’s no big deal” when a person has said how bad they feel about a DUI. My response has always been calculated to try and make clear that, as the saying goes, “$hit happens,” and that a DUI is not any kind of moral or personal failure.
Indeed the truth is that, very often, a DUI does just “happen.” For the overwhelming majority of 1st offense DUI clients, the whole situation is a mistake in judgment that will never be repeated. Now, though, I realize that nothing anyone can say will completely erase the feelings of embarrassment and shame many people feel about their DUI.
On balance, there are some folks who do manage to take a DUI more “in stride.” To be sure, we don’t want anyone to be indifferent about it, or not otherwise take it seriously. However – and this goes to the main point of this article – it is a fact that a single DUI can just happen to almost anyone. Although it’s nothing to brag about, when, as is often the case, it represents nothing more than a single instance of bad judgment, it does not define a person, either.
As an old ad on TV used to say, “We all do dumb things.”
Yeah, jail stinks – literally. It’s degrading beyond words to be in custody, and told where to stand, when and where to sit, and what to do. However, a person should take a deep breath and try to think of the experience more as “humbling,” rather than humiliating. It’s like the hot stove analogy; you get burned, and you learn not to do that again.
Here, I’d ask the reader to take a step back and try and contemplate the bigger picture: Given that everyone from police and Judges to janitors get arrested for a DUI, just take it on faith (at least for the moment) that a single DUI is not any kind of “dirty” or shameful thing. It truly can happen to anyone.
By comparison, there is something up with anyone who comes back for a 2nd or 3rd offense. As stated above, that’s nothing “dirty,” but it does tend to indicate that there is some kind of troubled relationship to alcohol.
The simple fact is that most 1st offense DUI clients don’t have a drinking problem, and that a single DUI most often represents nothing more than an instance of poor judgment. The reader should simply NOT overthink it. Leave the strategizing and the worrying to the lawyer. No matter what, we can make everything better. Consider the whole situation a “teachable moment,” resolve to never do it again, and then move on.
There is a great line from the song “The Pass” by the band Rush that rather poetically expresses how one can learn from life’s mistakes:
All of us get lost in the darkness –
Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter –
Dreamers turn to look at the cars
Don’t worry about a DUI defining you. Instead, know that how you deal with it determines whether or how you grow, as a person. Be that dreamer, look to the stars, and learn from your mistakes. That’s how every one of us improves.
If you’re facing a DUI and looking for a lawyer, be a wise 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 installment, I have written and published over 605 articles in the DUI section alone. There is more useful information to be found here than anywhere, but don’t take my word for it; look around for for yourself.
Once you’ve done enough reading, start checking around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person. If your case is pending in the Metro-Detroit area, meaning in any court 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 even by happy to compare notes with anything some other lawyer tells 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.