You have completed your due diligence in your quest to find a Michigan DUI attorney.

140579_lawyersYou have a meeting scheduled to discuss your case. What information do you need to be prepared to discuss and what documentation should you bring?

When you were arrested, you were likely taken into custody and held until your blood alcohol level diminished sufficiently in order for you to return home, or until you were bonded out by friends or family. Before you leave, you should have a bond receipt from the jail, a paper driver’s license and vivid memories of what you have experienced since you were stopped by the police.

stock-photo-16244960-bar-photo-shoot-man-headache-thumb-250x165-39354Recently, a Michigan DUI attorney from SMDA was getting ready for a jury trial on a Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) offense. In preparation for trial, he was trying to find some statistics to share with the jury during his opening arguments. He stumbled upon the following information from the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the State of Michigan and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration websites which he thought was quite interesting and worth sharing with our readers.

  1. An average drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times before his first arrest.
  2. There is considerable evidence that laws that lower the illegal BAC limit from .10 to .08 can reduce alcohol-related fatalities by an average of 7%.

Imagine driving home from meeting a few friends for a drink. You felt OK to get behind the wheel and drive home. You had a few drinks, but you know your limit and you definitely did not cross it this time. You are purposely driving under the speed limit careful to keep your car within the lines. You are less than a mile from home. Suddenly, you look in the rearview mirror of your car and see flashing red lights and hear the sounds of a police siren. This isn’t going to be pleasant. Fast forward to an arrest and a charge of Operating While Intoxicated. In Michigan, a first time offender with a blood alcohol level above .08 and below .17, will likely be charged with this ninety-three (93) day misdemeanor. Now what?

While it is never pleasant to find yourself in this position, the stress of the situation can be made more bearable if you make an important decision: hire a capable and knowledgeable DUI lawyer. Despite your desire to hire your cousin, who just got out of law school, or your neighbor, who practices primarily family law, it is important to hire an attorney competent to handle drinking and driving offenses.

What does it mean to be competent? According to the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct, “a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client.” A lawyer shall not handle a legal matter which the lawyer knows or should know that the lawyer is not competent to handle, without associating with a lawyer who is competent to handle it; handle a legal matter without preparation adequate in the circumstances; or neglect a legal matter entrusted to the lawyer.

Imagine you are driving home. It is late at night. You had a few beers watching the game at the local bar. You were careful not to exceed “your limit.” You feel fine when you pay your tab and leave the bar. You don’t recall fumbling for your keys in the dark. You just want to get home safely. It doesn’t occur to you that you maybe shouldn’t have had that last beer. You’re safe, right? The bar is only a short distance from your house. Although typically a careful driver, you are “hyper-sensitive” about obeying all traffic laws. You stay within the speed limit. In fact, you drive slightly under the speed limit so as to escape any unwanted attention by law enforcement. You spot a police car in front of you and to your right. You don’t want to pass the car, but it seems the police car is practically parked in its lane. You say a small prayer and decide to pass the police car. In so doing, you look up at your rearview mirror and see lights flashing. You safely pull over to the right and fish for your license, registration and proof of insurance. A police officer slowly walks to your car. He taps on your window. You roll down your window. He asks if he knows why you were pulled over. You are truly dubious as to why the officer pulled you over. In your hesitation to respond, he asks “Have you been drinking tonight, sir?”

You are asked a series of questions. The officer will later right in his report that you appeared confused, your eyes were slightly blood shot and the officer detected a strong odor of intoxicants. After asking you more questions, you are asked to step out of your car to perform a Field Sobriety Tests. Unlike testing you are familiar with where if you study and apply yourself, you can be successful, FSTs are designed for you to fail. This isn’t cynicism…this is fact.

FSTs are failure-designed tests. Nearly every motorist, regardless of sobriety levels, fails field sobriety tests. The level and degree of failure is noted by the investigating police officer. Starting any test too early is considered a failure. Performing a test too quickly or too slowly is considered a failure. Failure to follow the officer’s strict instructions is considered a failure. As an example, an officer may ask a motorist on a roadway stop to count backwards from 78, stopping at 59. Inevitably, most people count backwards from 78 but forget when to stop, finally interjecting at 56 a question, “When did you want me to stop?” According to the officer, the motorist has “failed” that field sobriety test at that point.

Canada is a strong economic partner not only to the United States, but more specifically with those states that border Canada, including Michigan. Many Michigan residents frequently travel to and from Canada to work for either short, or longer periods of time. The attorneys at SMDA regularly counsel clients who must travel to Canada as part of their regular job obligations.

Why is this important? Canada considers a drinking and driving conviction to be a very serious offense. While this is not a unique view, Canada goes so far as to prevent those individuals with a DUI conviction from crossing into its borders. Consequently, this can have very serious consequences for someone whose job duties require frequent travel into the Canadian provinces. Michigan clients arrested for drinking and driving offenses are not often aware of these barriers to entry until it is too late. The inability to enter Canada can lead to job loss or missed job opportunities. One SMDA client was in medical equipment sales where part of his territory included Ontario. When he was charged with a drinking and driving offense, the first consideration was how a conviction could lead to a loss of employment. Another recent circumstance involved a Michigan resident charged with a DUI offense who worked as a contract engineer in the auto industry. He had just been offered permanent employment with one of the big automakers, but his job involved a transfer to Ontario. An even more tragic example involved an SMDA client whose young son was living in Windsor, Ontario. This client encountered difficulties in crossing the borders even to see his child. Thankfully, he maintained a good relationship with his ex-wife, and she accommodated visitation by driving to the United States for visits. Not only are their legal and financial consequences to DUI offenses, there are also family and job-related consequences, too.

