The Michigan DUI Process

In this website section, we’ll do a brief overview of the process in a typical DUI case. 

For the most detailed analysis covering every facet of Michigan DUI cases you can find anywhere, go to the DUI section of my blog. It contains hundreds of DUI-specific articles, is updated twice weekly, and has a search box so you can find an answer to just about any DUI-related legal question you could ever have.

Let’s begin by pointing out that most people use the term “DUI” for a drunk driving case, although the technical term for it is actually OWI, short for “Operating While Intoxicated.”

Because just about everyone says “DUI,” though, we call ourselves "Michigan DUI lawyers," so we’ll just tick with the term everyone knows and uses..  

Every DUI case begins with an arrest for one reason or another, following some kind of police contact:

  • You may have been pulled over for swerving, for a traffic violation, or because of a cell-phone tip. 
  • Sometimes, that first police contact can come about as the result of the police responding to an accident, or some other situation. 
Whatever did or did not happen, the reason(s) for that first police contact, everything that followed, and all the circumstances surrounding your arrest are important, and must be examined carefully.

After arrest you will be asked to submit to either a breath or blood test. 

In the same way that a lawyer must scrutinize the details of your arrest, and what led to it, everything that happened thereafter must be also be put under the legal microscope, as well, especially the chemical (breath or blood) test.

Usually, you’ll be released from jail the next day with a citation for a DUI charge, a temporary, paper license instead of the picture license you previously had, and a bunch of things to do. 

Around the time of your arrest, the police will have your vehicle towed and taken to impound. 

Once you get out of jail, you’ll have to go and get it out. 

When you finally do get back home and start thinking about your whole DUI situation, it’s normal to experience a rush of feelings that include regret, fear, humiliation, and the need for a good shower.

Soon enough though, you’ll start looking for some legal information, and perhaps even for a lawyer, as well. 

This is important, because it’s at this very moment that you are probably most vulnerable, and the best legal advice you can follow at this juncture is to NOT make any rash decisions, particularly as it comes to hiring an attorney.

The most helpful thing you can do is to slow down and take the time to look around and compare lawyers

There is simply no downside to being a smart consumer.

It’s never a good idea to let the emotional turmoil of a new DUI charge lead to a quick hiring decision for something as important as a lawyer, especially if you’re “checking around” after hours, or on weekends.

Instead, make sure that you take at least enough time to communicate with lawyers during the week (and not just the weekend), and during regular business hours, so you can compare the full range of legal help that’s available, and not merely the “phones answered 24 hours” and “evening and weekend appointments available” kinds of operations.

Drunk driving cases are unique among criminal matters, and involve numerous (and often overlapping) legal and scientific nuances. While it’s true that, to a large extent, all DUI lawyers are criminal attorneys, it is also true that not all criminal attorneys are DUI lawyers.

As we noted above, every part of your case must be carefully examined, including the traffic stop, the administration of field sobriety tests, the breath (or blood) test, and the results that followed. 

Now, let's turn to the “steps” in a typical Michigan DUI case:

The Stop

How and why did the police make contact with you? This opening question can set the stage for everything that follows. 

In the course of our DUI practice, we’ve seen just about every imaginable situation leading to a DUI arrest:

  • We’ve have clients who fell asleep behind the wheel at a drive-thru, only to have the police called on them.
  • Others have been pulled over as the result of a cellphone tip about an intoxicated driver.
  • Some clients have been involved in accidents.
  • A few have been pulled over for speeding.
  • Most of our clients, though, wound up getting stopped because the police observed them swerving or otherwise driving erratically.

Whatever they may be, the reasons (or, more properly, alleged reasons) for that first police contact are critically important. The police must have a valid, legal reason to stop a vehicle or otherwise request that a person submit to any kind of field sobriety tests (FST's).

In addition to the initial reason the police give for the stop or first contact, we must also evaluate how the investigation was conducted thereafter. 

The specific tests you were asked to perform can be as important as how you actually did on them. The police simply can’t invent tests on the spot, so we’ll need to look at what you were asked to do, how those FST’s were administered, and your ensuing results.

The Arrest

This is actually pretty self-explanatory

If you’ve been charged with a Michigan OWI offense, then you've already gone through this. 

When we meet, we'll go over everything that took place before, during and after your arrest. We’ll look closely at why you were pulled over, how you did on any field sobriety tests, how the chemical tests were administered, and the results they produced.

My team and I will examine all the evidence and facts carefully, including your version of what happened, the police report, and any relevant body-cam or dash cam video, as well.

