Life is full of knock down moments. The loss of a loved one. The loss of a job. The loss of a marriage or a terminal illness. When it happens, you can get lost in the feelings of despair or fear. For most, your friends or family help lift you up and carry you until you see that this terrible phase will pass. These knock down moments are rarely knock out moments—they just feel that way when you’re on the mat.
I’m writing this blog because I think it’s important to remind those of you who have a DUI on your record (and even those who don’t) that you are more than this one knock down. Over the last 15 or so years, Ryan and I have discussed hundreds if not thousands of cases. It isn’t just the legal logistics we talk about. So many people walk through the office door and feel totally broken. Typically, it starts with “I’ve never been in trouble before” and leads to “this will destroy my life.” However, unlike other knock down moments, your support group tends to be small or non-existent. In these moments, it seems impossible to pull yourself off the mat.
For those of you who know this pain and embarrassment, I want you to know that you are never judged in our office. You are more than a snapshot of a moment when you made a bad choice. We know you will judge yourself harshly and feel shame. You may even be shamed by those around you. Over the years, I’ve learned that the shame will never produce a positive result. It will keep you hidden, embarrassed, and afraid that your “secret” will get out. I get it. However, it’s also important for your growth that you understand that many people have been in your situation and have moved passed this knock down. I think it’s important to share some very relevant facts.
—According to the Department of Justice, one in four Americans has an arrest or conviction record that shows up on a background check. So, if you’re feeling alone and embarrassed, there are MANY Americans in your position. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, one in three men will be arrested by the age of 23. In fact, if you took all of the Americans who have a criminal record and made them their own country, it would be larger than Canada. As you can see, identifying yourself or others as “criminal” is rather absurd and counterproductive. Moving beyond the stigma and getting healthy should be the goal for everyone.
—Research indicates 1 in 6 or 1 in 9 Americans take psychiatric medication (variance appears based on whether samples consist of only adults or Americans age 12 years and older). This is likely good for the mental health and stability of many Americans but it can have serious consequences. While most patients know that they shouldn’t drink alcohol with these mediations, many people do indulge in a beer or two when they socialize. The mix of medications and alcohol is dangerous and causes serious impairment. As anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications become prescribed more, it is important to change our norm on social drinking. There needs to be more education on the risk of driving impaired even when you don’t consume much alcohol.
—There are approximately 38 million prescriptions for Ambien and, in a recent national poll, nearly one-third of elderly Americans admitted to taking sleep aides. Sleep aides are common causes of DUI arrests for middle-aged and older clients. In our experience, most clients who were charged with a DUI due to “sleep driving” had no idea that could happen to them.
Over and over, we see these facts play out. We see the 60 year woman on Ambien because her husband died and she can’t sleep alone. She didn’t think she’d drive in her sleep. The 30 year old military member who is experiencing depression while trying to adjust to life with his family in another state. He has a night out with his shipmates to take his mind off of the loneliness but over indulges. There are those who battle addiction and use alcohol to repress the shame of childhood abuse. This is all too common. In fact, a very good friend of mine who is a Prosecutor confided in me that she was quite surprised by the correlation of alcohol abuse and childhood sexual abuse. On the positive side, when provided counseling rather than just drug and alcohol treatment, the recidivism rate significantly drops. The point is that we are all human and we all carry some baggage with us. Sometimes, that baggage hinders our decision making.
I will end with a story that happened a couple of months ago. An elderly man made a surprise trip to our office to speak with Ryan. He had been a client in the past and no longer drove. He waited almost a year to get a ride to Bremerton so he could see Ryan face to face. Unfortunately, Ryan was called out for an emergency and this gentleman shared his story with our staff.
He explained how tough his life had been as a caretaker. He was at a very low point and in need of legal help. He had very little money and was quoted a huge fee from lawyers in Seattle. At some point, another lawyer told him to call Ryan. He came to the office and explained that this was the lowest point of his life. (It actually got worse before it got better.) He recalled how Ryan eventually told him that he’d take the case for a quarter of what the other attorneys quoted and worked out payment arrangements that he could manage. It took awhile for him to turn things around but eventually he got back on track.
This man really believed he had let his wife and family down and that his life was never going to be normal again. Everyone fought back tears as he spoke about this experience. He recalled the great men he had fought with in the Vietnam War but he considered Ryan to be one of the finest men he ever knew. He just couldn’t believe someone could stick with him in such a desperate time.
I don’t tell this story to brag about Ryan (okay, maybe a little) but for another important reason. We all need reminders about how overwhelming a criminal charge is in a person’s life and that it can become unbearable when that person is already struggling. This client’s despair was palpable and it reminded me why we do what we do. Our philosophy is to be of service as lawyers but also emotionally to those who need help.
In the wake of two very public figures taking their lives this week, we felt it important to take a moment to reach out to those who are in the middle of a legal and emotional crisis. While you may not have depression or “signs” that you are struggling, we understand that this may the hardest time of your life. Often, the greatest challenge is finding someone to support you when society tells us you should feel nothing but shame. If you are struggling with that shame, let someone know. While it is normal to feel this way, it isn’t healthy to feel that your legal challenge will define your life. If you feel overwhelmed, please contact a mental health professional or crisis line.
24 Hour Emergency Services (Kitsap Mental Health)
360-373-3425 – Crisis Response Team (Crisis Intervention Services/Involuntary Treatment Investigations)
Crisis Clinic of the Peninsulas (24 hours)
360-479-3033 or 1-800-843-4793
Pierce County Crisis Line: 800-576-7764
DSHS Mental Health Crisis Lines
Jefferson County – Salish BHO: 360-385-0321 or 1-877-410-4803
Kitsap County – Salish BHO: 360-479-3033 or 1-800-843-4793
Mason County – Thurston-Mason BHO: 1-800-270-0041 or 1-360-754-1338
Pierce County – Optum Health Pierce County BHO: 1-800-576-7764
National Suicide Hotline:1-800-273-8255.
We all make mistakes and we all deserve a chance to grow from those mistakes. A legal mistake is a knock down not a knock out. Like the millions of Americans who have walked through the criminal justice system, you can and will survive it. Find your support system or even just one person. Reach out if you need help. You would be surprised how many great people have walked this path and can offer support.