Articles Posted in OWI

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The Michigan Court of Appeals has indicated, in the unpublished opinion of People v. Adam Robe, (COA# 355005); that a failure to wait 15 minutes before administering a roadside preliminary breath test (PBT) meant that the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.

In this Michigan Intoxicated driving causing death, the defendant Willett entered a no contest plea thereby admitting that he was operating a motor vehicle with the presence of any amount of marijuana in his body, and that the operation of his vehicle caused the death of another, under Michigan Compiled Laws § 257.625(4)(a)and (8).

Mr. Willett was sentenced to 4 to 15 years of imprisonment. Prior to sentencing the defendant, the court questioned him about his marijuana use, and the defendant, then 21 years of age, admitted he used marijuana daily and had started using marijuana at age 14 or 15.  The court concluded the pre-sentencing colloquy by admonishing the defendant and stating to him that it was his use of the drug that lead to the horror of the accident and death. On appeal the defendant argued that the court’s sentence was based on inaccurate information, and the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed.  The case was reversed and remanded.

The facts of this case include an admission from the defendant, at the roadside, that while he was driving, he was getting sleepy and closed his eyes. He crashed into the car in front of him immediately after opening his eyes, creating a multi-vehicle accident leading to the death of one of the vehicle’s occupants.

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.

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.

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.

A package of new laws allows some of Michigan’s repeat drunk drivers to possibly avoid mandatory minimum jail sentences. As a result of these changes, mandatory minimum sentences have been modified or removed from Michigan’s drunk driving statute, and this means that Judges may now sentence a drunk driver to any term of imprisonment, from zero days up to the maximum otherwise provided for the offense.  The new law does not change the applicable fines or maximum possible terms of imprisonment, it only eliminates the mandatory aspects of the minimum sentences, making it possible for some repeat DUI offenders to avoid incarceration.

Legislative History of the New Michigan DUI Laws

These changes arose out of House Bill 5845, which was introduced in June 2020.  The proposed law went through several permutations until it was approved by both houses by a vote of 506 to 38 in December 2020.  Shortly thereafter it was introduced to Governor Whitmer. The Bill was signed into law by the Governor on January 4, 2021 and becomes effective on March 24, 2021.

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.
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