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Dealing With The Stress of a Michigan DUI Case

All drunk driving cases involve very similar circumstances, such as dealing with the emotional stress that comes with worrying about your case and what is going to happen as your case moves along through the system. Stress is also a result of worrying about what will be the outcome of the case, including what punishments might be imposed. This section of the web page is intended to help keep the stress of your case from overwhelming your life.

Every drunk driving case involves a certain number of common factors. The first of these is the trauma and emotional stress of a drunk driving stop and arrest, and oftentimes it is hard to get this memory out of your mind. This trauma often results in problems with dietary habits, sleeplessness and weight loss. It is important for you to understand that these problems are not unique to you and that to a large extent, the vast majority of people that commit this offense are not what are commonly thought of as criminals.

Making sure that you feel comfortable with the attorney that you select to handle your case is also very important, because much of your stress will be lessened just by having the confidence in your attorney and his or her ability to obtain a positive result.

II. Reducing Stress by Understanding the Reasons for Delay:

Oftentimes, the problems and the stress that arise from these cases can become worse because of all the waiting. You should understand, however, that waiting is something that your attorney may not be able to avoid. The legal system involves many different kinds of cases and many different people. For example, there are the Judges and the Judges’ scheduling clerks, the Prosecuting Attorneys, the witnesses, and the police officers. Everyone’s calendar must be accommodated when scheduling important matters like trials. Also, simply because of the backlog that many of the Judges and Courts face, these matters can take several weeks to schedule.

Judges also usually have nearly 100% control of scheduling. Consequently, while attorneys can do certain things to try to move things along more quickly, your attorney might decide that delay is not advantageous for you. It may also occur from time to time that your attorney will ask for an adjournment, and this is usually because your attorney is trying to do something or obtain something that will be advantageous to your defense.

During these delays, you may be wondering what is happening with your case, and sometimes the answer is – not much at all. For example, it may be that the case is simply waiting its turn in the system, or it may be that your attorney is waiting to receive information about your case. This information is called “discovery” and obtaining discovery can sometimes take several weeks or even months. These cases are usually handled on a first-in-first-out system, and therefore the arrest that occurred prior to yours will be scheduled first. Depending on the circumstances and the court in which your case is filed, the delay can be anywhere between 2-3 months but sometimes lasts well over a year.

Don’t assume that because you are not receiving constant calls and letters from your attorney that nothing is happening with your case. Often, things are happening behind the scenes, such as plea negotiations, and it may also be true that your attorney is simply waiting to obtain the discovery on your case. One thing that is certain is that your case will always be proceeding in one direction, which is toward a conclusion. Your attorney may not call you each step of the way, so do not assume that nothing is happening because you have not heard from your attorney. Oftentimes, hearings are being scheduled and discovery is being obtained and reviewed, etcetera. Your attendance will always be required every time your case is scheduled for any kind of court date, so we will, of course, notify you of actual hearing dates.

Problems with stress are often a result of not knowing what to expect, which is simply a fear of the unknown. Sometimes not knowing what is coming can be the biggest stress inducer. It may be helpful to understand the different steps that your case may go through so that you can better anticipate what will be coming in the weeks and months ahead.

III. Reducing Stress by Understanding “the System”:

Because many people arrested for DUI have not had experience with the “criminal justice system”, they feel a great deal of stress from not knowing what to expect. This “fear of the unknown” can be relieved in part simply by understanding what steps your case will move through as it progresses toward a conclusion.

A. The Arrest:

Most cases begin with an arrest. After the arrest, the person’s major concern is getting out of jail, posting bond, and obtaining an attorney to defend the case. Usually a ticket will be received at the time of the arrest, and this is based on the uniform traffic code. The ticket will have the date for the next appearance, or indicate something like “appear within 10 days.” You will usually be instructed to call the Court to learn of your date. This procedure varies from Court to Court and is something that you should discuss with your attorney. Your appearance at this first court date may or may not be needed, and oftentimes these first appearances called “arraignments” can be waived. Your attorney can discuss with you whether or not a “waiver of arraignment” can be accomplished in your case.

