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How to Make Your First Offense DUI in Michigan Your Last

Home Blog DUI How to Make Your First Offense DUI in Michigan Your Last

Everyone facing a 1st offense DUI charge certainly intends for it to be their last. There has probably never been anyone in the history of the world who has thought differently. However, and as the old saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The reader can be sure that every person who has ever had a 2nd offense or 3rd offense DUI had sworn, each time prior, that they would never get caught driving drunk again. That simple promise may work for some people, but not for everyone. Before anyone blows this off, let me explain…

A 1st offense DUI charge should also be your last drinking and driving offenseIn our roles as Michigan DUI lawyers, we actively try to help our clients to make sure that their first DUI is, in fact, their last. This involves more than just trying to scare someone by rattling off how much worse a 2nd offense is over a 1st offense DUI charge. It’s understandable that everyone’s first concerns are things like staying out of jail, protecting their record, and not losing the ability to drive. Fortunately, that’s usually easy for us to accomplish in 1st offense cases.

Many people are so relieved when they avoid those things that they have little interest in thinking about any kind of “next time,” because they’re convinced there won’t be a next time. To be sure, for the vast majority of people, a 1st offense DUI charge WILL be their last. However, anytime a person finds him or herself in criminal legal trouble, it’s important to examine the whole situation honestly, and with an open mind, to see how he or she got there.

In the context of a 1st offense DUI charge, that means we need to look at the drinking behavior that led to the whole incident. This is NOT to suggest that a person has a drinking problem. Instead, we need to look back at all the circumstances surrounding a 1st offense DUI situation. The court is ABSOLUTELY going to do just that. As the old saying goes, “forewarned is forearmed.” To protect our client, we have to examine all of this, both in the context of the existing DUI case, and with an eye toward the future.

Let’s use a hypothetical to explain: Imagine that Tipsy Tom, going through his 1st offense DUI charge (the proper legal term in Michigan is Operating While Intoxicated, or “OWI” for short), is sitting for the legally required interview with the probation officer (more on that later) and explaining what happened of the night of his DUI arrest:

“Well, I play softball [or bowl, or play hockey, or whatever] in a league on Wednesdays, and we usually go out for a few beers after. This time, I guess I overdid it. I thought I was okay to drive, but….”

Wow! Tom just used a steam shovel to dig himself into a really deep hole.

This will make sense when we compare what Tom just said to a very different explanation given by another hypothetical character, Tippling Tina:

“I’m pretty much a homebody, and I don’t really drink that often, maybe like a glass of wine a few times a year, at most. This time, though, one of my high school friends was visiting here in Michigan, and she got a few of our other old friends together for a night out, so I kind of felt obligated to go. These girls are much better at drinking than I am, but I guess I just got caught up.

At one point, I told myself to stop drinking, but they just kept buying rounds and I bascially got lost in the moment. By the time we left, I just wanted to make it home, and thought I could do that without getting caught.”

One of the most obvious differences between Tom and Tina is that Tom regularly hangs out with fellow drinkers.

Tina, by contrast, does not. In other words, spending an evening drinking is normal for Tom, but out-of-character for Tina.

Right off the bat, and in the context of their DUI cases, those differences are going to be a burden for Tom, and a benefit for Tina. It is standard in every court for a person to be ordered, as a condition of bond – while his or her case is pending – to NOT drink alcohol.

It is also a standard condition of probation for every DUI offense that a person refrain from consuming alcohol and stay out of bars.

Consequently, Tom is going to have to adjust his social life, and not “go out for a few beers” with the boys after game-day, whereas Tina won’t have to do anything other than what she normally does – stay home. That much is pretty obvious.

Beyond that, however, there is a real question: Does Tom’s social group somehow “push” him to drink, or to drink more than he should? Are they big drinkers? Could they be a negative influence on Tom, or, instead, could it be that he gravitated toward them because it normalized some existing desire on his part to drink?

On the other hand, could it simply be that the whole situation was simply unusual for Tom? Maybe they guys just do have “a couple of beers,” but this time, one of the teammates had just become a dad, and everyone really did over-celebrate, leading Tom to drink more than usual after a game.

The court system, for its part, is going to zero in on a person’s drinking. The law requires this. It mandates that before a person can be sentenced, even for a 1st offense DUI charge, he or she must undergo an alcohol “screening” to determine if they either have an existing drinking problem, or are at risk for one to develop.

This “screening,” or assessment, usually takes the form of a written test administered by the probation department. Every answer has a point value, and the total number of points are added up and compared to a scoring key. That scoring key will then indicate whether, based on the person’s total number of points, he or she either HAS a drinking problem, is at measurable risk for one to develop, or simply has no problem whatsoever.

This isn’t as objective as it sounds, because the “better” answers are usually NOT the most obvious.

