Articles Posted in DUI Defense

Michigan’s Super Drunk Driving law went into effect on October 31, 2010.  It created enhanced punitive and driver license sanctions for Michigan drunk drivers with a Bodily Alcohol Content (BAC) of .17 or above. It only applies to first offense drunk driving as penalties and driver license sanctions for second or subsequent offenses remain unchanged and more punitive than for super drunk driving. This is true even for repeat offenders with BACs at or above .17.

What are the Penalties for a High BAC Super Drunk Driving in Michigan?

Michigan drivers found or pleading guilty to a High BAC super drunk driving face an array of serious punishments and consequences, including potentially more time in jail and less time on the road.

Michigan DUI law provides that if an arrest is Constitutionally invalid then dismissal is the appropriate remedy. Most drunk driving cases begin with a traffic stop. When a police officer believes that the driver may have been drinking or using drugs, the driver will be asked to step from the car for further evaluation after which the driver may be arrested.  If this arrest is invalid, then the DUI case must be dismissed.

The DUI arrest usually follows a field investigation.  This field investigation usually begins with the administration of one or more field sobriety exercises, continues with the administration of a preliminary roadside breath test (PBT), and concludes with an arrest.  Each of these steps is a “Constitutional” event subject to careful review and analysis by a skilled Michigan DUI lawyer.

To be Constitutionally valid, an arrest must be informed by probable cause.  Michigan case law provides that a PBT result above the legal limit is enough to establish probable cause.  This means that in many Michigan DUI cases where a PBT was administered, the question becomes whether the PBT itself was lawfully administered.

A new law in Michigan makes it somewhat less likely that persons charged with misdemeanor drunk driving, including first and second DUI offenses, will go to jail. This is because Public Act No. 395 of 2020, which was signed into law by Governor Whitmer on January 4, 2021, creates a rebuttable presumption against incarceration for most misdemeanor offenses, including most misdemeanor drunk driving offenses.  The effective date of the new law is March 24, 2021.

The new law amends Michigan Compiled Laws Section 769.5. Subsection 3 of this law indicates that there is a rebuttable presumption that a person convicted of a misdemeanor will be sentenced to a fine, or community service, or some other non-specified non-jail and non-probation sentence. The only circumstances under which a sentencing judge may depart from this presumption is if they state on the record “reasonable grounds” for doing so. The term “reasonable grounds” is not defined.

The law also provides that if the offense in question is punishable by both a fine and imprisonment, the court can impose one but not the other, or both. However, if the court does impose both a fine and incarceration, or just incarceration, then as indicated, the Judge must articulate on the record reasonable grounds for doing so.

The Superbowl has dominated the recent headlines, but an unfortunate story involving one of the Chiefs’ coaches, and the son of Head Coach Andy Reid, has also captured national attention.  Britt Reid was involved in a car accident wherein two young children were injured including one who is listed in serious life-threatening condition with a brain injury.

According to some initial Reports, the coach was driving onto an on-ramp and struck a disabled vehicle and then collided into a car that was providing assistance.  The accident resulted in the two minor children being seriously injured.

Mr. Reid admitted to drinking 2-3 alcoholic drinks prior to the accident, and a police report and warrant indicated a moderate odor of alcoholic beverages.  If there is evidence that alcohol may have been involved, then it is common that a warrant for a blood draw will be obtained.

In January 2020 it came to light that employees of Intoximeters, the company retained by the Michigan State Police to maintain all the alcohol breath testing devices used in Michigan’s DUI investigations, had committed fraud. This fraud included the falsification of the documentation necessary to confirm that the breath test units were working properly.  Much has happened and been learned about the fraud in the ensuing 12 months, and this has culminated in the recent filing of a complaint in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan by the Marko Law Firm.  The Firm’s Federal Complaint alleging Fraud was filed January 26, 2021.

Lawsuit Background

The device used to test a driver’s breath in every drunk driving investigation involving breath evidence in Michigan is called the DataMaster DMT. In 2006 Michigan purchased approximately 160 of these devices and paid about $6,000.00 per unit.  These devices were intended to replace the aging DataMasters then in use around the state.

If you were arrested for DUI in Michigan, then you were likely given either a breath or blood test. The purpose of this test is to determine if you had a bodily alcohol level at or above Michigan’s legal limit of .08. Because a breath test above the legal limit is all the prosecutor needs to prove your guilt, a successful trial defense requires a successful breath test defense.

Many lawyers see DUI cases with breath tests as not defensible. While there is little question that juries tend to give breath test results a great deal of “weight” in deciding their verdicts, all breath test cases are defensible at trial. For example, the Michigan DUI lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm have successfully used all eleven of the following defenses:

  1. Breath Test Operator Mistakes – the typical DUI officer in Michigan has only attended a single one-day course after which they become certified class II operators of the breath test machine, in Michigan called the DataMaster DMT. Only a couple hours of this one-day training actually covers the administration of the breath test. The rest of the training relates to things like how the machine works, how to fill out paperwork and other related administrative tasks and functions. There is a written test given after the training, and officers only need to score a 70% to pass.  If they don’t pass a second time, they can retake the training, after which they get two more tries. Basically, this means everyone passes. Making matters worse, after this “training” there is almost no oversight in the field to confirm that the officer is properly administering the test, and the training does not include a practicum. Because the training is so inadequate, officers often make mistakes in administering the breath test, mistakes they may be totally unaware they are making. Some of these mistakes can lead to false and unreliable test results. These mistakes can be uncovered through a careful review of the breath test being administered and/or through cross-examination at trial.

