Marijuana Use Not Relevant to Sentencing in Michigan Intoxicated Driving Causing Death Case

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.

At the roadside, the defendant’s blood alcohol level was zero and he displayed no signs of intoxication. He consented to a blood draw, and the blood test suggested a THC level of one nanogram per milliliter of THC. He was charged under MCL 257.625(4) for operation of a motor vehicle causing death while also violating either MCL§ 257.625(1), (3), or (8).

An important fact of this case was that the defendant was not charged under MCL § 257.625(1)(a).  This is significant because this means the defendant was not convicted based on being under the influence of marijuana.  Instead, he was charged under MCL 257.625(8), which is a zero-tolerance crime making it illegal to operate a vehicle with any amount of marijuana in the body. The court of appeals suggested that this was an acknowledgement that the prosecutor could not prove that the defendant was under the influence of marijuana when the accident happened.

In reviewing the record, the court of appeals concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that Mr. Willett had used marijuana the day of the accident. There was also no evidence suggesting that he was suffering from the long-term effects of marijuana on the day of the offense. In fact, the court further concluded that there was no evidence, and certainly not a preponderance, which would be required for sentencing, to conclude that the accident was caused because the defendant was in some way under the influence of marijuana.

Because defendants have a right to be sentenced based only on accurate information, the court of appeals saw fit to remand the case back to the circuit court judge for resentencing.

This case helps to demonstrate why it is important to select a highly skilled and knowledgeable Michigan DUI lawyer to represent you, especially if you are charged with causing serious injury or where your intoxicated driving case involves a death.  Contact the DUI lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm and have your case reviewed for free.

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