Why do you compare being arrested for drunk driving with a serious illness like cancer?

Because the emotions one feels for both are so similar. Learning that you have a serious illness usually starts out with a series of tests.  After the tests are done your doctor calls you into the office, sits you down and gives you your diagnosis.  Your heart starts pumping and you can feel that ache in your stomach, the same ache you always feel when you’re under stress and afraid. Then your doctor tells you exactly what you feared most. Yes, this scenario probably all sounds very familiar because hearing the doctor tell you you’ve got cancer is a lot like hearing the cop tell you you’re being arrested for drunk driving.  You got that same pit in your stomach and it seemed like time stops as you hear the cop uttering the words “you’re being placed under arrest for drunk driving.” 

You’re right, being arrested for DUI is like being diagnosed with cancer and I do have a lot of those same feelings.  What should do about them?

The first emotion one feels is usually denial followed by anger.  This is because hearing the words “you’re under arrest” immediately causes the brain to go into defense mode. The first reaction is denial and you have thoughts such as “there must be some mistake” and “this can’t be happening to me.” “I can’t have a terminal illness.” Then it starts to sink it and you get angry, maybe at the cop that gave you the diagnosis, or the friend who was supposed to be your designated driver.  Maybe you’re angry at the bar tender that pushed the drinks, or maybe the anger is directed inward and you blame yourself. 

The next emotions are usually panic and fear, specifically a fear of the unknown.  You ask yourself questions such as “what’s going to happen to me,” “can drunk driving be defended,” “how do I find a top DUI lawyer, and “am I going to jail?” 

It is our opinion that the best way to deal with these emotions is to do two things.  First, find a top DUI lawyer to defend you and second, begin seeing a counselor or therapist.  If you have a drunk or alcohol abuse problem, then you should begin with treatment, possibly including attendance at AA or a similar 12-step program.  Once you become active in your case in this way, your stress and anxiety will begin to diminish.

What exactly is the role of the DUI defense lawyer?

There are many different answers to this question, and in part it depends on how philosophical you want to be.  Our Constitutional role is to “ensure due process.”   The phrase “due process” really means fairness, so for a DUI defense attorney to ensure due process what he or she is really doing is to ensure that the drunk driving crime is  being fairly prosecuted.  If you are convicted of drunk driving, then a defense attorney’s role is to help you to obtain the best possible sentence, that is, to make sure you are treated fairly by the judge at sentencing.

I suppose another way to look at a DUI defense attorney’s role is understand that his or her role begins by looking for “reasonable doubt” in the state’s case.  If there is reasonable doubt, then there should be no conviction to begin with, and if there’s no conviction, then there can be no sentencing. 

In the context of a drunk driving case, the defense attorney must look at all of the state’s evidence, which will include the police report, any videotapes that may exist, and the breath or blood test evidence.  The DUI defense attorney should also look at the documents that the police are required to maintain regarding the breath testing equipment or blood testing equipment.  Do any of these things suggest that there may be a reason to doubt that you are guilty of drunk driving?

After a review of the state’s case, the defense of drinking drivers starts with an analysis of the law.  The defense attorney should be asking him or herself whether or not any of your Constitutional, statutory or administrative rights have been violated.  If the answer is thought to be “yes,” then the next question is what should the Court do about this violation?  For every rights violation there is a corresponding remedy to be imposed, and sometimes this remedy is a dismissal of the case.  Such dismissals will generally only occur when there has been a Constitutional violation, such as where the police did not have a lawful basis to stop your car, or such as where you were unlawfully arrested.

Top DUI defense lawyers know all of the various defenses that might be raised either before or during trial.  Breath and blood testing is not always accurate or reliable, and the police officer’s opinion that you were drunk may be just that - an opinion.

What is a substance abuse evaluation? (Alcohol and drug assessment and possible treatment prior to going to trial). 

Simply being charged with drunk driving does not necessarily mean you are an alcoholic.  Research indicates, however, that the probability that you have an alcohol disorder, of which there are several types, increases according to the number of your drunk driving arrests.  Once arrested for an OWI offense, most courts, employers, family or even friends assume that you may have an alcohol or drug problem.  Drug and alcohol evaluation programs are available almost everywhere, and most can be researched on line for information.

Your attorney may suggest that you undergo an alcohol and drug assessment, and then to follow through on any recommended treatment plan.  The first reason for this suggestion is that if you do have an alcohol or drug problem, the sooner you face the problem, and obtain treatment, the sooner you will be on the road to recovery.  Second, even if you do not have a drug or alcohol problem, the sooner you seek a private, independent assessment, the more likely this prompt action will impress your trial judge, and in the event of a conviction help your OWI attorney arrange a favorable negotiated sentence.

Furthermore, the results of you actions may also be used by your attorney in his or her discussions with the prosecutor.  If this substance abuse evaluation shows that you have no drug or alcohol problems, this might give some credence to and is yet another reason why the charges against you might be lessened.  In the alternative, if the counselor suggests some educational sessions and it can be shown that you have completed them, this can be a negotiating “chit” for your attorney to use to try to get a negotiated plea in your case.