B. The Arraignment:

If there is an arraignment, then the purpose of it will be to accomplish two things. The first is so that you can be informed of the name of the offense you are charged with, the maximum sentence permitted by law and your right to the assistance of a lawyer. The judge or magistrate that conducted the arraignment would read this information to you. Your attorney can place this information into a document, called a “waiver of arraignment” for you to sign and file with the court. This precludes either you or your attorney from having to appear for this first

The other purpose of an arraignment is so that the judge or magistrate can evaluate whether or not the bond previously set is appropriate, or if the bond needs to be increased to assure future appearances. The court will also be assessing whether or not conditions need to be added to your bond to insure that while you are on bond, you do not commit the same offense. Depending on your prior record, these conditions can vary from nothing whatsoever to a home alcohol tether. If such a device is ordered, then you will not be free to leave the home unless you first obtain permission from the court. You must also periodically blow into a Breathalyzer at your home. This tether is then monitored through the internet by the Courts. A newer option is a SCRAM alcohol tether. For a more detailed explanation of the SCRAM, see (citation and link).

Between these two extremes are other types of conditions, such as random urinalysis or breath testing, daily PBTs, or based on the new law, your car can be fitted with an ignition interlock device. Such a device requires that you blow into it, and be alcohol free, before you can start and operate your vehicle. Both home alcohol tethers, as well as the ignition interlock devices are quite costly, and will require that a monthly maintenance fee be paid by you while they are in place.

As a general rule, while on bond you will not be allowed to leave the State or Country without permission of the court. If you travel for business or pleasure, then you should discuss this with your attorney so that it can be brought to the court’s attention in a timely manner.

C. The Pretrial:

The next hearing is called a pretrial. The purpose of a pretrial is to determine what direction your case will go in as it moves toward its conclusion. The options for the pretrial include adjourning or rescheduling the hearing to another date, so that for example discovery can be completed, scheduling a motion or hearing, scheduling a bench or jury trial, or negotiating a reduction of the charge and tendering a plea of guilty. Your attorney will help you to decide what the best course of action is for you in this regard.

Regarding motions and evidentiary hearings, a motion is basically a document that sets forth a legal argument, and is intended to persuade the court to rule in a particular way. An evidentiary hearing is where witnesses are called and testify, are sworn to tell the truth, and a record is made. This record of the prior testimony can later be used at trial to show that the witnesses are not truthful, or that their memory is flawed. This can go a long way toward persuading a jury that a not-guilty verdict is the appropriate one in your case. At the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, the will court make a ruling based on the testimony that is received. For example, the court may find that evidence should or should not be suppressed, or whether or not a case should be dismissed for a legal defect.

In total, the sole purpose of filing these motions and hearings is to help aggressively defend your case. In most circumstances your attorney will try to file motions before trial so that afterwards he or she can better assess your chances for success at trial. Motions may not be filed because your attorney hopes to actually win the case with them (although this is a possibility); your attorney might instead hope to cripple the Prosecution’s case and therefore obtain a much more favorable result, such as a significant reduction in the charges.

These motions are also sometimes used to attempt to exclude certain kinds of evidence by court order. This is called suppression of the evidence. Your attorney may seek to obtain this result with regard to your chemical evidence or field sobriety tests. Motions and evidentiary hearings are also used to obtain testimony that can assist your attorney in being better prepared for trial.

D. The Trial:

For many people, trial is the most stress provoking event of all. Sometimes these fears are greatly exaggerated and may be completely out of proportion to what is really going to happen. For example, a typical drunk driving trial is not like what you see on T.V. There will be virtually no spectators in the courtroom. The courtroom usually will be occupied only by the jury (for a misdemeanor, six or seven people and for a felony, twelve or thirteen people) the Judge, the Prosecutor, the Officer in charge, and any other interested parties. Usually, the interested parties are only one or two people. There may also be other lawyers and parties in the court room, waiting for your case to conclude so that they can begin their case.

