It happens. You work hard and need to shift gears before you go home, so you stop at a favorite watering hole. Your friends have made a local bar something of a clubhouse to let off steam after classes. Perhaps you rarely drink, but you’re going through tough times and need to forget life for a while. Whatever the situation, you drove to the bar and now it’s time to leave. Designated drivers are for bachelor parties and weddings, not for a quick snort at the tavern, so your thinking goes.
You get in your car after two to three mixed drinks, turn the key and leave the parking spot. A few blocks later, you see the lights before you hear the sirens and your heart sinks hard into your chest. You’ve only had a few, but those gin and tonics were a little stronger than usual and you hadn’t eaten dinner yet. You’re not a hardened alcoholic, you say to yourself, you don’t deserve a Driving Under The Influence (DUI) charge. But, dammit, here you are. Pulled over by a cop, three drinks in and no food in your belly, you break into a cold sweat. Life is about to get complicated in more ways than one.
I have been practicing DUI/traffic law for twenty years. From downtown Chicago to Sioux Falls, South Dakota with rural Wisconsin in between, I have handled every kind of DUI, OWI, DWI, OUI (different states use different terminology for the same offense). Most people own the mistake and want me to do damage control. Many want to roll the dice and contest their case in court either because they are genuinely innocent of the offense, they are protecting their livelihood or they are living in denial about their substance abuse problems. No matter who is sitting in front of me, however, I always hear about how they felt when they were interacting with law enforcement, as well as the typical shock that goes with it.
When I discuss the facts of a case with a client, I am looking for information regarding the officer’s probable cause, my client’s condition and behavior, the officer’s conduct and whatnot. When my client discusses the case, they are looking for comfort, hope and reassurance. I can often provide them with some of these things albeit in the cold light of my experience with the law. Truly, when I see satisfaction in my client’s face, it is one of the greatest feelings I can have as an attorney.
A significant number of clients, however, are looking to me for something else. They are looking for relief from an abiding anxiety that causes them insomnia, panic attacks, depression, or increased substance abuse. This anxiety causes certain clients to run up unnecessary legal bills and even get into more legal trouble as they look to their attorney for what amounts to mental health counseling, a service no attorney should try to provide. I have seen people collapse in court under pressure or literally go catatonic on the witness stand or take a plea deal out of abject fear of testifying.
In my practice, if I sense a client is struggling with more than the common worries over their DUI, I recommend a therapist. I go to great lengths to get my clients the help they need so that when the time comes to decide between trial, a motion hearing or a plea agreement, they are in the right frame of mind to make educated decisions and assist in their defense. The experience of being stopped by the police is truly a trauma similar to a car accident or getting fired from a job. Whether you are innocent, guilty or uncertain, if your mental health is in jeopardy, you need a different kind of counselor than your lawyer.
First, issues addressed in counseling are confidential. Second, they are very different from issues addressed by one’s attorney. Last, by taking care of yourself, you are assisting in your own defense. You are no good to your case if you are falling apart. Yes, therapists and counselors cost money, but so do lawyers and DUIs. No, you are not weak or sick if you need the assistance. You are smart and brave by realizing the assistance of a counselor is necessary. Yes, your lawyer is working hard for you, but he is not trained to handle health matters. You wouldn’t ask your doctor for legal advice, why rely on your lawyer for medical help?