Skip to main content

3rd Offense DUI in Michigan – How to get the Best Results in Your Case

Home Blog DUI 3rd Offense DUI in Michigan – How to get the Best Results in Your Case

A DUI 3rd offense case requires very special legal handling. Everyone knows that it’s a big deal, and that the potential penalties (we’ll look at those later) are serious. Rather than focus how bad things could be, however, in this article, we’ll look at the law in plain terms, and then focus on how we can avoid as many of those negative consequences as possible. After all, the whole point of hiring a lawyer is to escape as much of the potential legal fallout as one can.

A 3rd offense DUI must be carefully handled to achieve the best outcomeIn order to have an honest and useful discussion about this, we have to be blunt: Anyone facing a DUI 3rd offense is seen as a problem drinker and a risk to the public. There isn’t a whole lot of public sympathy or understanding available for such people. That has to be front and center in a person’s mind as he or she deals with this situation. Nobody cares about how “sorry” someone might be, nor is anyone interested in another “it won’t happen again” promise, either.

For anyone facing a 3rd offense drunk driving charge, actions will definitely speak louder than words. As Michigan DUI lawyers, we guide our clients through the right proactive steps that will result in a better case outcome. Everyone’s first hope is that the whole case can be dismissed. Statistically, however, that’s always the exception, rather than the rule. Of course, our first order of business is to find a way out of the case, but when that can’t happen, then we have to do serious damage control.

Under Michigan’s DUI law, it’s a felony when a person is charged with his or her 3rd DUI (technically, a 3rd alcohol-related driving offense) at any point in his or her life. It doesn’t matter how long ago someone had either of their 2 previous alcohol-related driving convictions. It’s simply the law that DUI number 3 – whenever it occurs – is a felony. This is a change from the way things used to work in Michigan, and the reasons for that are instructive.

Prior to 2007, a person had to rack up 3 DUI’s within 10 years to be charged with a felony. Then, in January of that year, the law changed. There had been a fairly newsworthy case of some guy who had been driving drunk and killed a teenager named Heidi. That tragedy marked his 2nd offense, and because of the death involved, the guy served 10 years in prison.

Later, after being released from prison for causing a drunk driving death, he got busted yet again for what was his 3rd DUI. Under the law in effect at the time, he could only be charged with a misdemeanor 1st offense DUI (in Michigan, what everyone calls a “DUI” is actually termed “Operating While Intoxicated,” or “OWI” for short). The absurdity of situation became the impetus for a change in the law.

As it stands now, the law simply provides that a person’s 3rd DUI offense can be charged and prosecuted as a felony, no matter when either of his or her 2 priors occurred. That may explain the law, but there’s a lot more at play here that the reader should understand.

Clinically speaking, once a person has racked up 2 DUI’s, he or she has already crossed the line into problem drinking. That bears repeating: It is a clinical diagnostic fact that a person’s 2nd DUI stands as proof that he or she has some kind of alcohol problem. Of course, the courts know this, and the law treats all such offenders accordingly.

Given that, when a person becomes a 3rd time DUI offender, it means his or her troubled relationship to alcohol has grown even worse.

These are pretty basic assumptions within the court system. It’s important to understand that Judges deal with repeat offenders all the time. Every Judge knows that, almost without exception, any person showing up for a 3rd DUI offense has probably said “it won’t happen again” after both his or her 1st and 2nd offense convictions.

They also know that a person’s DUI record only grows longer because his or her drinking problem is getting worse. As a practical matter, it is a foregone conclusion that anyone in court for a 3rd offense DUI has a drinking problem that is both serious and quite likely long-term, as well.

This means that it is beyond useless to say anything like “I’m not an alcoholic,” or “I don’t really drink that much,” or even “I was just unlucky.” A good DUI lawyer should never let that happen because nobody is going to buy it – especially not within the court system. This is a hard but simple truth that a person must accept as a starting point for making things better in a 3rd DUI offense case.

Anyone standing before the court for a 3rd offense DUI is going to required to complete some kind of alcohol and/or substance abuse treatment. Given that whatever was ordered for the person’s 1st offense didn’t work, nor did whatever had been ordered for the 2nd offense, either, whatever is ordered this time is likely to be a lot more intense.

That makes sense on the surface, but here’s where a deeper understanding of the development, diagnosis and treatment of alcohol problems can make a difference. Years ago, I felt it important to learn the clinical side of things because of our firm’s concentration in DUI and driver’s license restoration cases. To do that, I completed a post-graduate program of addiction studies. There, I learned one of the most important lessons in the world of recovery:

Different strokes for different folks.

Each person, as an individual, responds differently to what we generally call “treatment.” Some people thrive in individual, one-on-one counseling, while others do better in small groups. Many people can get a lot out of an IOP (intensive outpatient) program. Others need to actually go away, and respond more favorably when they start out in-patient

For its part, AA is probably the most well-known form of help for a drinking problem. While it may be the best program for some people, it’s not for everyone. In point of fact, most people hate AA.

The question then becomes, what good does it do to mandate that a person stay in a community support program they despise, and/or that simply does not help?