In addition, and as referenced earlier, there is a mandatory interview with a probation officer who will gather all the facts about a person’s life, including all the circumstances surrounding the DUI incident.

The results of the screening “test” and information gathered about the person and the DUI incident are all used by the probation officer to formulate a written sentencing recommendation that must be sent to the Judge.

Almost without exception, a more favorable (meaning more lenient) recommendation will result in a better (again, meaning more lenient) sentence. By contrast, if the probation officer senses an alcohol problem, or even that the person is at risk for one to ever develop, then a more intense recommendation will certainly follow.

Here’s a fact you can take to the bank: In DUI cases, every Judge follows every sentencing recommendation, if not to the very letter, then very closely.

Also – and this is important – there is an inherent kind of alcohol bias in the court system, and we have to protect our client’s from that. It arises from the long known fact that, as a group, people who have had or who are currently facing a 1st offense DUI charge have a higher incidence of drinking problems than the population at large. Here’s the best way to explain this:

Imagine you have to organize a study. You are told to go out and get 2000 adults at random here in the U.S. It does not matter if you get 40 from each of the 50 states, or 1000 from the eastern part of the country, and 1000 from the west, or anything like that. The ONLY qualification is that everyone you select must either have, or at least be intellectually capable of obtaining a driver’s license. In other words, you cannot include anyone who is developmentally disabled.

You are to call this group “Group A.“

Next, you must do the same thing all over again – get 2000 adults at random, but with 1 additional qualification. Everyone in this second group must have either have previously had a DUI, or be currently facing a 1st offense DUI charge.

You are to call this group “Group B.”

What a number of studies has repeatedly confirmed is that no matter how you test them (meaning no matter what kind of screening instrument is used), “Group B” will always have a higher rate of drinking problems than “Group A.”

This is a hard and fast statistical fact. It means that everyone who is facing a 1st offense DUI charge is AUTOMATICALLY part of a higher-risk group. Of course, it does not mean that that majority of such people have any kind of troubled relationship to alcohol, but the mere fact that a person has picked up a DUI does raise a red flag, and that’s not good in the context of a DUI case.

In the real world, just about everyone who has to contend with a 1st offense DUI charge will rush to explain that, no matter how things look, they don’t have any kind of drinking problem. To be sure, most do not, but merely saying that doesn’t change the underlying risk calculus.

Ironically, there are some people – a small minority, really – who will see a 1st offense DUI charge as some kind of wake-up call to re-evaluate their relationship to alcohol. It’s not that they’ll suddenly realize they’re alcoholic (most are not, anyway), but rather that they need to take an honest look at their drinking behavior, and this goes to the central point of this article.

No matter what the circumstances, something went wrong that led to a person’s 1st offense DUI charge.

Even if someone was celebrating a huge promotion and pay raise at work, the point is that the decision to drive after over-indulging was a mistake, and one that cannot happen again. Nobody ever plans on getting a DUI. When it does happen, it’s critically important to “autopsy” the situation to find the cause. It could merely be the result of something unusual that’s unlikely to ever happen again, as in our example with Tippling Tina.

However, it could also be the result of something that’s riskier, like a person’s friend group not being as responsible as it should be when it comes to drinking.

There are a million reasons why a person can wind up facing a 1st offense DUI charge. To be sure, in the majority of cases, it just “happens.” Whatever else, though, everyone should know exactly what, in fact, DID happen in their case, because it’s only then that he or she can take the appropriate steps to make sure it really is a “one and done.”

Put another way, you can’t avoid making the same mistake again if you can’t identify that mistake in the first place.

As DUI lawyers, our job it to either get our client completely out of the charge, or to at least get him or her through it with the fewest legal penalties and negative consequences as possible.

We live by the mantra that success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you. This is particularly true for anyone facing a 1st offense DUI charge, where things are easier to manage, especially when compared to 2nd or 3rd offense cases.

However, it is also important to at least be ready help each client look back honestly at what happened so he or she can identify how they wound up in the back of a police car wearing handcuffs. Of course, not everyone is interested in doing that, and a few may be openly adverse to any such idea. Our job isn’t to force anyone to do anything, but rather to be there, ready to speak honestly, and without judgment.

To us, help in a DUI case means helping the client through his or her legal situation, and also helping him or her as a person.

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

This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable and updated with a new, original article each week. To date, I have written and published over 620 articles in the DUI section. The reader can find more useful information here than anywhere else, but don’t take my word for it – check it out for yourself.

Once you’ve done enough reading, start calling around. You can learn a lot by speaking to a live person, and that’s exactly what you’ll get when you call our office. If your case is pending in the Greater-Detroit area (meaning in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, or one of the surrounding counties), make sure you give our office a ring as you explore your options.

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 NEVER use any pressure tactics, and instead will encourage you to call around, and then invite you to call us back, even if to compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.