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How Common Is it For A DUI Defendant To Have Drug Or Alcohol Problems?


The answer to whether it is common for a DUI defendant to have drug or alcohol problems depends on who you’re asking. If you’re asking me as a DUI lawyer in the San Francisco Bay area, the answer would be very often. In fact, the answer would probably be most of the time, not all of the time, but most of the time. There are people who are not big drinkers, every once in a while they have one too many over the years. They’ve just not gone with the alternative transportation means and have gotten home okay and they get caught that one time usually with a low blood alcohol level. I see that sometimes, not all the time, but those would be the people that typically don’t have an alcohol or a drug problem. Then, you’re talking about the majority of the people who get DUIs and there are statistics which show that people will drive drunk or on drugs hundreds and hundreds of times before getting caught.

If you look at the definition of what an alcoholic is, it says someone who drinks every day. It says it’s someone who is a binge drinker and it could be once they start drinking, they just can’t stop. A lot of people have trouble with drugs and alcohol. We have liquor stores on every corner and then the local Safeway or market is filled with liquor and then there are the bars and the restaurants. You walk down any street in a retail area and the alcohol is everywhere and that’s because so many people drink. I would say definitely more often than not someone who gets a DUI has an issue with alcohol or drugs or both and is in need of help. That’s where getting caught for a DUI, the attorney who really cares about their clients, about society, about the work we’re doing, can be a big help.

Is Everyone Charged With A DUI A Drunkard Or a Drug Addict?

Absolutely not everyone charged with a DUI is a drunkard or a drug addict. There’s no absolute in DUIs. If you walk into most DUI classes, which is something that someone who was convicted of a DUI or who does not win their DMV hearing may need to take in order to get a restricted license at some point than eventually have their license fully reinstated, almost every instructor in these classes will say, “If you’re here, you’re an alcoholic. All of you who are alcoholics and you all need to change your lives starting with changing all of your friends.” To the person who’s in AA and has been doing that for years to the person who’s running the DUI class who is usually a recovering alcoholic or drug addict to anybody who’s doing any type of counseling who has overcome alcohol and drug issues and is well into their recovery, almost every one of them would say, “You get a DUI, you’re an alcoholic”. I do not believe that.

The reason for that is because I have known so many people over the years who’ve gotten DUIs and there are a great number of them who are not alcoholics. I am not trying to spin anything and I am not trying to use all the definitions. I’m just saying I know these people because I live in a community where it’s not a huge community and I run into people and I see them whether they’re in my field or another field. It’s pretty evident to me based on what I’ve known about them leading up to their DUIs, if I know them before they got it or people who knew them. A lot of clients keep in touch with me, send other people my way, ask advice for other legal issues and it’s clear to me that not everyone who gets a DUI is an alcoholic. A lot of people are but definitely not everybody. If someone starts calling you an alcoholic just because you got a DUI, that’s their opinion but that’s not necessarily the case. Once you strike in a second or third DUI, then not only have you continued to be irresponsible and you’re going to lose the respect of most people as you continue to go down this path, but once you start doing that, especially if they are very close together, yes, you are considered an alcoholic.

What Is An Alcohol And Drug Assessment?

Different counties deal with DUIs in different ways. In some counties, if someone is convicted of a DUI, or if the probation is doing a report, they may want this person to get an assessment, which means they would go to a professional, someone who deals with alcoholism, someone who is potentially in the medical field or a therapist who will look at their background, interview them, and ask a lot of questions. After asking all these questions, they will come up with what’s called an assessment, which will say, “This is who this person is, what they are about, and this is what we think of them”. They may say, “This person needs treatment or does not need treatment or needs a lot of treatment” and that treatment may be residential treatment, it may be day treatment, or it may be meetings.

Sometimes it’s medication the person needs. In an assessment, especially the medical personnel may see that someone has more issues than just what they’re putting in their body and what’s causing those things. Assessments, in some counties, are required when someone goes in to do a sign up for a DUI school, but not in most counties. What happens typically with assessment is that it is done as a way for an attorney to show a prosecutor, a district attorney who’s dealing with the case, and a judge who may be involved in the case, what their client is about and that they have thought to be assessed, to get a treatment plan and to start working on that treatment plan while the case is going on. They are showing that they’re being responsible about what has happened and about the future, to help show the prosecutor and the judge and others, their loved ones and employers and people that they’re around, that they are going to be more responsible in the future and they are going to take those steps to do it.

It may just sound, “Oh, this is easy, anyone should do it and this is common sense so why wouldn’t anyone do it”, but it is hard for a lot of people to change their ways. For some people, doing assessment can be like that first step of going to that first meeting or admitting that they do have a problem; it can be a very big thing for someone to do that. This is something that an attorney who thinks that it may be helpful for their client, not just for the case but for their personal life, may recommend doing an assessment or some other type of treatment. It may be going to see a doctor, it may be going to see a therapist or it may be going to meetings. There are so many different ways that people can get started in treatment and an assessment is one of those ways.

For more information on Having Drug & Alcohol Issues In California, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (415) 523-7878 today.

Aaron Bortel

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