Defense of Attorneys and Legal Professionals
A lawyer who is compromised by the use of alcohol or controlled substances cannot effectively represent their client. Therefore, the governing boards for law licenses take any conviction relating to substance abuse very seriously. Moreover, if a crime of violence is committed, serious questions are raised as to the lawyer’s ability to responsibly practice law. Therefore, vigorously defending these cases is a must. Regardless of the outcome, voluntarily seeking treatment for any anger or substance abuse issues greatly improves the odds of re-offending. Most importantly, seeking treatment can mean the difference between keeping your law license and being disbarred.
- Impact: Although not typically viewed a serious offense, an OWI conviction shows a lack of control relating to substance use. A first offense OWI may not result in a suspended law license, but it will be reviewed. Any subsequent offense will undoubtedly lead to a harsh punishment from the Attorney Grievance Commission (AGC).
- Penalties: Up to 93 days in jail for the first offense, $300-500 fine, plus costs. Driver’s licenses sanctions depending on the conviction. Probation with drug/alcohol testing. Substance abuse counseling.
- Impact: A conviction for domestic violence needs to be reported to the AGC. While it may not result in license suspension, there may be a reprimand or worse depending on the case’s facts.
- Penalties: Up to 93 days in jail for the first offense. Additionally, there will be some form of counseling and/or anger management ordered. If alcohol or controlled substances are involved, random testing will occur for those substances. Additionally, you will be barred from accessing a firearm.
- Impact: Attorneys are already viewed as a high risk for substance abuse issues. The AGC will evaluate the circumstances in your case to determine any possible sanction on your license. If the possession was for recreational use, enrolling in a substance abuse program makes a huge difference for the future of a license.
- Penalties: Most possession of controlled substances cases will result in felony charges. The penalty can vary between 2 years and decades in prison. Your attorney can advise you of the possible penalties related to the specific substance involved.
Lawyers and other legal professionals have access to a program for rehabilitation much like health professionals. The Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program (LJAP) is a Michigan Bar Association sponsored organization. LJAP is designed to assist legal professionals who suffer from substance abuse or mental health issues. Participation includes support group meetings, counseling, drug/alcohol testing, and mandatory reporting to a case manager and peer mentors.
In fact, MCR 9.114 authorizes participation in LJAP in lieu of formal sanctions. Therefore, participation could literally be the determining factor in keeping or losing your license.
Knowing Your Rights
You have the right to a competent and effective defense. Often times, professionals allow themselves to be pushed around for fear of losing their license. However, defending yourself from criminal charges is the best way to avoid sanctions from a licensing board.
Even if your case is dismissed, many licensing bodies may still require arrest reports. If your offense involves controlled substances or alcohol, you must address the underlying issues surrounding your arrest.
Hiring a law firm to guide you from arrest to recovery is the most important decision you can make. While you will never be penalized for exercising your rights, neglecting to exercise these rights could mean the end of your professional license.
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