The goal, of course, is to get the whole picture.

The Arraignment

An arraignment is the first “legal” or court-based step in a DUI case.

It’s a hearing wherein a Judge or Magistrate informs you of the offense (or offenses) being charged against you, and then determines the amount of bond to be set, along with whatever conditions of bond you must follow to remain out of jail.

Unless specifically advised otherwise by a competent DUI lawyer completely familiar with the all facts and circumstances of the case, a person should ALWAYS enter a “not guilty” plea to any and all charges at this stage

This will allow the lawyer to subsequently determine if any charge(s) can be dismissed for lack of or problems with the evidence, or as part of a negotiated plea-bargain.

If you have already posted money at the police station before being released from jail (usually shown on an “interim bond receipt”), then that amount will almost always be considered adequate, and no further monies will be required by the court at the arraignment.

In the real world, about the most important thing to come out of an arraignment is the setting of bond “conditions,” which always include things like an order to refrain from consuming any alcohol or drugs, a prohibition against leaving the state without the court’s permission, and a requirement that the you “test,” in some way (and at various times) to ensure compliance with the no drinking/no drugs requirement.

Often enough, however, there isn’t an actual formal arraignment proceeding.

That’s because, in the many 1st offense DUI cases, the arraignment can be “waived” if your lawyer files certain papers with the court. 

By doing that, a “not guilty” plea will automatically be entered for you. 

This means that instead of having to go to court to be arraigned, you’ll just wait for the next step - the pre-trial - and any bond issues can be addressed then.

This option is available in most (but not all) of the local, Greater-Detroit area courts (meaning the courts of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer, Livingston, St. Clair and Washtenaw Counties). 

Even in those courts that do allow waivers, though, there are limitations to the practice that largely depend on specific DUI charge being made.

For example, a particular court may allow the waiver in all 1st offense DUI cases except for those involving a “High BAC” charge.  

Similarly, almost no courts allow a waiver of arraignment for 2nd offense DUI charges.

By law, an arraignment cannot be waived in any felony case, meaning this option is never available in 3rd offense DUI cases.

The Pretrial

This is really the working stage of a DUI (or any criminal) case.

The pre-trial (often called a pretrial conference) is actually a meeting between the defense lawyer and the prosecutor so they can discuss ways to resolve the case in order to avoid having a trial.

This, not surprisingly, is why it’s called a pre-trial.  

At the pretrial stage, the main priority for us, as Michigan DUI lawyers, is to get the drunk driving (and/or any other) charge dismissed, or at least reduced as much as possible.  

Often, some “back and forth” between the defense and the prosecution is required in order to work out a mutually acceptable deal. 

For us, as Michigan DUI lawyers, the simple goal is to produce the most favorable outcome possible for our client, but that’s not exactly the prosecutor’s first concern. This is why we speak in terms of engaging in plea negotiations to arrive at a plea bargain

Thus, it is not uncommon for there to be more than one pretrial. Indeed, it’s quite possible to have multiple pretrial conferences in an effort to resolve a case.

It’s important to understand that the overwhelming majority of DUI cases are, in fact, worked out through pretrial negotiations, often resulting in some kind of plea bargain.

A plea bargain means that the original charge (usually written up as "OWI") is dismissed in exchange for a plea to something less serious.

Sometimes, though, instead of (or in addition to) a plea bargain, a case may be resolved through some kind of “sentence agreement,”  which usually means a deal that specifies no jail, or something like that.

Trial

A trial occurs because the defense attorney and the prosecutor cannot agree on a mutually acceptable plea deal or other arrangement to resolve the case. DUI trials are not very common, and, as we’ll see, for good reason. 

A trial can either be held before a jury, or before a Judge without a jury (this is called a “bench trial”), and results in a verdict of either “guilty,” or “not guilty.” 

Nobody wants to (or should) go to trial unless they’re relatively sure they can win. 

As it turns out, the official statistics show that, with few exceptions, holding a trial in a DUI case is overwhelmingly a losing proposition. 

According to the official records compiled by the Michigan State Police as part of its legally required Annual Drunk Driving Audit, which tracks every alcohol-related traffic arrest in Michigan, on average, less than .25% (that’s POINT-two-five, or one-quarter of one percent) of all DUI-related arrests go to trial and win.

Trial outcomes should not be confused with the number of cases that can be, and are, in fact, “knocked out” at the pretrial stage, through things like challenging the evidence. 

A person’s statistical chances of getting a DUI case dismissed before trial are considerably higher than they are by actually going to trial, where the overall odds of winning are, at best, less than one-quarter of one percent.

