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Home Blog DUI DUI and Gender Differences

As Michigan DUI lawyers, my team and I know that a DUI can be experienced differently depending on the person’s gender. In fact, the DUI experience is likely to be different just because of a person’s gender, social status, and/or cultural background. To be sure, there is plenty about DUI cases that is the same for everyone, but there’s a lot more to the story than just that. In this short article, we’re going to focus on gender, and specifically how the DUI experience will be different for men versus women.

There can be profound gender differences in the DUI experienceIt’s important to emphasize that what we’re talking about here is how the DUI is felt by the person going through it. As far as all the legal stuff goes, it will be the same for either sex. Ultimately, there are 2 key questions in every DUI case: Was the person was “operating” a vehicle? If so, did he or she have a BAC (bodily alcohol content) of .08 or more, or was he or she otherwise intoxicated or impaired? Whatever else there may be to a DUI case, gender is irrelevant to either of those issues.

Beyond that, however, a person’s gender can be a factor from the moment he or she has that first police contact. For example, a male DUI suspect may be more “mouthy” toward a smaller-statured female police officer than he would if dealing with a large, imposing male. When he sees the flashing lights, one of the first things a man might feel is anxiety about how is wife is going to react, whereas a single mother may be scared to death about how this will impact her ability to care for her child, or children.

If this article about gender differences relative to the DUI experience is going to have any value to the reader, then we have to be blunt and candid here, rather than trying to tip-toe around any notion of political correctness. Let’s look at 2 different hypothetical situations involving a man, and then a woman, being arrested for a DUI (in Michigan, the technical term is “Operating While Intoxicated,” or “OWI” for short):

First, imagine that Gary the Golfer is arrested for a 1st offense DUI on his way home from a day out on the course with his buddies after his weekly golf outing. He may very well tell them all about it when they play together next week. It wouldn’t be surprising if some of his pals may have had a DUI themselves, or know someone who had. It’s easy to imagine one of his golf buddies saying something like, “yeah, it sucks, but you’ll get through it.”

Second, consider how the DUI experience may be very different for someone like Conscientious Carla, who is typically a home-body. Let’s assume that on the night of her DUI arrest, she accepted an invitation to go out with some friends, and left her kids with her parents. Beyond her parents knowing about her DUI because they had to pick Carla up from the police station the next morning, one of her biggest concerns is keeping anyone else from finding out about her drunk driving arrest, particularly at work and the school her children attend.

Carla feels a kind of fear and shame that Gary can’t even comprehend. Sure, Gary probably won’t show up at work on Monday and brag about his DUI charge, but his biggest concern is mostly about what the whole thing is going to cost. He’s bummed, and certainly regretful, but not what one would call “freaked out.”

By contrast, Carla is “freaked out.” She is genuinely fearful of losing her license and not being able to get her kids to school, and she can’t help feel like a bit of a failure as a mother because she now has to deal with all of this. She’s knows she’s not, but she can’t help still feeling “dirty” after a night in a jail cell. The whole DUI experience may cause her to do some serious thinking about her relationship to alcohol.

In our roles as Michigan DUI lawyers, my team and I spend A LOT of time speaking with the very small circle of counselors we use in these cases. One of the most important things I have ever heard a therapist say about human emotion really hits home here:

Feelings are facts.

In other words, we could tell Carla a million times over that everything will be alright, and that a single DUI is NOT any kind of “stain” on her person. She may, intellectually speaking, understand that, but it still won’t completely erase her feelings. Her anxiety, fear and shame are very real. They may be exaggerated, but that won’t stop Carla from being negative affected by them.

Her DUI experience will be very different from Gary’s.

The simple fact is that men and women model different behaviors in our society. This has nothing to do with equality, but anymore than some big guy with a beard is likely to put a bow in his hair and weak pink lipstick, not many women are going to chew tobacco and carry a spit cup around.

That said, we all know that gender roles are not so contrastingly defined like that anymore, but we’re talking about the general rules here, not the exceptions.

Perhaps short of growing a beard, there is nothing that a man can do that a woman can’t, and often better (as the father an only-child daughter, I truly believe that).

Beyond all the disclaimers, exclusions and exceptions, though, the fact is that men and women can perceive and experience a lot of things differently. And to be clear, we get plenty of men who do “freak out” over a DUI. There is nothing strange about that. Fear of the unknown, and of possible legal penalties and negative consequences is entirely gender-neutral. Whatever else, the DUI experience is not fun for anyone.

Part of our goal in every 1st offense DUI case is to help make it the client’s last.

