Sobriety Court and why you Should Consider It
A new reality has emerged in the world of 2nd and 3rd offense DUI charges in the Greater-Detroit area of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer, Livingston, St. Clair and Washtenaw Counties, and it’s called Sobriety Court.
Perhaps the most prominent feature of Sobriety Court is that it allows a person facing a 2nd (and even 3rd) offense DUI - and who would otherwise be facing the complete revocation of his or her driver’s license - to keep a restricted license, instead.
As veteran Michigan DUI lawyers, we know that this presents a great opportunity for many people - but it is certainly not for everyone.
Deciding if sobriety court is really for you requires some honest consideration.
Because of my background and continuing education in the field of alcohol and addiction issues, My team an I are uniquely able, as a Michigan DUI lawyers, to help our clients carefully evaluate whether sobriety court is the right choice.
Of course, the very idea of not losing your driver’s license has an immediate and strong appeal.
Just hearing that there is a way to keep their license will prompt many people, without hearing another word about what’s required to participate in (much less complete) a Sobriety Court program, to say, “Sign me up!”
If there ever was truth to the old saying to “be careful what you wish for,” however, it is here. Sobriety Courts are tough, and while keeping your driver’s license is a great thing, you have to be really interested in getting help with your drinking and staying sober to be admitted into one of these programs.
The underlying foundation of Sobriety Court is the assumption that 2nd and 3rd offense drunk drivers have a drinking problem.
Under Michigan law, anyone with a 2nd DUI within 7 years or a 3rd offense within 10 years is automatically categorized as a “habitual alcohol offender.”
One of the many consequences of this designation is that the person’s driver’s license will be revoked, meaning taken away for good, for at least 1 year after a 2nd offense, or 5 years, after a 3rd offense.
Unless a person gets into a Sobriety Court program, in order to even be considered for a return of driving privileges, he or she must wait until the minimum period of revocation has run (either 1 or 5 years) and then must file a license restoration appeal with the Michigan Secretary of State through its Office of Hearings and Administrative Oversight (OHAO).
To actually win a license appeal, a person must prove, by what the law defines as “clear and convincing evidence,” that his or her legally presumed alcohol problem “is under control, and likely to remain under control.”
Put another way, a person must prove that he or she has been completely alcohol-free for a "legally sufficient" period of time, and has both the ability and commitment to remain alcohol-free (meaning sober) for life.
Sobriety Court provide the ONLY legal workaround to that.
In practice, it's just assumed that by the time a person picks up a 2nd offense DUI, he or she already has a drinking problem. This is an operating legal presumption within the court system.
Of course, pretty much everyone else in the world will reached the same conclusion based solely on the fact that a person has picked up a 2nd DUI, anyway, so it’s not like this is any kind of stretch.
In fact, except in the rarest of cases, there really isn't anyone who doesn’t automatically assume that any person charged with a 2nd offense DUI has an alcohol problem, except, perhaps, the person actually facing it.
To be clear, terms like "drinking problem" are NOT synonymous with "alcoholic."
Even if a person rarely drinks, but he or she has racked up 2 DUI's, then such use of alcohol is risky enough to cause problems, and, as the old saying goes, "anything that causes a problem IS a problem."
Sobriety Court programs are ideally designed for those people who have already had the proverbial “light bulb” go off about their drinking and recognize that something isn't right.
That said, it's also a fact that plenty of people facing a 2nd offense DUI don’t think they have any kind drinking problem, even though the court system (and pretty much everyone else) presumes they do.
The courts, for their part, recognize that many people charged with a 2nd offense aren’t quite yet at the point of admitting or recognizing that they have any kind of troubled relationship to alcohol.
Of course, some people never do, despite racking up 10 or more DUI convictions.
Before the advent of Sobriety Courts, the old-school, traditional approach to try and "fix" a person was to send a 2nd offender to counseling and/or treatment (this is required under the “habitual offender” laws, anyway) and separate them from alcohol in the hope that they would see the light and “wake up” somewhere along the line.
The sobriety court approach is predicated on a person having already realized that his or her drinking has become a problem in some way, and that something needs to be done about it. For those willing to take it, the counseling and treatment are much more intense, but they'r also free, or nearly free.
The catch, of course, is that a person must not only complete everything he or she is ordered to do, but must also refrain from using any alcohol or drugs, and submit to regular testing to prove he or she is in compliance.
Before we go any further, it's important to clarify a few points about terminology. In Michigan, everyone says DUI although, technically speaking, there is no such offense, as it's formally called Operating While Intoxicated (OWI).
Similarly, what everyone calls "Sobriety Court" is technically called "DWI Court," and that's even more confusing, because there is no "DWI" offense under Michigan law.
The list of Sobriety Courts in the state, and particularly in the Greater-Detroit area is continually growing.
Please note that only what is listed as either DWI or Hybrid DWI/Drug Court can issue a restricted driver's license to anyone convicted of a 2nd of 3rd offense DUI. This is why terminology is so important because, as used in this section (and as commonly used by everyone in the legal system), the term "Sobriety Court" means ONLY either what SCAO terms either a "DWI Court" or a "Hybrid DWI/Drug Court."
To be clear, Adult Drug Courts, Family Dependency Courts and a Juvenile Drug Courts are NOT Sobriety Courts.
Even, so if a person winds up charged with a 2nd offense DUI in a jurisdiction that doesn't have a Sobriety Court (meaning "DWI or Hybrid DWI/Drug Court) program, many of them will accept a "referral" from a different court.
In other words, if your 2nd offense DUI case is pending in a municipality that only has a regular court, it can often be worked out that the whole case can be transferred to another location with a Sobriety Court.
At its most basic, Sobriety Court offers a lot of counseling and treatment (with frequent alcohol and drug testing)
These programs provide intense education and rehabilitative service.
To be clear, Sobriety Court programs provides all of the resources one would generally find in an intensive outpatient program, often called an “IOP," either without cost, or for what amounts to mere pennies on the dollar.
Moreover, to back up the mandatory and frequent alcohol and drug testing, there are graduated punishments for any positive alcohol or drug test results, beginning with a short jail stay, followed by progressively longer stints.
If a person fails too many tests, he or she will be dropped from the program, lose their restricted license, and get dumped back into “regular” court, to face a new sentencing and start all over again.
There is more good news, because beyond avoiding the complete loss of the driver’s license for a 2nd offense, Sobriety Court often means no jail, or, at least a much shorter jail stint than would otherwise be the case if a person were to not go into sobriety court.
Given that one Sobriety Court is different than the next, there are few hard and fast facts that makes comparisons among them easy. In general, however, it’s always best to carefully consider whether or not a Sobriety Court program is the right option for you.
At first glance, the benefits offered by Sobriety Court seem irresistible, but a person must, in his or her heart of hearts, really believe they have some kind of problematic relationship to alcohol and really want to get help for it before they should seriously consider seeking admission.
About the worst decision a person can make is to jump into a Sobriety Court program just to save their license without being fully committed to an intense rehabilitation program.
That said, it's a simple fact that, when you’re facing a 2nd or 3rd DUI, you need to do a lot of thinking and take a long, hard look at the drinking behavior that led to another arrest. At a minimum, you should at least consider sobriety court among your various options, and nobody can help you do that better than our firm.