That sounds almost unbelievable, but for anyone interested in details and math, click this link: Michigan Drunk Driving Audit.

This helps explain why very few DUI cases are actually taken to trial, and why most are resolved by plea and/or sentence agreements, instead.

The Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI)

Unless a case is dismissed and thrown out of court, or otherwise won at trial, the pre-sentence investigation (PSI) is, by far, the most important step in the whole DUI process.

It’s also the one that my team and I can help with a lot. 

Make no mistake, your performance at this stage directly and substantially impacts what will ultimately happen to you. 

Michigan law requires that, before being sentenced by the Judge, you complete a written alcohol assessment test (often called a “screening”) and complete an interview conducted by a probation officer. 

This all takes place after a plea (or plea deal of some sort) has been worked out, but before the sentencing takes place. 

The final product of the pre-sentence investigation is a legally-required, written sentencing recommendation that’s sent to the Judge.   

This recommendation is based upon any prior record you may have, the facts of the case, your results on the written alcohol assessment (this “test” is numerically scored), the information you provide to the probation officer, and the probation officer’s impressions of you as the result of your interview with him or her. 

No matter how you cut it, how you do at this stage is the absolute key to the outcome of the case. The formal sentencing recommendation that is the end result of the PSI process is essentially the blueprint for what the Judge will do.

EVERY JUDGE, IN EVERY CASE AND IN EVERY COURT, FOLLOWS THIS RECOMMENDATION CLOSELY, IF NOT TO THE VERY LETTER.

This is SO vital that my team and will make sure we spend enough time with each client to thoroughly prepare him or her for the alcohol assessment test and the interview with the probation officer. 

It all boils down to this: A better outcome in a DUI case is the result of a better recommendation in the first place, and the key to getting that better recommendation is, of course, being carefully prepared.

The Sentencing

A “sentence” is what happens to you at the end of your DUI case. 

The sentencing is the proceeding at which the Judge will order you to do certain, specific things, and also forbid you from doing various other things. 

In almost all DUI cases, a person will be ordered to pay fines and costs, placed on probation, ordered to not consume any alcohol or drugs, and may be required to submit to some kind of testing (at least for a while) to prove that he or she is complying.

As I’ve been trying to make clear, the sentence that gets imposed in every DUI case very closely mirrors the pre-sentence investigation report recommendation that precedes it. 

For example, if the probation officer recommends that you attend long-term alcohol counseling, you can bet your entire paycheck that the Judge will order you to do just that. 

By contrast, if the probation officer does NOT recommend long term counseling, but instead, indicates that a one-session alcohol education program is sufficient, instead, then that’s almost certainly what the Judge will have you do.

This underscores the critical importance of making sure you are prepared for the alcohol assessment test and the interview with the probation officer. This will provide the best chance for you to avoid as many of the burdensome and/or unnecessary recommendations as possible. 

My team and I will do everything we can to make sure that you are protected from being crammed into any kind of classes, counseling or treatment that you don’t really need. 

It is here, at precisely this point in the case, where your lawyer needs to be your best and most well-spoken advocate, and show up in court with the kind of expert knowledge, charisma and the ability needed to persuade the Judge in your favor.

If you hire me and my team, we'll never lose sight of the fact that the most important part of our job is to minimize all the penalties that can be thrown at you (including jail, when it’s a real possibility). 

We will use our experience and skills to protect you and be your best spokesperson. 

Whatever else, we don't get paid to watch our clients get hammered by the Judge - we get paid to do everything possible so they don't.

The Outcome

It’s a fact that a DUI case will cost a lot of money

That money “faucet” is turned on the moment you're released from jail, and have to post some sort of cash bond. 

From there, it just keeps pouring out: you have to pay to get the car out of impound, hire a lawyer, fork over fines and costs, probation fees, increased insurance rates, and repay the municipality for arrest fees along with covering any additional costs for counseling or alcohol education ordered by the Judge. 

DUI cases are big business for courts and the cities within their various jurisdictions. 

A DUI is a very expensive mistake, but the good news is that, often enough, my team and I can limit the pain you’ll feel to little more than a matter of money

In the end, our goal is to make sure that, beyond the inevitable financial hit you’ll take, your DUI represents nothing more than a mistake in judgment - an out-of-character incident - and we will do our very best to make things better and produce the very best result for you. 

We will see to it that you avoid all the legal and negative consequences possible, including a difficult term of probation and any unnecessary classes, counseling and/or treatment. 

No one can do more - and we will never do less.

Call us to find out how.

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