As DUI lawyers, we understand that the court system doesn’t have the resources or ability to explore all the options and find what’s best for each individual. We have to work with our clients – proactively – to make sure he or she finds the kind of help that is a good fit and actually does work for them. That sounds great, but it also means that we have to take into account a person’s financial resources and life schedule. A single parent with sole custody of his or her children can’t go off for 30 days to the “Happy Valley Luxury Recovery Center” for rehab.

Thus, we have to make sure the client finds something that fits their life, but that will also pass muster with the court. If not, then a person will get put into whatever “one-size-fits-all” program(s) a particular court uses, regardless of whether it works for them or not.

Many years ago, I was sitting across from a driver’s license restoration client who had racked up 3 DUI’s. The key to winning a driver’s license appeal is proving that a person has really quit drinking for a “legally sufficient” period of time, and has both the ability and commitment (meaning determination) to remain alcohol-free for life.

As we talked, I learned that this lady had more than enough sober time, but she also had a very interesting take on her recovery that really changed how I think about “help” for an alcohol or substance abuse problem.

She pointed out something that I had always heard – how so many of the people in AA would talk about how they would self-medicate to find relief from various kinds of emotional pain they had felt in the past. She said that almost everyone had a story about how they were escaping some kind of emotional trauma, guilt, or something else that was overtly negative.

Then, she shook her head and said, “but not me.” As she explained it, it’s not that she was “better” than anyone else, but rather that, in her case, her drinking had simply started out as a way to have fun. Being young, she quickly came to rely on drinking to have fun, and never really learned to enjoy herself without alcohol. This client certainly wasn’t poor, noting that she had been raised in fairly well-off suburb, and had gone to fine schools.

At no point in her life did she experience anything that she tried to forget about, or numb away by drinking. As she noted, “alcohol let me loosen up a bit and come out of my shell.” Other than that, what had once been a vice had simply turned into a habit.

I relate this story because it’s important for us to understand where our clients are coming from, and it’s certainly not all from the same place.

For our part, my team and I never lose sight of the fact that there’s more at stake here than just pleasing the court. Anyone facing a DUI 3rd offense charge really needs to take steps to quit drinking. We’ll forego the clinical dialogue here and just cut to the chase: If you’re back for DUI #3, then you’ve got a serious problem, and it won’t get better on its own. Once a person has a drinking problem, the only way to “fix” it is to quit drinking.

Hopefully, anyone in this situation understands that trying to control, limit, or manage one’s drinking simply does not work. Of course, some people don’t get that, and my team and I see them for their 4th, 5th, or 6th DUI.

The simple fact is that there is no way to successfully limit or manage one’s drinking once it has become a real problem. In fact, any attempts to do that are considered diagnostic proof that a person, in fact, HAS a problem.

Beyond making things better in court, it’s no doubt high time for anyone going through a 3rd DUI offense to make things better in his or her life, as well. By the time someone gets his or her 3rd drunk driving, it’s quite likely that drinking has stopped being fun.

To put all this into the simplest terms – ENOUGH ALREADY!

This all makes sense here, as written, but many of the people we represent for a 3rd DUI offense have already had 4 or 5 prior DUI’s. There is no higher DUI charge than a 3rd offense. As busy as we are handling DUI cases, we’re just one law firm. Judges see this stuff multiple times every day. They know that by the time a person shows up for a 3rd offense, he or she is in a bad way, and that there’s a very real risk they might just keep on drinking (and driving), no matter what.

Unless the case gets thrown out of court, then it is imperative that we show the Judge our client has taken steps and had a real “epiphany” about getting sober. Remember, there is no risk of someone driving drunk if they don’t drink.

Unfortunately, some people get too caught up in the legal marketing messages about “beating” the case, and when that doesn’t happen, they’re right in the bullseye of getting sent to whatever treatment the court will order, after they get out of jail.

In some DUI 3rd offense cases, we can avoid both a felony conviction and jail altogether. Beyond having been proactive from the start, there are things that can be done as part of the case to really avoid many, if not most, of the potential legal penalties and negative consequences from a conviction for a 3rd offense.

Sometimes, this is done by seeking admission to a sobriety court program.

Sobriety courts are a deep subject in their own right, so I’d refer the reader to the linked articles. The short version here is that there is basically no downside to sobriety court, assuming one can be admitted. The first requirement for admission, though, is that a person must want the help these programs offer. Here again, we come back to that simple message – enough already – that will either resonate with a person – or not.

If you are facing a DUI 3rd offense and looking for a lawyer, be a wise consumer and read around. Pay close attention to how each lawyer breaks down the legal process, and how he or she explains their own approach to it.

This blog is a great starting point. It is fully searchable, and updated weekly with a new, original installment. To-date, I have written and published over 620 articles in the DUI section. The reader can find more information here than anywhere, but don’t take my word for it – check for yourself.

When you’ve done enough reading, start calling around and comparing lawyers. You can learn a lot by reading, but nothing beats speaking with a live person. If your case is pending in the Greater-Detroit area, meaning anywhere in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb or one of the surrounding counties, make sure you give our office a ring, and you’ll speak directly to a live person who will be able to help you right then and there.

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 has told you.