Regardless of the length of time Canada has made this classification or whether this classification was heightened following the events of 9/11, this Inadmissible status prohibits an individual from entering Canada and remaining within its borders. This status even prevents entry when they are simply passengers in a vehicle and not even the vehicle operator.

In many cases, a DUI/OWI offense will be your first real contact with the criminal legal system. Consequently, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. In this article we’re going to take a look at the basic legal process you will be going through if arrested for a DUI/OWI offense in Michigan.

The journey begins at the time of arrest.

The arraignment will be your first appearance in court. At this time, the judge will formally read the charges against you and give you an opportunity to enter a plea. Typically people will plead ‘not guilty’ at this stage regardless of how they plan to proceed.

Punishment for drinking-and-driving offenses in Michigan reflect a growing national trend toward a stricter approach that picked up momentum during the early 1990s. Offenders now face losing their licenses for longer periods, stiffer fines and costs, and even the possibility of vehicle immobilization or forfeiture. The stakes are even greater for serious offenders, who may serve lengthier jail sentences or prison terms, depending on the nature of their convictions.

Drinking-and-driving offenses in Michigan fall into three categories. Convictions for operating while intoxicated (OWI) and operating while visibly impaired (OWVI) carry maximum penalties of up to 93 days in jail, $300 to $500 in fines and costs, license sanctions, and 45 days of community service. A blood-alcohol content of 0.08 or greater is considered legally drunk, which prosecutors can count as an additional charge.

Refusing a chemical test can raise additional consequences beyond the traffic stop. Under Michigan’s implied-consent law, drivers are presumed to have given their permission for such a test. Failure to do so can mean a one-year suspension, which increases to two years for second offenses. Any attempt at preventing a one-year driving suspension first requires a separate hearing with the Secretary of State. Depending on the outcome of that hearing, a hardship appeal is an option at the circuit court. However, no hardship appeals are allowed for repeat offenders.

On January 3, 2007, a significant change in Michigan regarding driving and driving (DUI) offenses occurred. A new law took effect, Heidi’s Law. Heidi’s Law was championed by the parents of Heidi Steiner, a northern Michigan high school senior killed by a drunken driver.

In 1991, a man pled in a case of drunk driving causing death. He received a 10-year prison sentence. Under Michigan law at the time of his conviction, the “look back” period for DUI sentencing was limited to 10 years. That is to say, if the person had not been charged for driving while intoxicated within the previous 10 years, the offense was to be sentenced as if it were a first offense. County prosecutors in Michigan can, under Heidi’s Law, now press a charge of felony DUI if the accused has had two previous convictions.

Defense of drunk driving under Michigan’s Heidi’s Law focuses first on preventing a third conviction. Disputing the validity of past convictions is practically impossible. Additionally, Heidi’s Law expanded the types of documentation accepted as proof of prior DUI convictions from three to seven. The law relaxed the requirements for proof of a previous record because records of DUI convictions were historically not always recorded and archived as criminal offenses. Now, prior convictions can be established by a copy of the court’s register of actions and information contained in pre-sentencing reports or the defendant’s driving record. The Michigan Secretary of State will also now maintain records of drunk driving convictions for the life of the driver.

There is a relatively “new kid on the block” in the myriad of drinking and driving violations chargeable in Michigan. This newcomer, colloquially referred to as the Michigan “Super Drunk” Law actually took effect on October 31, 2010. Under this law, Michigan drivers who are arrested for operating a vehicle with extremely high blood alcohol content (BAC) face enhanced penalties. Consequently, it is especially important for these individuals to immediately obtain legal representation in order to avoid the stiff penalties following a super drunk DUI conviction.

Nationwide, drivers are required to follow the BAC limit of 0.08%, and any person who violates this law can be arrested and charged with driving under the influence. Michigan legislators have taken the law a step further by imposing harsher penalties on “super drunk” drivers who have a BAC well above this limit.

State law defines “super drunk” as a blood alcohol content of 0.17% or more. If convicted, the penalties for a first high-BAC offense include a one-year license suspension, mandatory alcohol rehabilitation, and up to 180 days in jail. In addition, the state’s new law also requires convicted super drunk offenders to have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicles (a device that requires a driver to successfully pass a breath test in order to operate his or her vehicle). Michigan drivers, though, can breathe easy as Illinois recently enacted a law requiring that a breath interlock be installed for all offenders. The Illinois law, which went into effect last year, requires the interlock as a condition of driving even before there has been a conviction.

All too often, Michigan defense attorneys fail to consider the license sanctions imposed by the Secretary of State following their client’s conviction for a drinking and driving offense. Having said that, sometimes these resulting sanctions cannot be avoided. A person’s license is subject to mandatory revocation for obtaining two (2) drinking and driving convictions within seven (7) years or three (3) drinking and driving convictions within ten (10) years.

The driver license restoration process is complex and lawyers with experience before the Michigan Driver Appeal and Assessment Division (DAAD) can greatly increase a revoked person’s chances of getting his or her Michigan driver’s license restored.

A first time revocation is for a minimum period of 1 year and a second lifetime revocation is for a minimum period of 5 years. A person whose license is revoked may not operate a vehicle indefinitely until the person is granted driving privileges before the Michigan Driver Appeal and Assessment Division (DAAD) of the Michigan Secretary of State.