What do you get for Your Money?
What do you get for your money? You get help. You get things made better. The last thing you need is some over-priced, over-dressed “suit” hanging around you like an ornament to watch as you get pounded by the Judge. To me, this is just adding insult to injury.
My job in a drunk driving case is to do two things for you:
- Protect your record, and
- Minimize the consequences.
Let's use an example. Say you have been arrested for 1st offense DUI somewhere in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb County (a $3200 case, by the way). You were pulled over by a local police department for weaving, and your breath test at the police station was a .16.
First, I look to see if there is a way out. Is there some bona fide legal problem with the stop, or the arrest, or the breath test? If not, then we look at what you're facing and what can be done about it. To do that, you need to understand the charge against you.
OWI, or operating while intoxicated, first offense, is a misdemeanor. It carries a maximum possible jail sentence of 93 days in the County jail, and fines of up to $500.00 plus costs. It does not, by the way, carry any mandatory minimum jail sentence, which means you do not have to be sentenced to jail. Indeed, a first offender going to jail is a very rare thing. Being placed on probation is a very real possibility, however, as is being required to attend alcohol classes or treatment. OWI also carries a penalty of 6 points on your driving record. A more detailed examination of the various Drunk Driving charges and their penalties is covered in the next section Common Drunk Driving Charges and Penalties.
If you are convicted of OWI or simply plead guilty to it, your license will be suspended by the Secretary of State for 6 months, no more and no less, and you will have what is known as a hard suspension for the first 30 days. This means that you will have no license to drive at all for 30 days, and that for the remaining 5 months you will be on a restricted license. This will allow you to drive to and from and during the course of (that means for) work, to and from any schooling you are enrolled in, for any necessary medical treatment (tooth whitening is not considered necessary!) and for anything that the court orders you to do.
You are not permitted to drive for any other reason whatsoever. That means no grocery shopping, no taking the kids to school, no taking your parents to the doctor, or anything else that is not work-related, for your own education, your own necessary medical treatment, or for something that the court has ordered you to do.
Again, assuming that the case is solid, then I negotiate a bargain, or a deal, called a plea bargain, with the prosecutor.
In most cases, I can negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charge from OWI, or Operating While Intoxicated or even Operating with a BAC of .17 or greater (High BAC), to the lesser charge of OWVI, or Operating While Visibly Impaired. This offense carries only 4 points to your driving record (not 6), and only requires that your license be restricted for 90 days. This means you never completely lose the privilege to drive, and the restrictions outlined earlier only last for 90 days.
Impaired carries a smaller fine of up to $300.00 plus costs (as opposed to $500.00 plus costs for the OWI charge). There is still the possibility of up to 93 days in jail, although in almost all cases even any jail time is extremely unlikely, at least in the courts where I work.
The ultimate issue in these cases, if you are facing a Drunk Driving charge, is simple: What is going to happen to me?
Under Michigan law, a person who is convicted of or pleads guilty to an Impaired or Drunk Driving charge MUST undergo a standardized alcohol assessment test prior to being sentenced by the Judge. These tests are written questions and each answer has a point-value. That means your result is scored, like any test you take in school. The higher you score, the more likely you are to have or develop an alcohol problem. The lower you score, the less likely you are to have or to develop an alcohol problem.
Essentially, what happens to you is a direct result of how low or high you score. It works like this: your first court date with your lawyer is called a Pre-Trial. It is at most often at this first court date that your lawyer will work out a plea bargain with the prosecutor. In some cases, especially second offense cases, a sentence agreement rather than a plea bargain is worked out. That means that although the charge can't be reduced, your lawyer and the prosecutor work out a deal covering what will happen to you at sentencing. Obviously, the main thing is a deal calling for no jail time.
After the deal is worked out at the pre-trial, the court will set a second date for sentencing. This is when whatever will happen to you gets ordered by the Judge. In the meantime, another date is set for what is called a Pre-Sentence Investigation, or a PSI. This typically is an appointment for you to meet with a Probation Officer for an interview and to take the alcohol assessment. The three most common tests administered are called the MAST, the N.E.E.D.S. assessment, and the SASSI. Long story short, they are three versions of a test which seek to assess your drinking habits. Your test score as well as your interview with the Probation Officer result in the PSI report, a written recommendation to the Judge outlining your test results and the Probation Officer's impressions of you, your drinking habits, and what is felt you need to avoid any more problems, including a jail sentence if the Probation Officer feels it’s warranted.
