Preliminary Breath Tests (PBT)

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A preliminary breath test (PBT) is a portable, handheld device that is used a to measure a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) by measuring the amount of alcohol you have on your breath as you exhale into the PBT. It oxidizes the alcohol in your breath as it passes over the fuel cell as it attempts to calculate the change in electrical current as it flows through the device. PBTs are normally used by police at roadside investigation where the person detained is suspected of drunk driving or DUI/OWI.
 
The device can only be used by someone trained and certified. The operator must take a training class and possess a valid Type I Operator’s certificate. The officer must also abide by the 15-minute rule which requires the officer to observe the suspect for at least 15 minutes prior to administering the PBT to make sure nothing has been placed into the mouth or that the person has not belched or regurgitated during that time period as any of those occurrences could throw the results of the machine off. The device must also be calibrated and maintenanced at least once a month.
 
The purpose of the PBT is to determine if there is probable cause to arrest the suspect. Virtually nothing good can come from submitting to the PBT as if it is .08 or above, that establishes probable cause but even if it doesn’t, the officer can still use other observations or field sobriety test results to arrest you. Refusing to take a roadside PBT is a no-point civil infraction with a fine less than $200. It is not a crime and no points will be added to your driving record. If you are under 21 and you refuse a roadside PBT, it is still a civil infraction but two points will be added to your driving record.
Do not confuse the roadside PBT with the evidential breathalyzer at the police station, known as the DataMaster. That is after you have already been placed under arrest and you will be asked to breath into the machine, usually twice. Again, the 15-minute observation period must be conducted. If you refuse to blow into the DataMaster, your license will be suspended and six points added to your driving record under the Implied Consent Law. You can contest the refusal at an Implied Consent Hearing at the Secretary of State, but those can be difficult to prevail on.
If you have been charged with OWI, consult with a Michigan OWI attorney at once.  Call Austin Legal Services, PLC at (517) 614-1983 for a free, no obligation consultation today.
Representing clients charged with OWI, DUI, and drunk driving throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Jackson, Barry, Clinton, Gratiot, Livingston, Calhoun, Kent, Shiawassee in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Charlotte, Jackson, St. Johns, Bath, Ithaca, Alma, Grand Rapids, Brighton, Howell, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Haslett, Okemos, Eaton Rapids.

“Operating” a Motor Vehicle Defined for OWI/DUI Cases

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One of the elements of an OWI or drunk driving offense, is that the person had to be “operating” a motor vehicle. Sounds simple enough, but the case law trail on what constitutes “operating” says otherwise. Usually the operating part is not in dispute. The issue of operating most commonly arises in situations where someone is found sleeping in a car or passed out in a car along the roadside or in a parking lot. The question now becomes can the prosecutor prove the person was “operating” the vehicle and were they “operating” the vehicle while intoxicated? These unique circumstances can lay the groundwork for a good argument on a motion to dismiss or to raise reasonable doubt at trial. The suspect must be in “actual physical control” of the vehicle. Let’s take a closer look at how the courts have defined “operating.”
 
The Michigan Supreme Court gave the following definition: “'[O]perating’ should be defined in terms of the danger the OUIL [operating under the influence of liquor] statute seeks to prevent: the collision of a vehicle being operated by a person under the influence of intoxicating liquor with other persons or property. Once a person using a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle has put the vehicle in motion, or in a position posing a significant risk of causing a collision, such a person continues to operate it until the vehicle is returned to a position posing no such a risk.” [1] This standard has been upheld and recently the Court of Appeals rejected replacing it with a “to cause to function” standard. [2] In other words, “actual physical control” includes scenarios where a suspect has put a vehicle in motion or in a position posing a significant risk of collision. The suspect is in “actual physical control” until that risk of collision no longer exists.
A person can be convicted of a DUI or OWI based on circumstantial evidence. The evidence would have to show that a reasonable conclusion could be reached that the suspect had been operating the motor vehicle sometime before the arrest, even if there was no testimony or video or photographic evidence that shows the suspect operating the vehicle. This can prove to be quite difficult for the prosecution as they have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 1) the suspect was operating the vehicle, 2) someone else was not operating the vehicle, and 3) the suspect’s blood alcohol content or BAC was above the legal limit at the time he was operating the vehicle. The last one can prove to be especially difficult if there is no way to pinpoint when the suspect was operating the car, if at all. The defendant could always claim or raise the question that he started drinking after the car was parked. These problems often come up in cases where the suspect is found sleeping in the car.
 
