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DWI’s Emotional Aspects

How it feels to have a DWI is something critically important to understand for anyone dealing with a person who has been arrested for DWI, whether that be for a family member, employer, etc. The amount of people who get arrested for a DWI every year is akin to the amount of people who get diagnosed with cancer (approx. 1.4 million, although this number has been decreasing). We help everyone by understanding what it feels like to be accused of a DWI with true respect and empathy.

1. Trauma from a DWI.

Although lumped in with criminal activity, people who get arrested for DWI did not set out to perpetrate a crime on society.  This is a very important distinction.  People who get DWIs feel tremendous remorse and shame at the title “DWI” because they would never intentionally hurt someone. For most, it was an occasion of social drinking which ended in an arrest. The mere thought of being lumped in a category of causing intentional harm to others is a terrorizing feeling which humiliates people accused of DWI. All it takes is the combination of alcohol and a minor, innocuous traffic violation to find one’s self accused with the scarlet letters. Getting arrested is similar to an injury. At first there is shock. Then there is pain.  Many people lose their jobs, their insurance, and some even lose friends and family (divorce, custody, etc.).  Then comes the fear of the unknown while anxiously waiting for the legal process to unravel. No one punctures a lung and immediately heals. There is a diagnosis, medical intervention, and recovery.

Once a person gets arrested for a DWI, it is everyone’s job to recognize that they need understanding and unconditional support.  For example, if a teacher gets arrested for DWI, there is no reason why they can’t teach. Their students need them to teach. The teacher needs understanding from the administration that they are dealing with a crisis, not one of which involved any intent to commit a crime or harm. Everyone makes mistakes. It is therefore everyone’s obligation to extend the same courtesy, respect and understanding to others who commit a mistake. DWIs are typically mistakes of error, miscalculation and or oversight.  We help everyone when we give compassion and empathy to those accused of DWI.

2. Recovery from a DWI.

When people have a heart attack, most don’t see it coming. They suddenly find themselves in trauma and if lucky, at some point recovery. The same thing applies for a DWI. If you ever ask anyone who has ever received a DWI if they predicted getting arrested, they will tell you no. We don’t punish people before crimes occur. Much like an athlete who has surgery and returns to play, it our job as a caring society to ensure that those accused of DWI become productive again.  I would advise anyone who has a DWI charge to immediately seek a substance abuse evaluation and complete the recommended courses. It is important to take productive measures.  Simple steps such as talking to a grief counselor or attending AA meetings are steps forward in a positive direction. It is important to stay focused on improving the circumstances.   Recovery requires time, resources and commitment.  Hiring a lawyer is a good first step in the recovery process from a DWI, but it is not the only step.

3. Be realistic.

No patient wants to hear their doctor tell them that their initial lab test results were wrong. Figuring out the facts, technical issues, strategy and options takes time. It is simply not possible to walk into a lawyer’s office and expect to know exactly what will happen at an initial consultation.  Hiring a lawyer is a good move but just the first step.  It is vitally important to be stay focused on daily life: one’s job, one’s family, moving towards one’s goals. Keeping an optimistic attitude and following the advice of one’s lawyer is critical step towards recovering from a DWI.

Personal note:  I have been representing citizens accused of DWI for 23 years. It is a great privilege to help people as they are going through one of the most challenging times of their lives. I think it is critical to address not just the legal issues, but to do everything I can to personally counsel, support and encourage my clients.  I am inspired by the employers, friends, family members and who do the same. If you are going through a DWI, hang in there!  It will get better and you will be OK! Stay strong!     -Mimi Coffey

Mimi Coffey is a nationally-renowned trial attorney, board-certified in DWI by the NCDD, who has been practicing for over 24 years and is an author of multiple DWI Defense textbooks and is a national and state-wide lecturer on the law.