What do you get for Your Money?
What do you get for your money?
You get help. You get things made better. The last thing you need is some over-priced, over-dressed “suit” hanging around you like an ornament to watch as you get pounded by the Judge. To me, this is just adding insult to injury.
My job in a drunk driving case is to do two things for you:
- Protect your record, and
- Minimize the consequences.
Let's use an example: Assume you have been arrested for 1st offense DUI somewhere in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb County (a $4000 case, by the way). You were pulled over by a local police department for weaving, and your breath test at the police station was a .16.
First, I look to see if there is a way out. Is there some bona fide legal problem with the stop, or the arrest, or the breath test? If not, then we look at what you're facing and what can be done about it.
To do that, you need to understand the charge against you.
OWI, or operating while intoxicated, first offense, is a misdemeanor. It carries a maximum possible jail sentence of 93 days in the County jail, and fines of up to $500.00 plus costs.
It does not, by the way, carry any mandatory minimum jail sentence, which means you do not have to be sentenced to jail. Indeed, a first offender going to jail is a very rare thing.
Being placed on probation is a very real possibility, however, as is being required to attend alcohol classes or treatment. OWI also carries a penalty of 6 points on your driving record.
A more detailed examination of the various Drunk Driving charges and their penalties is covered in the section Common Drunk Driving Charges and Penalties.
If you are convicted of OWI or simply plead guilty to it, your license will be suspended by the Secretary of State for 6 months, no more and no less, and you will have what is known as a hard suspension for the first 30 days.
This means that you will have no license to drive at all for 30 days, and that for the remaining 5 months you will be on a restricted license.
In Michigan, a restricted license allows you to drive as follows:
- In the course of the person's employment or occupation if the employment or occupation does not require a commercial driver license.
- To and from any combination of the following:
- The person's residence.
- The person's work location.
- An alcohol, drug, or mental health education and treatment as ordered by the court.
- Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or other court-ordered self-help programs.
- Court hearings and probation appointments.
- Court-ordered community service.
- An educational institution at which the person is enrolled as a student.
- A place of regularly occurring medical treatment for a serious condition or medical emergency for the person or a member of the person's household or immediate family.
- Alcohol or drug testing as ordered by the court.
- An ignition interlock service provider as required.
Again, assuming that the case is solid, then I negotiate a bargain, or a deal, called a plea bargain, with the prosecutor.
In most cases, I can negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charge from OWI, or Operating While Intoxicated, or even Operating with a BAC of .17 or greater (High BAC), down to the lesser charge of OWVI, or Operating While Visibly Impaired.
Impaired driving carries 4 points to your driving record (not 6, like OWI or High BAC), and only requires that your license be restricted for 90 days.
The big benefit of this deal is that you never completely lose the privilege to drive, and the restrictions outlined earlier only last for 90 days.
Impaired driving also carries a smaller fine of up to $300.00 plus costs (as opposed to $500.00 plus costs for the OWI charge).
There is still the possibility of up to 93 days in jail, although in almost all cases any jail time is extremely unlikely, at least in the courts where I work.
The ultimate issue in these cases, if you are facing a drunk driving charge, is simple: What is going to happen to me?
Always remember, success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you.
Under Michigan law, a person who is convicted of or pleads guilty to an Impaired or any DUI-related charge must undergo a standardized alcohol assessment test prior to being sentenced by the Judge.
These tests are written questions and each answer has a point-value. That means your result is scored, like any test you take in school.
The higher you score, the more likely you are to have or develop an alcohol problem. The lower you score, the less likely you are to have or to develop an alcohol problem.
For the most part, what ultimately happens to you is a direct result of how low or high you score on this test.
It works like this: your first few court dates with your lawyer are usually for what is called a Pre-Trial. It is at most often at one of these pre-trials that your lawyer will work out a plea bargain with the prosecutor.
In some cases, especially second offense cases, a sentence agreement rather than a plea bargain is worked out. That means that although the charge can't be reduced, your lawyer and the prosecutor work out a deal covering what will happen to you at sentencing.
Obviously, the main thing we look to is a deal calling for no jail time.
After the deal is worked out at the pre-trial, the court will set a second date for sentencing.
This is when whatever will happen to you gets ordered by the Judge.
In the meantime, another date is set for what is called a Pre-Sentence Investigation, or a PSI. This typically is an appointment for you to meet with a Probation Officer for an interview and to take the alcohol assessment.
When that's all done, a formal PSI report is written up by the probation officer and sent to the Judge.
