Prepare for the Alcohol Assessment Test and PSI with a Michigan DUI Attorney

The mandatory written alcohol assessment test that every DUI driver must take is about the single most important factor in deterring the outcome of any case pending in Oakland, Macomb or Wayne County. In many of the articles in the DUI section of my blog, I have covered the subject of alcohol assessment testing in significant detail. Here, on my website, I’ll take more of an overview approach, because those blog articles examine the nuances of an alcohol assessment in a nearly microscopic fashion. That said, this will still be a fairly long section.

There are really 3 major steps involved in a typical DUI case:

  1. The pre-trial, when the DUI lawyer and the prosecutor meet and try and work out a deal to finalize the case;
  2. The pre-sentence investigation (or PSI), which consists of an interview with a probation officer and the taking of the written alcohol assessment test (our subject here). The test is numerically scored, and the probation officer uses that score along with the other information he or she gathers to generate a written sentencing recommendation that is sent to the Judge and (not surprisingly) recommends what the Judge should order at sentencing; and
  3. The sentencing, where the Judge reads and considers the recommendation, listens to the defense lawyer, and then orders whatever is going to happen to you.

In the real world, the first step typically involves negotiating some kind of plea, plea bargain or sentencing deal, unless we can find something “wrong” enough with the evidence to challenge.

The second step is, in reality, where what is going to actually going to happen to you is decided.

The third step amounts to the Judge reading the sentencing recommendation and, in most cases, ordering whatever is recommended therein. Every Judge in every court follows the recommendation very closely. Whatever the Judge orders are the consequences that you’ll have to deal with as a result of your DUI. In this context, success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you.

This means that the second step is the most important part of the process in terms of what actually happens to you. The “consequences” we are talking about, meaning those things that the you will actually wind up having to do (or things you are not permitted to do, like drink any alcohol while on probation), tend to be things like classes, counseling,Victim Impact Panels (VIP), weekend alcohol awareness classes, or even community service (this is usually not handed out in Macomb County, by the way) or any other similar such things. And to be clear, in my experience as a Michigan attorney, no one with in 1st offense DUI (with the sole possible exception being anyone who winds up before 1 particular district Judge in Oakland County) goes to jail.

For what it’s worth, most 2nd DUI offenders in Metro-Detroit area can likewise be kept out of jail, although minimizing the other consequences that they will endure requires their attorney to take a very different approach. In 2nd offense cases, we look very seriously, for example, at sobriety court.

The pre-sentence investigation is the most important step of the 3 in a typical DUI case. By extension, the alcohol assessment test is the most important part of that step.

There are numerous alcohol assessment tests that can be administered by the court, but most use either some version of the M.A.S.T. test or the NEEDS assessment, both of which can be “scored” by anyone who can read the instructions and do simple math.

Beyond my legal duties as a DUI lawyer in Michigan, I have studied the whole subject and field of alcohol (as well as substance abuse) assessment, diagnosis and treatment for over 20 years, having completed a formal, post-graduate program of addiction studies in the University setting, and not online. Given that the other major part of my practice is driver’s license restoration, understanding the whole spectrum of drug and alcohol problems, including how they develop, are diagnosed and ultimately treated is central to all the work I do every day.

This special knowledge means I can make sure you do as well as possible on the alcohol assessment test. Remember, this test is numerically scored. The higher the score, the more classes, counseling and/or treatment you’ll be getting. By contrast, the lower you score, the more you will avoid (and the less you’ll have to do). For everything we could say on this subject, it’s really as simple as that.

It is, therefore, critical that I thoroughly prepare each of my clients for this ultra-important part (the most critical step, really) of the Michigan DUI process.

Whatever is recommended in the PSI report is pretty much a blueprint for what the Judge is going to order. No Judge, anywhere, deviates much, if at all, from what his or her own probation department recommends in any given case.

This simple truth is that a better recommendation gives way to a better sentence. The best thing is to make sure the client gets a favorable, lenient recommendation.

This point is crystal clear to anyone who has had a DUI before (or has been through any criminal case where there was a PSI). I can, as a lawyer of 25-plus years, all but guarantee that if you’ve been through this before, whatever was recommended by the probation department in the PSI report was exacly what the Judge ordered in your case. 

It does no good, therefore, for a DUI lawyer to show up on the date of sentencing and give a heartwarming speech some Detroit-area courtroom about all of your accomplishments and wonderful traits. The Judge may be impressed, but, quite literally, when all is said and done, he or she will look down at that recommendation and then order you to do most, if not all of what is listed on it.

This, in turn, highlights how important it is for you to be thoroughly prepared for the PSI process in general, and the alcohol screening test in particular.

Earlier, I noted that there are 3 commonly administered alcohol assessment tests in DUI cases. I also noted that there are a number of others, but administering and interpreting those usually requires a high level of training and certain credentials, often a MSW (Master of Social Work) degree, or a CAAC or CADC certification. Probation officers do not have those credentials, leaving them in a position to only be able to administer those tests which require nothing more than adding up a person’s test score. 

That score is compared to a “key” that basically says something like “A score 0-3 points indicates no problem; a score of 4 to 7 points indicates an early-stage alcohol problem; a score of 8-11 points indicates a middle-stage alcohol problem,” and so forth. Thus, the kind of of classes, counseling and/or treatment that is recommended in any given DUI case is closely tied to the specific number of points a person scores.

To put it in simple terms there are basically 5 components to any alcohol test. Master these, and you can master any alcohol assessment test out there:

  • Family History
  • Social Comment
  • Blackouts
  • Social Conflict
  • Effects Threshold (tolerance)

The problem is that you can’t “master” these things quickly, or without some highly qualified help. In my office, our first appointment with a new DUI client will generally last at least 2 hours, if not more. At this appointment, I introduce you to the alcohol testing process, and show you how to safely navigate through whichever test is given.

We’ll go over this again (it’s always my preference to have a second, in-office meeting just for this purpose) to review the PSI process and the alcohol assessment. While we’ll spend a couple of hours making sure you score as low as possible on the alcohol assessment test, we’ll also spend some time going over the whole PSI process, and how you should deals with a probation officer.

Remember, probation officers spend all day dealing with people who, no matter what their other accomplishments, have pled guilty to or were found guilty of a criminal offense, like a DUI. Their day-to-day experiences are unique, and understanding how they see things is really the most important part of knowing how to present yourself to them. This is also an important part of the preparation process.

The whole goal here, of course, is to produce the most favorable, lenient sentencing recommendation possible. If the Judge is rather predictably going to order you to do whatever is recommended, then making sure that whatever is recommended is as favorable as possible is obviously job number one.

Doing this successfully, however, takes time and work. This is not something that can be skipped over, or made easier by simply throwing money at it. Instead, the best practices for a Michigan DUI lawyer like me is to work closely with each client to ensure that when they walk to meet with the probation officer on the day of their interview, they are as well-prepared as possible. The client should have been prepared to “ace” the alcohol assessment test, and score as low as possible, while also knowing what kinds of things to avoid, and what kinds of things to highlight during their interview. My clients certainly will.

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