However, the way a person experiences a DUI situation may very well be different just because of his or her sex. For example, we noted above that our hypothetical Gary the Golfer is most concerned about the cost of his DUI.

Imagine that Carla, instead of being a single mom, was married to a very successful entrepreneur, and that they have more money than they know what to do with. Accordingly the issue of cost has never crossed her mind. She has a driver who can take the kids to school, so that’s not any kind of potential problem, either.

Instead, she’s mostly caught up in the whole “shame” thing, and really worried that someone in her family’s social circle will find out about her DUI. That could still cause her far more anxiety than the issue of cost could bother Carl.

What’s important here isn’t some magic answer. There is no template for dealing with a DUI for one gender versus the other. Instead, what matters is simply being aware that there very likely are differences in how the whole DUI experience will be perceived by a woman as opposed to a man. The idea isn’t that it will be better, or worse, but rather just knowing that she may have very different feelings about it than her male counterpart.

Although it’s a bit of an oversimplification, here is a meme that really gets to the heart of this difference:

What’s at issue in this somewhat half-joking meme is a young boy’s perception. In this case, it’s what he thinks girls like, what he thinks is important to them, and how he thinks he should go about impressing the opposite sex. Of course, our young daredevil isn’t exactly correct about any of that. However – and this is the whole point of our discussion – it’s his perception and how that affects him, meaning how he feels about it, that matters.

The good news here is that, perception aside, and especially in the context of a 1st offense, what actually happens to someone in a DUI case, regardless of gender, is almost always the same. Although plenty of women wind up facing a DUI charge, they still make up a minority of drunk driving offenders. Statistically speaking, far more men wind up in handcuffs than women for criminal offenses.

Although my team and I see plenty of female repeat DUI offenders, when it comes to 2nd and 3rd offense DUI cases, men significantly outnumber women.

In that regard, at least more often than for men, women tend to be a “one and done” in the DUI world. It may not be entirely wrong to suggest that the whole DUI experience is so unpleasant that women are better than men at NOT making the same mistake again. The numbers certainly support that proposition.

Thus, for women, there seems to at least be potential opportunity in that the reader may have sensed. Of course, as lawyers, we can’t merely stand before the Judge and say, “Well, your honor, as you’ve noticed, our client is female, and statistically speaking, that means she’s less likely to get another DUI, so you can really skip all the penalties and such…”

However, when in that situation, we’d be remiss to NOT point out to the Judge how the whole DUI experience has stressed out our client, and how she had internalized it. The greater the impact getting a DUI has had on someone, the less likely he or she is to do it again. If someone can just blow off his or her DUI as a random occurrence of bad luck, that’s a lot different than having lost a ton of sleep worrying about it.

Think about our hypothetical guy from above, Gary the Golfer: He won’t post about his DUI on Facebook, but he’ll probably tell the guys when they golf together next time.

Conscientious Carla, by contrast, is going to be up all night trying to figure out how to keep this whole thing a secret.

Assume Gary has kids; it doesn’t much matter whether he’s married or divorced, because it’s more likely than not that his wife (or ex-wife) either takes them to school, or can step in and do that if Gary can’t drive for a while.

Meanwhile, poor Carla, the single mom, has nobody to drive her kids to school, so she’ll have to get outside help.

The flip side is that the DUI experience will also be different for Gary than Carla, and not just by way of how each perceives it. Gary probably won’t experience much, if any, anxiety about getting his kids to school, whereas Carla is going to have figure it out and then to take action.

That’s not just a matter of perception, either – it’s an actual difference that is felt by the person.

There is no grand revelation to all of this, other than the fact that, as DUI lawyers, my team and I are at least aware of how a DUI can be different for men versus women. After all, our job is to not only help the client through the legal part of the case, but to help him or her as a person, as well.

No matter what gender, one thing is always true: Success in a DUI case is best measured by what does not happen to you. Specifically, that means avoiding as many of the legal penalties and negative consequences as possible. As conscientious DUI lawyers, we want to make sure that, beyond that simple metric, we actually help our client through the emotional and personal parts of the case.

If you’re facing a DUI and looking for a lawyer, be a savvy consumer and read around. Pay attention to how various lawyers break down the DUI process, and how they explain their different approaches to it.

This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable, and updated each week with a new, original installment. To-date, I have written and published more than 625 articles in the DUI section. There is nothing like it anywhere, but don’t just take my word for it – check around for yourself and see.

When you’ve done enough reading, start calling around. 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 firm a ring. You can learn a lot by actually speaking with a live person, and that’s exactly what you’ll get when you call our office.

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 and explain things. We’ll even be happy to compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.