Some people also misbelieve that if your case is defended aggressively, then there will be certain jury trial. This is not true. Oftentimes, while the case is being aggressively defended, a plea bargain will be reached or can be reached between your attorney and the Prosecuting Attorney. This can sometimes result in a reduction to a non-alcohol related offense and may be even as low as a simple civil infraction, such as careless driving. This is a result very similar to a three-point speeding ticket. While this type of a reduction is not common, it does sometimes occur. It is also possible that your case will be knocked out completely during the pretrial motions. Consequently, a trial is not necessary all the time

The uncertainty of what is going to occur after the trial is also often a source of stress. You should discuss with your attorney whether or not a trial will result in more severe penalty, but most Judges do not impose a greatly penalty on those individuals that exercise their trial rights. Also, most first offenders do not go to jail, although there are some courts where the Judges do send first offenders to jail for a short period of time. Repeat offenders often do go to jail, and there are certain mandatory periods of incarceration for second and third offenses. You may be able to take certain steps to reduce this likelihood completely, or to at least to reduce the amount of jail time that the Judge does impose. Of course the only way you can be ordered to serve jail time is if you are in fact convicted, and your first goal should be to completely avoid a conviction. However, because the possibility of a conviction, and therefore a sentence, you should also discuss with your attorney what steps you can take to better position yourself at sentencing.

It is probably best for you not to focus on the penalties that will be imposed by the court. This is not the best way to look at it, because many of the non-judicial penalties are worse than the judicially imposed penalties. For example, non-judicial penalties can include losing your job, the inability to rent a car, and the inability to travel both in a out of the state as well as internationally, including Canada. These consequences place a great importance on winning your case. Consequently your focus should be on evaluating the strength of your defense, rather than the certainty of punishment.

E. The Sentencing:

If you should decide to take advantage of a plea bargain, or if you take your case to trial and lose, any jail time imposed usually will begin several weeks later (after the conviction) when you are actually sentenced. It is generally true that the sentence imposed by the judge will be tailored to the particular circumstances of your case. At least in theory, the judge will be trying to balance both “society’s need for protection” and its interest in maximizing your “rehabilitation potential”. In other words, the court will be imposing both a punishment, as well as imposing a requirement that you become involved in some form of education, treatment or therapy. So it is generally true that all sentencing for a DUI will attempt to address any underlying alcohol or drug abuse problem can be addressed.

If your charge is a second or subsequent offense, then it a minimum sentence will apply. For a second offense the minimum sentence is five days in jail, and for a third offense the minimum sentence is 30 days. You should discuss with your attorney if there is any way to avoid these minimum jail sentences in your case.

You should also discuss with your attorney how your prior record might be used against you. The law in Michigan states that enhancement to a second offense is proper for those offenses committed within 7 years after a prior conviction. Your charge can be increased to a felony if your arrest occurs within 10 years after 2 or more prior convictions. Sometimes out of state convictions can be used to increase your charge. However, in order for a prior out-of-state conviction to be use, it must be “substantially corresponding” to the Michigan Statute. Your attorney will need to make this determination.

Depending on the circumstances of your case, it may be very helpful to become involved in alcohol treatment very early on. This is usually the single most important step you can take in helping your attorney obtain the best possible sentence for you. This can include attendance at AA, or possibly starting treatment with a therapist. If you do begin to treat with a therapist, then he or she will probably be asked by your attorney to perform a “substance abuse evaluation”. This evaluation can then be presented to the judge before sentencing. In reviewing your case and any evaluation done, the judge will be looking for one of two things, either that the therapist believes that there no problem, or if a problem is diagnosed, that you are following through on the recommended treatment plan.

IV. Reducing Stress by Understanding Driver License Issues:

Driver’s license issues also often cause a great deal of stress and anxiety. In Michigan, the law provides that when you are arrested for drunk driving, your plastic license is destroyed, and you are then provided with a paper license. This typically causes a great deal of frustration in that most people’s primary source of identification is their driver’s license. Without this identification it can be difficult to do simply everyday things like cash checks or withdraw money from your bank account. Consequently, trying to resolve this issue can go a long way to reducing your stress. In this regard, you might think about how to obtain a substitute form of photo I.D., which may include, for example, a passport. Michigan law provides that with a pending drunk driving case you are precluded from obtaining a state I.D., however it seems to be common practice despite the law for the Secretary of State office to order a State I.D. There is no harm in trying.

If you refused to take a chemical test, then you are probably charged with an implied consent refusal as well. If this is true, then you MUST make a demand for hearing within 14 days of your arrest. While you are waiting for your hearing with the Driver’s License Appeal Division, your driver’s license rights and privileges will be whatever they were prior to your arrest. Your license will not be suspended unless and until the hearing officer finds in favor of the arresting officer at the hearing. If you win the hearing, then there will be no driver’s license sanctions imposed. However, if you lose the hearing, then your driver’s license will be suspended for a period of one year. You will be notified of this decision by mail, and they order from the DLAD will indicated a date that your suspension begins and ends.

