Is Your Drinking a Problem?
Every term used to describe DUI (driving under the influence, drunk driving, driving while impaired, operating under the influence, operating while intoxicated and countless others) necessarily involves a person driving a vehicle while affected by, meaning impaired or intoxicated from alcohol consumption. In a DUI case, the court system’s primary concerns is the relationship the person facing the charge has with alcohol. In that regard, a standard condition of bond set at arraignment in a DUI case is that the person shall not consume any alcohol, and testing is often required to ensure compliance with that. Such testing while a DUI charge is pending is almost always required in Oakland County, increasingly more common in Macomb County, and on the rise in Wayne County.
There is ample research evidence that a significant percentage of people arrested for a 1st offense DUI (in Michigan, we call it OWI, or “operating while intoxicated”) case have a drinking problem. Different studies produce different results, but the bottom line is that, as a group, 1st time DUI offenders are about 5 times more likely to have an alcohol problem than the general population. It is also true that the vast majority of people facing a 1st offense DUI don’t think they have a problem.
Of course, the flip side to all this is that, as much as we can say a significant percentage of those arrested for a 1st offense DUI have at least the makings of a drinking problem, a significant percentage does not have any such problem. Lots of people make a mistake in judgment, get charged with a 1st offense drunk driving, and never do anything like that again.
The numbers change rather dramatically when the focus shifts to 2nd time offenders. The chances of getting a 2nd DUI and not having an alcohol problem are about the same as winning the lotto twice. In recognition of that, Michigan enacted “habitual offender” DUI laws back in 1998. The upshot of those laws was that anyone convicted of a 2nd alcohol-related offense within 7 years of a prior DUI is automatically categorized, under Michigan law, as a habitual offender, and must be ordered into counseling. The Secretary of State must revoke the person’s license under the legal presumption that they have an alcohol problem. Not surprisingly, many people facing a 2nd offense don’t believe they have any kind of problem with drinking. It is at this point where the person’s own personal belief about his or her drinking begin to conflict with how they are perceived by the court system. It is also at this point where some lawyers will fail their DUI clients. The issue of a drinking problem is a pivotal point in a 2nd offense DUI case. It is the lawyer's job to help the client take an honest look at themselves, and simultaneously understand how they are being looked at.
Of course, anyone facing a 3rd Offense DUI knows better than to even pretend their drinking hasn’t become a problem. Even so, many such people, at least on the inside, remain in denial. Understanding that the whole rest of the world has no doubt about the problematic nature of their drinking, a person in denial may “play along,” and not argue that they don’t have a problem, but still host the internal belief that they can somehow “handle” or “manage” their drinking. I’ve seen people who have accumulated 13 DUI convictions before they finally recognized that they needed to stop drinking.
This is a very important point, and it is completely overlooked by the court system. Unless and until a person sees their alcohol use as troublesome, they won’t really change. The reality is that the whole world might be able to see someone’s drinking as out of control, but if that person doesn’t agree, he or she won’t understand the need to change. As long as a person holds onto the belief that he or she can get control, or otherwise get a handle on their drinking, they’ll keep trying. It’s only when the person becomes, as the AA people say, “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” that they’ll think “enough is enough,” and take steps to get help. You can’t “force” someone to hit bottom. It happens when it happens, and it doesn’t even happen in most cases. Sadly enough, the statistics are dire: Approximately 95% of alcoholics die as a result of (meaning their death is accelerated or caused by) their alcoholism, and they die an average of 26 years earlier than they otherwise would have. You don’t meet an 85-year old alcoholic who has had a drinking problem for 50 years. By the same token, however, you never meet a recovering alcoholic or problem drinker who was “forced” to get well.
It is understandable, from an economic point of view that a lawyer may not want to disagree with a potential client and lose their business. This presents a dilemma, both economic and moral, when you pick up the phone and talk to a 2nd or 3rd or 5th offense drunk driver who wants to hire you and also wants you to know he or she doesn’t have a drinking problem. We’ve all heard the old saying that “The customer is always right.” But in the context of a DUI case, particularly a 2nd or 3rd offense case, that attitude on the part of the lawyer is beyond negligent; it is counter-productive. The court doesn’t even have a choice about how to treat a 2nd or 3rd time offender; counseling is mandatory because of the legal presumption that a habitual offender does, in fact, have an alcohol problem. Beyond that, you can take it to the bank that every Judge in the Detroit-area sees a 2nd or 3rd offense DUI driver as a huge risk on multiple levels. If a lawyer isn’t working from this angle right out of the gate, then his or her ability to make things better for you is severely compromised. How can someone fix a problem if they can’t even comprehend the scope of the problem?
Accordingly, the issue of a drinking problem (or not) is central to handling DUI cases.
Some people have a problem, and some don’t. Some of those with a problem recognize it, and others deny it. In order to be properly defended and protected from just being lumped into a “one-size-fits all” statistical category, your lawyer needs expertise in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of alcohol problems. This involves a lot more than just “handling” DUI cases. It requires detailed and specialized knowledge in the field of addiction studies. I have that knowledge.
I have taken a more than twenty-year professional interest of this subject, and beyond my extensive legal experience and personal study, I am enrolled and involved in formal, university-level post-graduate education in the field of addiction studies. This allows me to speak from a position of authority on the subject of a person’s relationship to alcohol. While the experience of everyone else in the criminal justice system is, by definition, limited to the role of alcohol in criminal and DUI cases, I bring an actual clinical understanding to any case I handle. This means I can help make things better and defend you from the kind of “help” the court stands ready to force upon you. It goes without saying that if you find yourself realizing you need help, this can be used to your advantage. I can help with that.
If you really don’t have a problem, however, I am uniquely qualified to help make sure that the system doesn’t grind you up “just because.”