Articles Posted in DUI Drug Charges

Arrests for driving under the influence of Marijuana are up in Michigan, and this means more lawyers are being called upon to understand the complexities of forensic blood testing. The problem is, few lawyers have this expertise, and this is one of the reasons why Barone Defense Firm partner Michael Boyle recently presented on this topic to the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys.

Part of what Mr. Boyle explained to his colleagues is that there have been many important changes to the way the Michigan State Police Forensic Laboratory conducts their blood tests in drug cases like driving under the influence of marijuana. For example, in recent years, the Forensic Laboratory has purchased new machines for blood alcohol analysis. The name of these blood testing instruments is “gas chromatograph (GC. These instruments use a technique known as Gas Chromatography and with drug testing there is an additional testing called “mass spectroscopy” (GCMS). The old testing method used single column instruments, but the lab now uses head space dual column gas chromatography utilizing a flame ionization detector.

There have also been other changes to the way these drug tests are analyzed, and the results reported. As an interesting aside, while the common nomenclature is to say “blood tests” in fact, the blood itself is literally not actually tested. Here’s a summary of how it works.

Michigan drivers arrested under suspicion of intoxicated driving will have their bodily drug and alcohol levels tested by the police. When drugs including marijuana are suspected, and in some cases involving alcohol, the police will take and test a blood sample. The forensic method used for blood testing is considerably more complicated than breath testing, and many lawyers wrongly believe that DUI cases involving blood tests can’t be defended. The Michigan DUI lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm however believe that in some ways blood test cases are easier to defend. This belief is born out of a comprehensive knowledge about this complex scientific method.

To help other lawyers understand forensic blood testing in DUI cases, the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys (MIAOWIA) periodically presents seminars on this topic. Barone Defense Firm founding attorney Patrick Barone, and Partner Michael Boyle, were both closely involved in the creation of MIAOWIA, and Mr. Boyle currently serves as an officer to the group.

As an example of Mr. Boyle’s expertise as well as his commitment to helping other lawyers get better at defending Michigan DUI cases involving blood test evidence, in early October 2021, he served as a host, moderator, and presenter for the Michigan Association of OWI Seminar on Blood Alcohol.  Mr. Boyle is an original member of MIAOWIA, which is membership dedicated to the education and training of attorneys throughout the State of Michigan in the complex litigation and representation of individuals charged with Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol and/or Drugs.

It can be difficult for a marijuana user to subjectively assess their level of impairment. Even worse, there is no way for a marijuana user to objectively evaluate their level impairment. So, after consuming marijuana medically or recreationally, how can a marijuana user make a safe decision about driving?

Before we get to that question, let’s do a quick review of Michigan’s OWI laws as it relates to drugs. In Michigan, you can be charged (and potentially convicted) if you are either impaired or intoxicated by alcohol, drugs, or any combination thereof.  Specifically, Michigan’s OWI law references impairment or intoxication caused by alcohol, controlled substance or “other intoxicating substance.” See Michigan Compiled Laws Sec. 257.625.

Notably, the statute does not define either the word intoxicated or impaired, leaving that factual determination to the fact finder, which is usually a jury of 6 or 12 individuals, depending on if the case is a misdemeanor or a felony.  To assist the jury in reaching this determination they will be given several standard jury instructions.

The Criminal Defense Attorney Association of Michigan (CDAM) has asked Michigan DUI Lawyer Patrick Barone to present a 1-hour Webinar to criminal defense lawyers seeking to learn about recent changes to Michigan law impacting how intoxicated driving cases are investigated at the roadside.

The seminar, entitled Michigan Law Update: Roadside Drug Testing – What You Need to Know, will include a detailed analysis of Michigan’s roadside saliva drug testing program. In this workshop, Mr. Barone will teach other lawyers how to address these preliminary screening tests in court, and how to avoid defense traps that may befall the unwary.

In recent years, law enforcement at all levels of government, State and National, have begun focusing on the investigation and arrest of drivers intoxicated by drugs other than alcohol. Interest in drugged driving has increased with the advent of medical and recreational marijuana, and the saliva swab roadside testing program is designed to facilitate drugged driving arrests.

A research letter recently published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal examined the correlation between the legalization of recreational marijuana and traffic fatalities. The letter’s authors Kamer & Warshafsky begin with the proposition that marijuana use impairs driving ability. The authors go on to suggests that because there is a correlation between an increase in traffic deaths and the legalization of recreational marijuana, impaired driving must be the cause. The authors of the letter reviewed data collected from four states: Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. The authors did not look at traffic deaths in Michigan because there isn’t enough data from Michigan yet.

The authors found that traffic deaths increased by 75 per year in Colorado. The authors did not find an increase in traffic deaths in Washington. Overall, the letter predicts that if every state fully legalizes marijuana, traffic deaths would increase by 6,800 every year in the United States. Time will tell whether Michigan will be like Colorado, and see a large increase in traffic deaths, or like Washington where there was no such increase.  And time will also tell if any observed increase in Michigan is actually caused by marijuana impaired drivers. The impaired driving lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm note that correlation is not causation, and that the only thing this letter has established is correlation.  The authors admit that much more research is needed on this topic, and that their findings were “mixed.”