Michigan has a mandatory provision that all OWI convictions require an evaluation for alcohol and drug dependency prior to sentencing.  These evaluations are done by the court’s probation department and will help them make a treatment recommendation for use by the judge at sentencing.  Be sure that the counselor or treatment center you choose is appropriately qualified, or is otherwise one of the state-approved providers of alcohol and drug rehabilitation. Some courts prefer their own approved counselors.

Ok, I’ve hired the best DUI Lawyer I could afford, and have started treatment, what else can I do to help?

Here is a partial list of things you should be doing and thinking about.  This is from Chapter Four of the Michigan DUI Book:

  • After selecting an attorney, follow his or her advice.   If you “second-guess” every step your attorney takes, you either have an incompetent attorney or you have “control” or “trust” issues.  Either way, this creates tension in the attorney/client relationship, and this tension will usually result in your attorney withdrawing as your legal counsel.  You should listen to and always try to follow your attorney’s advice.  This does not mean that you should expect your lawyer to tell you what to do with your case, or even if you should plead guilty or go to trial.  These are decisions only you can make, and then only after your attorney has provided you with ALL of the important information.  You should not attempt to make these critical decisions until AFTER your attorney has completed a thorough investigation of the facts and circumstances of your case.  Thereafter, your attorney should expect to provide you with an honest and forthright opinion regarding your chances for success and a detailed explanation of what the likely outcome will be.  At this point, and with this information, you will be making a “fully informed” decision regarding the outcome of your case.
  • Maintain a file with all your papers from legal counsel.  Right from the start of your arrest, you will have a large amount of paperwork coming your way.  Expect to receive forms used by the police, information from the jail, from your bondsman, and from the court hearings in your case.  You will also receive written information from your lawyer and his or her support staff.  While your lawyer may want the originals or copies of some of the forms, it is critical to your defense that you keep at least a copy of everything, especially the court documents your lawyer sends you.  That way, if your lawyer calls you and asks you a question about a specific document, you will be able to quickly give an answer.  Expect copies of all of the legal paperwork that passes between the court and the prosecutor and your attorney, and your attorney to the court or the prosecutor.  This may include copies of any motions, filings, memorandums of law and other legal forms.  You should be informed of any plea or sentence bargains made to your attorney or from your attorney
  • Let your attorney decide which witnesses to interview.  You have hired the best lawyer for your defense based on all the factors listed above.  You have hired this highly trained professional who has years of experience with not only OWI charges, but who has also worked in the court where your case will be heard, and likely is very familiar with those who will be prosecuting your case.  In preparing your defense, your lawyer will know who are the critical witnesses to interview.  Once you have made the overall and critical decision as to who is going to be the best lawyer for you, let this person do their job.  Second-guessing only costs you more stress and wastes everyone’s time.  Your “doubts” about your attorney’s strategy may actually be visible on your face, like a deer caught in the headlights.
  • Follow your attorney’s advice on securing help from the best available expert witness(es) for your trial or motions.  Hopefully, you chose your attorney based on all of the factors listed above.  In doing so, you have arranged to have the best possible person to act as your champion in court.  You should understand that the best lawyers have relationships with the best experts and can obtain them to assist in your case.  If your lawyer tells you he or she thinks that Expert X rather than Expert Y is best for your case, then you can bet that he or she is suggesting this based on years of expertise with OWI trials.  Often, one particular expert has unparalleled knowledge and experience on the medical or scientific issue that is the lynchpin of your defense, while another may not.  Go with your attorney’s choice and HIRE THE BEST EXPERT AVAILABLE.
  • Assist your attorney in locating & staying in touch with fact witnesses and medical or other records.  Your lawyer is going to ask you to assist in coordinating your defense because you are the best person to handle certain matters.  Due to strict federal laws, the process by which your medical records may be procured requires written consent. Hence, you may be asked to go to your doctor’s office (or even to the hospital) to procure a copy of your full medical records, particularly those that relate to an issue in your OWI case.  People who have witnessed something, such as all or part of your arrest or booking are much more likely to talk to you than to an attorney whom they do not know.  The same may be true for waiters or waitresses, and even passengers in your vehicle when you were arrested. You may need to contact any witnesses who may be able to help with your defense.  Your attorney may ask you to keep in touch with them.  It is your defense.  You are the one charged with the crime.  If your lawyer asks you to “remain friendly” with these witnesses, please do so, do so.  Ultimately though, as your lawyer begins to prepare for your trial in earnest, he or she will need to contact these witnesses.  This contact will be to collect information in preparation for your trial, and also to prepare the witness’s testimony.  Consequently, you should make sure these witnesses understand that they should expect such contact in the future.
Michigan DUI Book

Michigan DUI Book

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