The PSI report is the most important thing in the world for someone with a Drunk Driving charge. As a recommendation, it can be fairly called the blueprint for what the Judge will do to you. A favorable recommendation almost always means a favorable sentence. Likewise, a stricter recommendation almost always means a stricter sentence. I like to put it this way: 99% of the time the Judge will follow 100% of the recommendation the Probation Department has submitted in any given case. Good recommendations result in good sentences. Tough recommendations result in tough sentences.
Even the O.J. Simpson Dream Team of lawyers would not, after hours of arguing, be able to get a Judge to sentence you much differently than to what the PSI Report recommends. On the flip side, if you get a good recommendation, all your lawyer has to say at sentencing is something like "We hope Your Honor follows the recommendation" and you're likely to walk out of court in good shape.
So you get the idea, I hope, that this PSI Recommendation is the all-important thing in a Drunk Driving case. It is.
However, getting a favorable recommendation is not as easy as it might sound. Take the following, innocent-sounding question. Remember, in our example, you have been arrested for Drunk Driving and blew a .16 on the breathalyzer machine. The probation officer, in gathering information about you, asks "How drunk did you feel that night?"
Now most of us have a sense of pride and self-respect. We comb our hair and wash our clothes because we care what people think of us. Without thinking, many people might just answer something like "Oh my gosh, I didn't feel that bad. I would never drive knowing I was so drunk I might cause an accident. I guess I just had a few too many."
Sounds honest, right? Well, that's about the worst answer a person could have given. Instead of looking responsible and socially conscious, the person essentially just said, without knowing it, is something that can be interpreted like "I was fine. I'm used to it; I have a bit of a tolerance. I'm no two-drink lightweight. I can be twice the legal limit and feel okay to drive. I was just unlucky."
The better answer would have been "Well, I knew I was buzzed, but in truth I just wanted to get home and thought I could make it without being seen or caught." Now they have essentially denied being an experienced drinker who can "hold" their liquor, and they don't look like someone who does this often and just finally got caught.
The problem here is that almost every question you are asked, whether on the test or by the Probation Officer, will be like that. The better answers seem counter-intuitive unless you know what is really being asked underneath the actual question. You need to be prepared for every step of this process, because each answer has the potential to be used against you in ways you never thought possible.
The good news is that with proper preparation, you can give a clear picture of who and what you really are. It is critically important that you don't get stuck looking like your drinking is an issue. For me, preparing you for this process is the most important part of what I do in any Drunk Driving case.
Here's where I can help more than any other DUI lawyer: I have completed a formal post-graduate program in alcohol and addiction studies. This means that I understand the clinical side of alcohol issues, and can make sure you don't get run over by a system that tends to think everyone arrested for a DUI has a drinking problem. When the subject of alcohol and its use or misuse come up, I need to be the foremost expert in the courtroom, and I am. This special training means I have the unequaled ability to protect you in a DUI case. And if you're drinking has become a problem, I can help with that more than you can imagine.
What's the payoff? Imagine not doing as well as you could have and as a result, the Probation Officer recommends that you attend some alcohol classes. Maybe you get stuck with rehab or counseling, or wind up having to enroll in a series of alcohol education classes (that you pay for, by the way) that you could easily have avoided had you known what was actually going to be asked of you, and how to properly respond. Wouldn't you have traded an extra hour or so in my office for the six or eight evening classes that you now have to pay for and attend? And if you fail to attend one, for whatever reason, you have to go in front of the Judge and explain why you shouldn’t be held in Contempt of Court or be found in Violation of your Probation, which can result in additional punishment, including jail.
To anyone who has a prior Drunk Driving, and whoever you had as a lawyer, I can safely say that whatever happened to you was pretty much exactly what was recommended in your PSI report. People in that group are undoubtedly shaking their heads in agreement right now.
So, to answer the question "what do you get for the money?" I respond that if you hire me, you get the best help possible in this situation. You get over 28 years of experience handling these cases, with the same Prosecutors, in front of the same Judges, day after day, by a lawyer who cares, and who can protect you like no other. Whatever the facts of your case, I promise to get the best results humanly and legally possible.
No lawyer can ever do more, and I'll never do less. Call me at (586) 465-1980 to discuss your case.