Articles Posted in DUI

New numbers showing increases in Covid-19 illness and death suggest that infections in Michigan and the United States have not yet peaked.  In response, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has ordered bars in many parts of Michigan to close again. According to the Detroit News, Whitmer’s order says that an establishment must close if its alcohol sales make up 70% or more of its gross revenue. This means that most nightclubs, strip clubs, and bars that don’t serve food must close or change their businesses to fit the guidelines. To help make up for the loss of income, bars can offer cocktails and drinks to-go and outdoor seating instead of closing completely.

Really? Are to-go Cocktails Legal?

To-go cocktails were illegal in Michigan before a new law passed on July 1, 2020. Previously, to-go cocktails would be considered open intoxicants in a motor vehicle, which is a misdemeanor in Michigan. Under the new laws passed by the Michigan legislature and signed by Governor Whitmer, bars and restaurants may now offer to-go cocktails and customers may take them away from the establishment from which they were purchased. Presumably, the majority of people will be driving to and from the restaurant or bar to grab their to-go cocktails.

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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.

If you are convicted of DUI in Michigan, then your driver’s license will either be restricted, suspended, or revoked. The exact driver license sanction will depend on the nature of your DUI conviction and your prior record. Driver license sanctions for DUI range anywhere from a 90-day restricted license to a 5-year hard revocation. These sanctions are not imposed until after you are convicted. A conviction occurs when you either plead guilty to an intoxicated or impaired driving or are found guilty by a judge or jury.

The specific driver license sanction depends on the nature of your conviction, the number of prior offenses you have, and when those prior offenses occurred.  The following is a brief explanation of these driver license sanctions:

First Offense Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI)

There are 32 new drug recognition “experts” (DRE) qualified to make DUI arrests in Michigan. Only a trained DRE may administer the saliva tests in a DRE DUI investigation. Including this new crop of  32 DREs, there are currently 157 a total of DRE trained officers in Michigan.

The use of “oral fluid” drug tests began as a pilot program in Michigan in late 2017 and lasted one year. Initially, the devices were only used in DUI investigations in five Michigan counties, including Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair, and Washtenaw Counties. During this time a little more than 7 drivers per month were tested.  No information is available relative to number of Michigan DUI arrests that followed.

The DRE officers in this pilot program used a device called a SoToxa Mobile Test System.  This device tests a DUI suspect’s saliva for the presence of amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cannabis (delta 9 THC), cocaine, methamphetamines, and opiates. As such it is only used to give a yes/no answer to the question of whether a drug is present. The test does not give a number, or a quantitative drug level. Therefore, it cannot indicate if a driver is actually DUI.

Allowing the sale of pre-made cocktails and other types of alcoholic beverages to be sold carry-out may increase the numbers of drunk drivers on Michigan’s roads. However, because the answer to how carry out liquor sales will impact instances of DUI is not clear-cut, only time will tell if this potential for increased DUI becomes reality.

A good argument can be made that the new carry-out laws will have zero impact on DUI in Michigan. But these arguments assume that the bars and restaurants will be keeping a close eye on their patrons after the carry-out sale is made. If the persons consuming the alcohol are under less scrutiny from the persons selling it, and therefore less likely to get “cut off” before becoming intoxicated, then the new law may create a greater likelihood of drunk drivers.

The covid-19 restrictions imposed by Governor Whitmer have hurt the bottom line for all of Michigan’s bars and restaurants, and these new bills are intended in part to create a new stream of revenue and help these small businesses survive. For example, as quoted in the Detroit Free Press, Ben Giovanelli, who is the president of the Rochester Downtown Development Authority, believes that outdoor sales will be the key to survival for many bars and restaurants, who are still only allowed to operate at half-capacity.  Social districts can help make up the difference.

Due to Governor Whitmer’s business restrictions imposed in March, all of Michigan’s bars and restaurants were shuttered for nearly three months. That has created a lot of pent up demand, and now that they are open, patrons will be filling tables and bar stools all around the State with gusto. The police have also vowed to increase patrols, creating a potent combination for skyrocketing DUI arrests.

Additionally, Michigan’s citizens have been forced to stay at home and shelter in place since early March 2020.  For most of this time, Governor Whitmer precluded gatherings of any size outside of household residents and family members.  People tried to socialize via Zoom happy hours, but this is a pale substitute for going out and spending time with friends.  Many are ready to finally resume their normal activities, and this means patronizing local bars and restaurants.