The report contains a summary of your background, including your drinking history and habits, your results from the alcohol screening test, and the probation officer's overall impressions of you. Most important, the PSI includes a written sentencing recommendation to the Judge.
In other words, the probation officer must include a recommendation for what should happen to you at sentencing.
The PSI report is the most important thing in the world for someone going through a DUI charge.
As a recommendation, it can be fairly called the blueprint for what the Judge will do to you.
A favorable recommendation almost always means a favorable sentence.
Likewise, a stricter recommendation almost always means a stricter sentence.
I like to put it this way: 99% of the time the Judge will follow the recommendation 99% of the way in any given case.
Good recommendations result in good sentences. Tough recommendations result in tough sentences.
Essentially, no Judge out there is going to sentence you much differently than to what the PSI report recommends.
Thus, if you get a good recommendation, all your lawyer has to say at sentencing is something like "We hope Your Honor follows the recommendation" and you're likely to walk out of court in good shape.
The bottom line is that the PSI recommendation is the most important part a DUI case.
However, getting a favorable recommendation is not as easy as it might sound.
Remember, in our example, you have been arrested for Drunk Driving and blew a .16 on the breathalyzer machine. The probation officer, in gathering information about you, asks "How drunk did you feel that night?"
That question sounds rather benign.
Most people have a sense of pride, and self-respect. We comb our hair and wash our clothes because we care what people think of us.
Without thinking, many people might just answer something like "Oh my gosh, I didn't feel that bad. I would never drive knowing I was so drunk I might cause an accident. I guess I just had a few too many."
Sounds honest, right?
Well, that's about the worst answer a person could have given.
Instead of looking responsible and socially conscious, the person essentially just said, without knowing it, is something that can be interpreted like "I was fine. I'm used to it; I have a bit of a tolerance. I'm no two-drink lightweight. I can be twice the legal limit and feel okay to drive. I was just unlucky."
The better answer would have been "Well, I knew I was buzzed, but in truth, I just wanted to get home and thought I could make it without getting caught."
In the last reply, the person has essentially denied being an experienced drinker who can "hold" their liquor, and they don't look like someone who does this often and just finally got caught.
The problem here is that almost every question you are asked, whether on the test itself or by the probation officer during the interview, will be like that.
The "better" answers often seem counter-intuitive, unless you know what is really being asked underneath the actual question.
You need to be prepared for every step of this process, because each answer has the potential to be used against you in ways you never thought possible.
The good news is that with proper and thorough preparation, you can give a clear picture of who and what you really are. It is critically important that you don't get stuck looking like your drinking is an issue, or could become one.
Worse yet, the court has a built-in alcohol bias. It has been shown, again and again, that, as a group, DUI driver's have a statistically higher incidence of alcohol problems than the population at large. This is no surprise.
But it does mean that everyone facing a DUI walks into court, automatically, as a member of an at-risk group.
For me, preparing you for PSI process is the most important part of what I do in any DUI case.
Here's where I can help more than any other DUI lawyer: I have completed a formal post-graduate program in alcohol and addiction studies. This means that I understand the clinical side of alcohol issues, and can make sure you don't get run over by a system that tends to think everyone arrested for a DUI has a drinking problem.
When the subject of alcohol and its use or misuse come up, I need to be the foremost expert in the courtroom, and I am.
This special training means I have the unequaled ability to protect you in a DUI case. And if you're drinking has become a problem, I can help with that more than you can imagine.
What's the payoff? Imagine not doing as well as you could have on the PSI and as a result, the probation officer recommends that you attend some alcohol classes. Maybe you get stuck with rehab or counseling, or wind up having to enroll in a series of alcohol education classes (that you pay for, by the way) that you could easily have avoided had you known what was actually going to be asked of you, and how to properly respond.
Wouldn't you have traded an extra hour or so in my office for the six or eight evening classes that you now have to pay for and attend?
And if you fail to attend one, for whatever reason, you have to go in front of the Judge and explain why you shouldn’t be held in contempt of court or be found in violation of your probation, which can result in additional punishment, including jail.
To anyone who has a prior DUI, and whoever you had as a lawyer, I can safely say that whatever happened to you was pretty much exactly what was recommended in your PSI report. People in that group are undoubtedly shaking their heads in agreement right now.
So, to answer the question "what do you get for the money?" I respond that if you hire me, you get the best help possible in this situation. You get over 29 years of experience handling these cases, in front of the same Judges, day after day, by a lawyer who cares, and who can protect you like no other.
Whatever the facts of your case, I promise to get the best results humanly and legally possible.
No lawyer can ever do more, and I'll never do less.