As Michigan DUI lawyers, we interact with people facing DUI charges all day, everyday. While statements like “we get to know our clients” are good marketing lines, they really don’t mean anything specific. In the context of a DUI case, the idea of who you are is important on 2 levels: first, so your lawyer can address the specific concerns or issues that you have (ability to drive, professional license, etc.), and second, so that your lawyer can use your “social capital” (meaning trade on the value of what you’ve done in life) to produce a better outcome in your case.
Admittedly, a lot of how things work out in any DUI is a direct consequence of a lawyer’s experience and skill. To a certain extent, a really good lawyer can, especially in terms of presenting the case, make up for some of what the client is missing. It’s worth noting that even when lawyers or well-liked celebrities get in trouble, they always hire a well-spoken lawyer and let him or her do the talking. I know that if I needed an attorney, I’d want want one who was well-groomed and who could talk the leaves off the trees. In this article, however, we’re going to focus on the other side of that equation; the client.
The language from the title of this article really does make the point I want to explain here: who you are as a person matters. In a very real way, all the life choices a person has made that makes them who they are will be looked at very closely by the court. This really applies anytime a person is facing a criminal charge, but in DUI cases, it’s particularly important because most DUI offenders are not “criminals” in any sense of the word, and instead are most often good people who have found themselves in a bad situation.
Many people charged with a 1st offense DUI have never been in any kind of legal trouble before, or, if they have, only to a very minor extent, usually having picked up something like an MIP when they were younger, or something like that. Our office is contacted almost daily by business people and professionals who NEVER imagined themselves in the back of a police car, or spending a night in jail. We know how people can (and do) freak out over this.
When a person who never thought they’d ever be arrested for anything in their lives get released from jail with a ticket for the misdemeanor charge of OWI (Operating While Intoxicated), they usually get all worried, and their level of fear often goes up as they start digging around and find one of the potential penalties is “up to 93 days in jail.”
Although actually doing any more time in jail beyond the night of one’s arrest is almost never on the menu, the very fact that a person is “freaking out” about it usually indicative that he or she is NOT any kind of experienced criminal.
In other words, those who have spent time in and around the criminal justice system know that almost nobody goes to jail for a 1st offense DUI.
By contrast, true 1st offenders usually don’t know anything about this beyond what they find online, and given that so much of the legal marketing is “fear-based,” that can be misleading.
Over the course of my career, I have dealt with plenty of people who’ve had long criminal records, and those kinds of people don’t get worried about potential jail sentences that are measured in days; they worry about sentences that are calculated in years.
That may sound like a flippant observation, but it’s not. Although it’s far from any hard and fast rule, it’s most often the case that the people who worry the most are those who really have the least to worry about.
Let me expand on this a bit with a hypothetical:
Assume that Worried Wanda is arrested for a 1st offense DUI. To make things interesting, let’s further assume that her case arises in a court that’s not known for being especially lenient. Wanda is 38 years old, has 2 kids, and has been gainfully employed for as long as she can remember, having been at her current job for 9 years now. Back when she was 17, she had an MIP, but apart from a speeding ticket, she hasn’t been in any kind of trouble for over 20 years.
With good legal work, Wanda is almost certain to NOT do any jail time, and can probably avoid anything more than simple probation.
Now, contrast Worried Wanda with Bad Record Billy:
Billy is now facing an OWI 3rd offense charge, although his record shows he actually has 5 prior DUI convictions (in Michigan, there is no higher OWI charge than a 3rd offense), and a host of suspended/revoked license convictions, as well. At the time of his last DUI, Billy was sent to prison, and served about a year and half before being paroled. He has 3 kids, but doesn’t have much contact with them, and has no long-term employment, having been in and out of work for quite some time.
Billy is looking at prison again, and any Judge is going to think that if 18 months didn’t stop him last time, anything less now is not likely to do any good, so Billy’s potential period of incarceration for this case is likely to be measured in years.
Who would you rather be?
The answer here is obvious. Even though the comparison between Wanda and Billy is a bit stark, the reader should feel better about his or her situation the closer it is to Wanda’s, rather than Billy’s.
There are certain factors that are often used to figure how risky a person is to get in trouble (again) or not.
Imagine a 20 year old guy who is unemployed, has dropped out of high school, has no girlfriend, and lives with a few other young guys that all somehow all manage to scrape up enough money for the rent every month.
Next, imagine a 57 year old woman with 3 children who has been married for 32 years and who has been employed with the same company for over 16 years.
Who do you think is more likely to get wasted and decide to smash some mailboxes? Who would you suspect is more likely to get drunk or high, and then do something really stupid?
The simple fact is that being male, young, unemployed and unattached are all factors that do NOT militate against doing stupid $hit the way being female, older, employed and attached DO.
That’s not to say that the lady from our example can’t do something crazy, nor does it mean that the young man is sure to get in trouble.
What it does mean, though, is that when you have any kind of social capital, like being older, never having been in trouble before, having a really good job, or otherwise having substantial ties to the community, you use it to your advantage if you find yourself in a legal pickle.
As DUI lawyers, we know how to do this.
Of course, on the flip side, we know how to work around any “risk” factors our clients may have, but you can be sure that the fewer there are, and the more social capital he or she has, we’ll be spotlighting that and using it to its full advantage.
As I noted before, it’s usually people with the most to lose who also worry the most.
Because we are, for lack of a better term, a higher end DUI practice, we see plenty of professionals, like engineers, dentists and doctors, nurses and pharmacists who have NEVER been in any kind of trouble before. Often, their first concern is for their professional license, fearing that they could lose their livelihood for this one mistake.
First, and for the benefit of anyone who is in that situation right now, unless you ran over Little Timmy and left him lying in the roadway, that won’t happen. And to be clear, we have represented plenty of medical professionals facing 2nd offense DUI charges, none of whom ever lost their occupational license.
First offenders can take that to mean they should relax a bit.
Anyone with a professional license facing a 1st offense DUI will, of course, have to report it to his or her licensing agency, and may have to jump through a few hoops to make that go smoothly, but that’s about as bad as it’s going to get for almost everyone.
The key thing is that who you are and what you do DOES matter in a DUI case.
The things you’ve done right in life will count in your favor. My team and I know how to use that “social capital” to our client’s fullest advantage, and anyone facing a DUI with a different lawyer should make sure his or her attorney does, as well.
Of course, if a lawyer isn’t familiar with the idea of “social capital,” he or she probably can’t do much with any the client has, but that’s not a problem we have in our practice.
If you are facing a DUI and looking for a lawyer, be a smart consumer and read around. See 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.
If your case is anywhere in the Greater-Detroit area (meaning any court in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb or the surrounding counties), give us a ring, as well. 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, explain things, and even compare notes with anything some other lawyer told you.
We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.