It is helpful to know that drinking and driving is legal in Michigan, so there’s nothing illegal about going out and tossing back a few with friends. What is illegal is to drink enough alcohol to become either impaired or intoxicated. One way to know if you are intoxicated is to check your bodily alcohol level and see if you are at or near the legal limit in Michigan of .08.  The trouble is, there is no reliable way for a “civilian” to check their breath. The portable breath testers on the market all have limitations and while they make fun party favors, they can and should never be relied on for legal purposes. This is true, if for no other reason, because all measuring equipment must be routinely calibrated to assure accuracy and reliability, and this requires the use of a reference standard.  Not only are reference standards hard to obtain for non-law enforcement personnel, they are expensive and difficult to use.

Driving under the influence (DUI), or in Michigan Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), is usually charged using a breath test result. However, due to the recently discovered breath testing fraud, more often Michigan DUI cases are charged using a blood test result.  Breath test results are available immediately after the test is administered at the police station or jail. Blood sample results, however, can take weeks or months to be returned from the Michigan State Police (MSP) forensics lab. The prosecutor in a DUI case generally, but not always, waits for blood results to submit formal charges because if the result is over .08 then the case can be charged under Michigan’s Unlawful Blood Alcohol Level law.  And if the test result is above a .17, then it is considered a super-drunk driving.

What is the Process That My Blood Sample Goes Through?

If you have gone through a Michigan DUI arrest that involved a blood sample, you may have noticed that the police officer provided special vials to be used for the sample. These blood collection vials come from a kit that is specifically made for police agencies in Michigan to collect blood samples for criminal investigations. There should be two vials with grey caps. Sodium fluoride should be in the vials to properly preserve the blood. The vials are sent to the Michigan State Police forensics lab in Lansing for testing. Once tested, the results are sent back to the arresting agency, and the prosecutor for that agency.  The prosecutor will review the matter, and if appropriate, will file DUI charges against you in court. If the blood is being tested for alcohol only, the process usually takes three to six weeks. If it’s also being tested for drugs, it could take months. During the coronavirus pandemic, the results could take even longer to be returned.

All drivers arrested for DUI in Michigan will have their breath tested by a breath testing instrument called the DataMaster DMT. The evidence produced by this breath test device will become crucial evidence in their subsequent drunk driving charge, so it is essential that the breath test results produced be accurate, precise and reliable. The Michigan State Police are charged with the responsibility of maintaining these breath testing instruments so as to assure their accuracy, and it was recently discovered that MSP’s quality assurance program was marred by fraud.

Important Background Information Regarding Fraud in Michigan’s Alcohol Breath Testing Program

National Patent Analytic Systems (NPAS), a corporation headquartered in Mansfield Ohio, is the manufacturer of the infrared evidentiary breath testing instrument known as the DataMaster.  These instruments began with the introduction of the BAC Verifier in 1981. The DataMaster predecessor was the BAC Verifier, which was originally manufactured by Verax  Systems, Inc. of Fairport, New York. Verax sold the rights to the BAC Verifier to National Patent Analytical Systems (NPAS), who then moved their business, including the actual manufacturing processes, to Mansfield, Ohio.

Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel recently announced that two technicians, formerly responsible for the maintenance and calibration of hundreds of breath testing devices used throughout Michigan, have been charged with multiple felony counts for allegedly falsifying records.  Their names are Andrew Clark and David John.

Mr. Clark and Mr. John were both “Class IV” operators of the DMT. Class IV is the highest of the four operator classes, and this level of certification allows the operator to perform 120-day inspections. During the 120-inspection the operator checks for linearity and if problems arise, it is possible for the inspector to re-calibrate the DMT. If done improperly, this could result in inaccurate breath test results, wrongful DUI arrests and wrongful DUI convictions. The criminal cases against them allege that Mr. Clark and Mr. John committed forgery in producing false documents indicating, among other things, that they had performed 120-day inspections when none had occurred.

The breath test device used to test drivers arrested for DUI in Michigan is called the DataMaster DMT. Michigan currently has more than 200 DMTs in service, and all of them are serviced by 3 technicians. The State was essentially divided in half north to south, creating an Eastern and Western side each of which was handled by a separate technician.  The northern part of the State, including the upper peninsula, was handled by a third operator.

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