When a DUI just “Happens”

If you’re facing a Detroit DUI, it seems that everywhere you look, you’re reminded about what a serious thing it is, and how you need to consult an attorney. Over the last number of years, society has elevated the status of a DUI charge to make it a really big, expensive deal. DUI cases are big business. They keep police, judges and lawyers busy. They fill the waiting rooms of probation departments, and are the reason why so many “testing” facilities exist. DUI cases have given rise to the whole new dimension of the testing and monitoring industry, and they keep the appointment books of substance abuse counselors filled, as well. Ads run on the radio and on TV letting you know that a DUI is a very serious, expensive proposition. After all, the public from the dangers of letting a risky drinker get behind the wheel, doesn’t it?

But I am not a Risky Drinker!

Yet this very question, and the whole “anti-drunk driving” movement seems to steamroll over the very person most likely to face a 1st offense DUI: The normal, law-abiding, tax-paying citizen that simply makes a mistake in judgment and tries to drive home after having had a few too many. In some corners, even describing a DUI this way is considered heresy, but the indisputable fact is that most people who get a DUI will never be back for another. It can just happen, and, as it turns out, it does sometimes happen to good, honest people. My job as a Michigan defense lawyer is to make sure that such a person doesn’t face a DUI like some kind of hardcore criminal or raging problem drinker. If you’re currently on bond, waiting for your case to come up, and are required to submit to any kind of alcohol testing, then you’ve already had your first real taste of being treated like part of the herd.

DUI Stigma

We could write a series of textbooks about how and why things are the way they are, but what matters to anyone facing a DUI right now is that, as the saying goes, “it is what it is.” Your DUI attorney needs to navigate through the minefield of Michigan courts and DUI stigmas. Specifically, that means we need to make sure that you’re not seen as some risky, problem drinker, especially because the system seems predisposed toward that conclusion. We need to make sure that we hold tight and avoid having you corralled like part of the herd into endless classes and counseling and testing designed to facilitate a lifestyle change you don’t need. We have to make sure the court sees your individual circumstances and understands that this DUI is a huge, once-in-a-lifetime deal for you, particularly because it is so out-of-character.

There is a decidedly “one-size-fits-all” approach to DUI cases from the court’s side of things. In every DUI case, before a person can be sentenced, he or she must undergo a mandatory alcohol assessment administered (and “scored”) by a probation officer. The probation officer must also interview the person, and then forward a written report, called a sentencing recommendation, to the Judge. This report advises the Judge as to what conditions of sentence to impose. In theory, a person’s “score” on the alcohol assessment test should be the main driver of any recommendation. Theory, however, gives way to 2 real world problems:

  • The “test” used to evaluate whether a person has a drinking problem or not is woefully inadequate to make such a determination in the first place. Evaluating a person for a potential alcohol problem requires specialized training and credentials. We usually call such a professional a “substance abuse counselor.” In their world, determining if a person has a drinking problem or not involves much more than a score on a test. In fact, most good counselors will use clinical tests that require specialized education and training to administer and interpret. The kinds of tests used by a probation officer are of the “do-it-yourself,” or “downloadable” variety, and are far less reliable than the instruments used by real clinicians as part of a much more comprehensive evaluation process. And to be clear, a proper assessment of someone is a process, and not something that can or should be done by checking answers to a page full of questions.

  • Probation officers don’t counsel or treat anyone for anything. They are not “counselors.” They supervise people convicted of crimes and make sure the Judge’s orders are followed. In fact, a probation officer’s whole perspective on drinking is highly skewed because everyone he or she has contact with has already been convicted of a DUI. This means that a probation officer will never in the course of his or her career, have subsequent contact with anyone whose 1st DUI is their only DUI. By contrast, every 2nd Offender they see is, by definition, someone whose 1st Offense was clearly not their last. As a result, probation officers see every DUI Driver as “risky.

Where Do You Actually fit in With Your Alcohol Assessment?

Almost every week, I read some probation officer’s sentencing recommendation wherein my client has been prepared to and in fact did well on the alcohol assessment, and despite that, the probation officer will still recommend some kind of counseling, citing the “seriousness of the instant offense” or some such reason. This is where I have to stand up and show the Judge the exact clinical diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence, and demonstrate that my client does not meet those standards, and shouldn’t be treated for a problem they don’t have.

How I can Make Them see the Difference

I can do that because I’m not just some run of the mill Michigan DUI lawyer that is “into” this stuff; I am actually involved in the formal, university post-graduate level study of addiction issues. I speak the language of substance abuse counselors and addiction professionals. I study addiction and alcoholism, and the most current protocols for the diagnosis and treatment of such problems. As a DUI lawyer, I am uniquely qualified in this field, meaning that I am specially qualified to protect you from being ensnared in an overly prophylactic approach.

The whole point here is that for most of my clients, being charged with a DUI, is a big deal. There is no underlying drinking problem to find through any kind of assessment. Most of my DUI clients have never been in the back of a police car before. Going to jail represents the worst night of their lives. They simply made a mistake, and don’t even have to think about not making it again. For my typical DUI client, the experience is so regrettable that the bad memory is more than enough to prevent a repeat performance. I have to prevent my client from getting swept downstream in the rush to judgment. While “an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure,” unnecessary prevention is more than just unnecessary; it’s expensive and time consuming, as well. We have to avoid that.

Sometimes, a DUI just “happens.” That doesn’t mean it represents anything more than a one-shot deal. I am the Detroit-area DUI attorney who will make sure that doesn't get lost in the in the confusion, and ensure you are treated fairly.

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