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How to Handle Clients With Substance Abuse Issues

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

A client was late to a DUI hearing, so I called him on the cell phone.

"I got you a good deal. Get down here now," I said. He showed up 20 minutes later, reeking of alcohol.

What do you do with somebody like that? Is it possible to defend an impaired client and protect society at the same time?

It's not unusual for attorneys to meet clients with substance abuse problems at the courthouse. Frequently, they are first-time offenders who sober up with a stiff fine, license suspension, and a program.

But if a client comes to court under the influence, that's another animal. That is a chronic problem that a lawyer needs to address for the long-term; and hopefully not a long-term sentence.

As a counselor, you have to use straight-talk with impaired clients because substance abuse kills -- especially on the road. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10,265 died in alcohol-related crashes in 2015.

In California, judges are required to admonish defendants during sentencing about the most serious legal consequences of impaired driving: "If you continue to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, and, as a result of that driving, someone is killed, you can be charged with murder."

Recognizing Addiction

More often than we admit, we know people with substance abuse problems in our daily lives. Our homes, our friends and law firms, too, are not immune.

Lawyers actually drink a lot; your next DUI client could be a lawyer or a judge. Lost business opportunity aside, it's our duty to make sure that doesn't happen to anybody in our social circle.

But if you have a client who shows up drunk, make sure to keep him off the road. It's the least -- and perhaps -- the best you can do.

That guy who came to court with beer breath? I made him sit in the gallery, pleaded him out from there, then kicked him out the door to go home with a friend.

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