Articles Posted in DUI Enforcement

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.

Police in Michigan continue to use unreliable chemical and field sobriety tests when investigating drivers suspected of using cannabis. This can lead to sober cannabis users being wrongfully convicted of intoxicated driving. This is because the tools used for decades to investigate drunk driving cases simply do not translate well to the investigation of drivers believed to be under the influence of marijuana.

These conclusions are drawn from a 2020 research study conducted by the National Institute of Justice. This federally funded research study resulted in the production of a final written overview which was subsequently submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. The title of the overview is Differences in Cannabis Impairment and its Measurement Due to Route of Administration. (Hereafter “NIJ Study”).

What did the NIJ Study Conclude?

The United States Supreme Court has recently ruled that the community caretaker exception to the search warrant requirement does not apply to a person’s home. The name of the case is Caniglia v. Strom, and in a unanimous opinion the Court found that guns seized by the police after entering a home without a warrant were not admissible in evidence on the basis of the community caretaker exception.

The Caniglia case involved a married couple who had been arguing in their residence. During the fight the husband grabbed his gun and told his wife to shoot him.  The wife took possession of the gun, and put it away, hiding the ammunition. She later left the house to stay at a hotel, and because she was worried that her husband might suicide, she called the police. The wife then met the police back at their home where the husband had remained.  The police instructed the wife to stay in the car as they interviewed the husband.

The police believed that the husband posed a danger to himself and called for an ambulance to take him for a psychiatric evaluation.  He claimed the police agreed that if he went to the hospital, they would not take his guns whereas the police claimed he consented to a search of his home.  The wife, believing the officers that her husband had consented, then guided the police to where the guns were inside the home, and the police took possession of them.  No arrest was made, and no charges were brought against the husband.  The guns were eventually returned, but the Caniglia’s filed a lawsuit, nevertheless, claiming a violation of Section 1983 under the Second, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. In the lawsuit the Caniglia’s sought money damages as well as injunctive and declaratory relief.

The Michigan Court of Appeals has indicated, in the unpublished opinion of People v. Adam Robe, (COA# 355005); that a failure to wait 15 minutes before administering a roadside preliminary breath test (PBT) meant that the trial court could not consider the PBT in determining if the arrest is valid. This ruling may lead to the dismissal of the intoxicated driving causing serious injury charges pending against Mr. Robe.

The Robe case involved a two-vehicle accident. When the police arrived to assist, they immediately went to the vehicle where the driver had sustained serious injuries. Later then went to talk with Mr. Robe, and after about 3 minutes asked him to take a PBT.  He consented, and thereafter was arrested and charged with drunk driving causing serious injury.  Before trial, the defendant’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the PBT was not administered according to the administrative rules which require a 15-minute determination. No field tasks were administered, and the arrest was based almost solely on the failed PBT.

The trial court denied the motion, and rather than stand trial at that moment, the defense attorney asked for a “stay of proceedings” to pursue an “interlocutory appeal.”  In other words, the defense attorney wanted an answer to this legal question about the PBT before putting Mr. Robe’s fate before a jury because if the attorney was right, and the arrest was unlawful, then there would be no trial. The drunk driving causing serious injury charge would have to be dismissed.

In the case of People v. Pagano, the Michigan Supreme Court has indicated that a traffic stop based only on an anonymous 911 call is invalid. This ruling affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of both the child endangerment drunk driving and open intoxicants in a motor vehicle charges.

As the Pagano opinion indicates, the police received information from central dispatch that a woman was obnoxious and yelling at her children and appeared to be intoxicated.  The 911 caller also provided identifying information about the vehicle driven by the ostensibly intoxicated woman, including the license plate number and make and model of the car.

The Michigan Supreme Court, in the unanimous Pagano opinion, held that information provided to and by the officer failed to establish a “reasonable and articulable suspicion” either that a traffic violation had occurred or that criminal activity was afoot. While the Court acknowledged that the 911 caller was able to appropriately identify the individual involved and the car being driven by her, the tip still did not give rise to anything more than, at best, an “inchoate or unparticularized suspicion” of criminal activity. Otherwise, there was nothing in the record to suggest that the police officer making the traffic stop corroborated the 911 caller’s mere assertion that the driver was drunk.  There was no bad driving observed by the police officer, and the stop was based only on the information provided to the 911 caller.  After all, said the Court, parents can obnoxiously yell at their children without being drunk, and the 911 called also did not indicate that any bad driving was observed.

On February 1st, 2021, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer allowed restaurants in Michigan to reopen at 25 percent capacity. Although the 25 percent capacity limit was initially extended, Whitmer recently announced that capacity limits will soon be further loosened.

Springtime Brings the Biggest Surge in Drinking Since the Holidays

The loosening of the Covid-19 restrictions for restaurants and public spaces comes at a time when people usually start going out more. Spring is on the way. The weather is getting warmer. Restaurants will be setting up patios. And major sporting events will be taking place.

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.

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.

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?

Contact Information