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Sobriety Courts in the Detroit area

A new reality is emerging in the world of 2nd and 3rd offense DUI charges in the Detroit-area, and it’s called sobriety court. Perhaps the most prominent feature of sobriety court is that it allows a person facing a 2nd or even 3rd offense DUI, and who would otherwise be facing a 1 or 5-year complete revocation of their driver’s license, to keep a restricted license, instead. This is 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, I am rather uniquely able, as a Michigan DUI lawyer, to help my client 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 sobriety court 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 court is tough, and while keeping your driver’s license is a great thing, you have to be really interested in getting help and staying sober to be considered for these programs

The founding concept of sobriety court is 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 offender.” One of the many consequences of being so categorized is that the person’s driver’s license will be revoked (meaning taken away for good, and not simply “suspended”) for at least 1 or 5 years, respectively. In order to even be considered for a return of driving privileges, a person has file a license restoration appeal with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) and prove, “by clear and convincing evidence,” that his or her legally presumed alcohol problem “is under control, and likely to remain under control.” In the real world, where these things happen, this all means that the idea that a person has a drinking problem by the time they pick up a 2nd offense 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 isn’t a Judge out there who doesn’t assume, as a matter of simple fact, that any person facing a 2nd offense DUI has an alcohol problem. And it is simply taken as a given that everyone facing a 3rd offense has a drinking problem. Sobriety court, though, is ideally designed for those people who have already had the proverbial “light bulb” go off about their drinking. The fact is that plenty of people facing a 2nd offense DUI don’t think they have a drinking problem. Even though the court system presumes that they do (as does most everyone else), the courts do recognize that many of the people who are charged with a 2nd Offense aren’t quite yet at the point of admitting or recognizing that they have a drinking problem.

The old school, traditional approach has been to send such a person to counseling (that’s required under the “habitual offender” laws, anyway) and separate them from alcohol in the hope that they will “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, and that something needs to be done about it.

The list of sobriety courts in Metro-Detroit is continually growing, but currently, is as follows:

Macomb County (4):

  • 37th District Court in Warren,
  • 39th District Court in Roseville,
  • 41B District Court in Clinton Township,
  • 42-1 District Court in Romeo

Oakland County (8):

  • 43rd District Court in Ferndale
  • 44th District Court in Royal Oak
  • 47th District Court in Farmington
  • 51st District Court in Waterford
  • 52-1 District Court in Novi
  • 52-2 District Court in Clarkston
  • 52-3 District Court in Rochester,
  • 52-4 District Court in Troy

Wayne County (6):

  • 16th District Court in Livonia
  • 18th District Court in Westland
  • 23rd District Court in Taylor
  • 33rd District Court in Woodhaven
  • 35th District Court in Plymouth
  • 36th District Court in Detroit

Many Sobriety Courts will accept a "referral" from a different court, meaning that even if your local, Detroit-area DUI case is pending in a municipality that does not have a sobriety court, it can often be worked out that the whole case can be transferred to another location with a sobriety court. Here is the current, official list of sobriety courts statewide:

Drug Sobriety Courts

At its most basic, sobriety court is a full-throttle program with constant and frequent alcohol (and drug) testing along with an intense education and rehabilitative program. This is a time consuming program. To be clear, the sobriety court program provides all of the resources one would find general rehabilitative intensive outpatient program, known as an “IOP." Moreover, to back up the frequent alcohol testing, there are graduated punishments for any positive alcohol or drug test results, beginning with a short jail stay followed by progressively longer stints. Usually, after several failed tests, a person is just dropped from the program, loses their restricted license, and gets dumped back into “regular” court.

Beyond avoiding the complete loss of the driver’s license, Sobriety court often means no jail, or, in exchange for participation in the program, starts off with a much shorter jail stint than would otherwise be the case if a person were to not go into sobriety court.

There is a lot to this. Given that one sobriety court is different than the next, there are few hard and fast facts that makes comparison easy. It’s best to sit down with me and discuss whether or not it is the right option for you. At first glance, the benefits offered by sobriety court seem irresistible, but a person must, in their heart of hearts, really believe they have a drinking problem and really want to get help for it before they seriously consider applying. 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. By the same token, when you’re facing a 2nd or 3rd DUI, you need to do a lot of thinking, and you need to take a long, hard look at the drinking behavior that led to your arrest, meaning that, at a minimum, you should at least consider sobriety court among your various options.

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