During this one year implied consent suspension (provided it is a first implied consent refusal), you do have the ability to request both legal as well as hardship relief from the higher courts. With a hardship appeal, you are essentially asking the higher court to give you a work- permit license during the one-year suspension period. A legal appeal will result in a complete dismissal of the implied consent case, but takes much longer to accomplish, and is far less likely to be granted. Hardship licenses are much easier to obtain.

If your license is suspended as a result of an implied consent refusal, then this suspension is in addition to any suspension or revocation that may be imposed as a result of the underlying drunk driving case. However, to the extent that the two suspensions or revocations overlap, they will run concurrently. This is something that you should discuss with your attorney, so that you have a better understanding of how these separate driver license sanctions will apply to your case. This will help you to decide what course of action you want to take as your case moves through the system.

One final thing you should understand about driver license sanctions in general is that they are not “individualized”. What this means is that the same sanctions are imposed for everyone, regardless of status in the community, marital status or employment status. These sanctions apply to everyone equally. Consequently, your attorney should be able to tell you exactly what the sanction(s) will be, and how they will apply to you. This is different from the criminal sanctions imposed by the court, because a criminal sentence must by law be individualized, and do vary, sometimes significantly, from person to person.

V. Reducing Stress by Becoming Involved in Your Defense:

Another source of stress can be the feeling of a loss of control. Many people arrested for DUI are in management or professional careers, and therefore, and are therefore accustomed to being in a position of control. Consequently, this loss of control can be a very new experience for you. This feeling usually begins when your vehicle was stopped or when you first came into contact with the police, and the officer began ordering you to take certain actions. You may have been wondering whether or not you had to do what the officer was ordering, and this is something you should discuss with your attorney.

The best way to overcome this feeling of being out-of-control is to ask your attorney how you can help with your defense. This may be as simple as becoming involved in therapy and/or treatment, but might also includes obtaining medical records and driving records. Your attorney might also ask you to travel to the “scene” and take digital photographs that can later be incorporated into a power point presentation at trial.

One thing to keep in mind however, is that your attorney is working hard to obtain the best possible result. This can also be difficult, because you may not be accustomed to letting another person control something so important to you, and the only way to reach this level of trust is by carefully selecting your attorney.

If and when you and your attorney decide to pursue an actual trial, you might be able to take a more active role in trial preparation. To assist your attorney in preparing for trial, it is essential that you provide the appropriate contact information, so that you can be reached at a moment’s notice. It may also be important for you to be in contact with your witnesses as well as any expert witnesses. Sometimes, we will ask you to meet with the expert witnesses to help gather information.

You should, of course, always know what direction your case is going. For example, if motions are being scheduled or if trial is being scheduled, it is important for you to discuss these things with your attorney. Again, understanding what to expect will go a long way toward relieving your stress. However, don’t try to be involved in every decision that is made, as this is often counterproductive. Finally, you must have faith and confidence in your lawyer and just let him or her do what you have paid them to do. They are the legal experts and are working hard to obtain the best possible result for you.

The most important thing you can do to reduce your stress level is to largely leave your case to the professional. It is just as if you were preparing for surgery. The only way to avoid having stress overwhelm you during a significant health care concern is to have complete faith and confidence in the health care profession. In the context of a surgery, you must of course have total confidence in the person you have selected as your surgeon. The same is true with regard to your attorney. Having this type of confidence in your attorney will help you because it will help you deal with stress and will also help your attorney obtain a better result, and the client that has a high level of confidence in his or her attorney will have less stress overall than the client that tries to micro-manage his or her case, and the client that attempts to second-guess the attorney’s decisions, or even tell the attorney what to do, will do nothing but cause him or herself additional and needless stress.

One final thing that you can do while your case is pending is to become involved in treatment. While not every person who is charged with DUI has an underlying alcohol or substance abuse problem, statistics show that many people do. You are the only one who can really make this determination, but it might help you to begin attending AA, or to begin treating with a therapist. This has the dual benefit of reducing the stress that a drug or alcohol abuse problem can cause in one’s life, and also allows you to make a very valuable contribution to a positive outcome to your case.