What’s the difference between impaired by marijuana and under the influence of marijuana?

Immediately upon your arrest for DUI in Michigan the arresting officer notified the Secretary of State. This happens when the arresting officer destroys your plastic license and prepares a DI-177, which is entitled “Breath Blood or Urine Report Michigan Temporary Driving Permit.”  This document becomes your paper license and you will use it to drive until you are convicted or until your case is dismissed.  A DI-177 is only prepared if you agree to take a breath or blood test when asked by the arresting officer.

If you refused to submit to a breath or blood test then the officer will prepare a DI-93, which is entitled “Report of Refusal.” This too becomes your paper license but is only good for 14 days or until after you win your appeal hearing. Because you are not allowed to refuse a breath or blood test your license will be suspended for a year unless your Michigan DUI lawyer demands a hearing within this 14-day period.

Both the DI-93 and the DI-177 are filed with the State of State, and your driving record will reflect this fact.  This means that even before you are convicted of anything in Michigan your driving record will reflect that you have been arrested under the suspicion of drunk driving. All of this applies for any kind of intoxicated driving including driving under the influence of marijuana.

A localized pilot program to allow Michigan police officers to test a driver’s saliva for the presence of marijuana has been expanded statewide.  If you have used marijuana or cannabis containing products and then drive a motor vehicle in Michigan, you should be aware that roadside testing for marijuana use is now available to all law enforcement officers throughout the state.

An example of the kinds of units used in Michigan include the Alere™ DDS®2 Mobile Test System. According to the manufacturer’s website, the handheld unit is easy to use and produces accurate results. It can also analyze for up to six different drugs, including Marijuana.

In evaluating a driver, a police officer would correlate the results of a saliva test with all of the other observable signs of impairment, such as any observations made at the roadside, the driver’s performance on field sobriety testing, and any admissions made. If the officer believes, based on a combination of all of the evidence acquired at the roadside that probable cause exists to make an arrest, then the driver will be taken into custody and charged with DUI. While many people refer to these charges as DUI, in Michigan the crime is called OWI or operating while intoxicated.

Commission Recommends No Legal Limit for Marijuana in Michigan

The Impaired Driving Safety Commission (IDSC) has recently recommended that Michigan lawmakers take no action toward the creation of a legal limit for marijuana.  In summary, the Commission believes that the science does not support a one size fits all legal limit threshold for drivers who have used marijuana.

The IDSC was established in 2017 by Michigan Compiled Laws sec. 28.793.  According to subsection 2 of this law:

(2) The commission shall research and recommend a scientifically supported threshold of THC bodily content to provide evidence for per se impaired driving in this state. The commission shall exist until it submits the final report.

Slow Driving, Glazed Dilated Eyes and Odor Sufficient to Prove Marijuana Impairment

Michigan’s recreational and medical marijuana laws continue to be amended, modified and refined.  These changes have helped to clarify many aspects of these laws, but when it comes to driving, a big unanswered question remains; how do the police and prosecutor prove impairment from Marijuana?  There is no legal limit for marijuana, and many question the efficacy of field sobriety tests in reliably predicting intoxication.

At present, regarding this issue, Michigan’s recreational marijuana law, known formally as the Marihuana Cultivation and Taxation Act, indicates in sec. 4 only that Michigan law does not permit:

a) operating, navigating, or being in physical control of any motor vehicle, aircraft, snowmobile, off-road recreational vehicle, or motorboat while under the influence of marihuana; and b) consuming marihuana while operating, navigating, or being in physical control of any motor vehicle, aircraft, snowmobile, off-road recreational vehicle, or motorboat, or smoking marihuana within the passenger area of a vehicle upon a public way.

Am I Responsible for Drugs in a Car I am Driving?

Yes, it is possible for you to be arrested, charged and convicted of a drug charge for drugs found anywhere inside a car you are driving. Because of the concept of constructive possession, you can be charged even if the drugs don’t belong to you. Provided you have knowledge of the drugs, and the right to control them, you can be charged with possession of drugs that are not actually in your purse or pocket.  If there are enough drugs, and other “indicia of intent to sell” you can also be charged with delivery of drugs, a much more serious crime. This concept of constructive possession can be applied to marijuana, unlawful prescription drugs, drugs like heroin, cocaine, meth. and many other drugs.

It’s always good to remember that an arrest is not a conviction, and just because the police can charge you with a crime does not mean the prosecutor can prove it happened.  Once you’ve hired an experienced drug crime lawyer, he or she will be looking for various ways to defend and win your case.  If you encountered the police while driving a car, and during the encounter, drugs are found, your lawyer will first want to determine if there is a search and seizure issue. If the police violated your fourth amendment rights during the encounter, then this can result in the suppression of any evidence found.  Since a drug charge is dependent on evidence of drugs, suppression of the evidence will often lead to dismissal of the charges.

If your car was stopped by the police, then your lawyer will also want to examine the record to determine if the vehicle was lawfully stopped. This is a different kind of search and seizure issue, and just as with the drugs, if your fourth amendment rights were violated by the traffic stop, this can also lead to the dismissal of your case.  This is based on the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, which essentially stands for the proposition that any evidence found after the unlawful stop is inadmissible as evidence.

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