According to science, breath alcohol tests in DUI cases can be as much as 230 percent higher than corresponding blood tests. Because blood transports consumed beverage alcohol from the stomach to the brain where it can reach sufficient levels to cause impairment, a person’s blood alcohol level is what really matters. Therefore, in the context of a DUI case, breath alcohol only relevant  to the extent that it accurately reflects blood alcohol content. This is true because breath alcohol does not have the capacity to cause intoxication.

To understand just how significant this fact is, consider a hypothetical case where a driver’s breath test comes back at .18. This would likely result in the driver being charged with an enhanced DUI, or what Michigan calls “super drunk driving,” a charge applicable to drivers with a BAC of .17 or above. While this breath test evidence might look bad for the driver, it is well within the realm of scientific possibility that this same driver has corresponding or simultaneous blood alcohol level of .063, or well below the legal limit of .08. Understanding why this is so, and why breath testing can be so pernicious, requires a basic understanding of alcohol metabolism.

Pharmacokinetics and the Absorption, Distribution and Elimination of Alcohol

Attorney and Practice Magazine recently invited Patrick Barone “membership” as one of Michigan’s Top 10 Attorneys. The bar to entry?  Payment of either $295 for 2020, $295 for 2021 or $590 for both years. Subsequent to payment, Mr. Barone would have available to him a host of impressive materials, from a nice looking website badge to a all plaque to be proudly displayed on the office wall.

Lawyer Ratings Have Become Big Business

In the last decade lawyer ratings have become big business. Most of them consist of a few lawyers getting together and deciding they can get rich by offering paid-for credentials to other lawyers. Several times per month at the criminal defense lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm receive solicitations to be listed on this “top 10 list,” or that “nation’s best list,” usually with the only bar to entry a small payment of usually about $300-$500.

The Barone Defense Firm is pleased to announce that the 2020 Edition of Patrick Barone’s Defending Drinking Drivers is now available from the publisher, Amazon, and wherever fine books are sold. Known as “revision 36,” the current Edition contains many new sections and model defense motions.

Regarding the defense of a DUI with a blood test, the 2020 update contains sample cross-examination of the doctor, nurse, technician, or phlebotomist.  This model cross-examination includes sample questions relative to contamination and suggestions for how to approach and perhaps discredit the creditably of this important but often overlooked prosecution witness. Also, in Chapter Six, Trial, Mr. Barone sets forth a new way of approaching voir dire and the 2020 update also contains a samle motion requesting attorney conducted voir dire. Also, in his revision of Chapter 6, Mr. Barone provides a unique and compelling explanation for why seating arrangements are an important element of trial and why the court should consider allowing the defendant to sit next to the jury rather than always cede this seat to prosecutor by default.  A sample motion for requesting that the defendant be provided with the “best” seat is also included in this 2020 update.

Other updates in revision 36 include a 2019 case law update.  For example, Mr. Barone provides an evaluation of new case law regarding when an added charge of resisting and obstructing is appropriate after a DUI accused refuses to submit to a blood draw pursuant to warrant and when and why such blood test warrants might fail judicial muster.  Also, why being placed into a patrol vehicle is considered custody for Miranda purposes, how an arrest occurred when police took keys, and why it may be error for a prosecutor to comment on a defendant’s refusal to take a blood test.

With new cases of Covid-19 continuing to escalate in Michigan, on July 10, 2020, Governor Whitmer responded with Executive Order 2020-147, which indicates that “[A]ny individual who leaves their home or place of residence must wear a face covering over their nose and mouth.” The Order further provides that masks must be worn in any indoor public space and on all public transportation. Also, face masks are now mandatory when you are a passenger on any ride-sharing vehicle, such as Lyft or Uber, or in any private car when being used as “hired transportation.” Will this mandatory Covid-19 face mask requirement have any impact on law enforcement practices? Specifically, will a lack of a face mask by driver or a vehicle’s occupants lead to probable cause to stop a motor vehicle?

To answer this interesting legal question, we begin by noting that the Executive Order does make a failure to comply a crime.  Specifically, the order provides that a failure to wear a required face mask is a misdemeanor, though no jail time may be imposed for its willful violation. An open question in all this is how and even whether the police in the State of Michigan will enforce this Order?

As it relates to the existing law governing when the police may stop a moving vehicle, the general rule is that they must have “probable cause.”  However, there are many circumstances when the police may lawfully stop you, including and perhaps most commonly, for a violation the traffic code such as speeding. In 2014, the United States Supreme Court, in the Navarette case indicated that a vehicle may be stopped based on an anonymous 911 call provided the caller provides enough information and detail to have the indica of reliability and therefore enough to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot.

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