A case-by-case basis of the facts will determine how strong or how weak the prosecution’s case is. For example, was the car running or off? Was the car in drive, neutral, or park? Were the keys in the ignition? Did the suspect even have any keys? Was the car operable?  In one particular case, a sleeping motorist in a parked car along the roadside with no keys in hand who was arguing with another motorist when police arrived was found to not be in “actual physical control” of the vehicle. [3] In another case, the suspect was using a car as a shelter and was found to not be in “actual physical control” because he had no intentions of putting the vehicle in motion. [4]
 
How about placing a car in gear but never moving it? Yes, that counts for “actual physical control.” In that case, there was no dispute that the suspect placed a parked car in reverse, but ultimately the car never moved. The police officer saw the brake light come on. When a conscious driver places a car in gear, even if the car never is placed in motion, has placed the vehicle “in a position posing a significant risk of causing a collision.” [5]
 
Does “operating” mean “driving?” In 2010 we found out the answer to that was no! In that particular case the defendant was driving on a slippery highway with his BAC above the statutory limit when he lost control and struck a guardrail. After the collision his car was in the middle of the freeway blocking traffic in both lanes. One car came upon the incident and swerved onto the shoulder and came to a stop to avoid colliding with the defendant’s car. The defendant, with his hazard lights on, was attempting to push his car off to the side with his arms and legs. That is when another car came upon the scene and while swerving to avoid the defendant’s car, slammed into the other car on the side and killed the motorist. Defendant was charged with OWI Causing Death with the prosecutor alleging that Defendant, by pushing his car was “operating” it and that operation while intoxicated caused an accident that resulted in death. Defendant urged the court to adopt the “to cause to function” standard for “operating” but the Court of Appeals rejected the argument and concluded that the car does not necessarily have to be in motion at the time of the accident. [6]
 
This is a very complex area of the law which is why you need an experienced Michigan OWI attorney representing you, especially if your case hinges upon whether the prosecution can prove you were “operating” or were in “actual physical control” of a motor vehicle. The stakes are too high and the process too complex to do it alone. If you have been charged with OWI while in a parked car, contact a Michigan DUI lawyer today at (517) 614-1983.
Representing Clients on DUI, OWI, and drunk driving charges throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Barry, Gratiot, Jackson, Washtenaw, Kent, Livingston in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Charlotte, Hastings, Ithaca, Alma, Jackson, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Brighton, Howell, Haslett, Holt, Okemos.
[1]    Peo v Wood, 450 Mich 399, 404-05 (1995)[2]    Peo v Lechleitner, 291 Mich App 56 (2010)[3]    Peo v Lyon, 227 Mich App 599 (1998)[4]    Peo v Burton, 252 Mich app 130 (2002)[5]    City v Longeway, 296 Mich App 1 (2012)[6]    Peo v Lechleitner, 291 Mich App 56 (2010)

Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and DUI

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Lansing Michigan Drunk Driving Defense Attorney

 

Ordinarily a plea to a reduced charge of Operating While Visibly Impaired (Impaired Driving) or the non-alcohol related offense of Reckless Driving is acceptable to most people charged with OWI. However, for those who have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) such as: delivery persons, truck drivers, chauffeurs, bus drivers, or heavy equipment operators this will not suffice. Any sanction on a regular operator’s driver’s license will automatically result in a CDL sanction. The stakes are much higher for CDLs because unlike an ordinary driving suspension, the Secretary of State shall not issue a license to a person whose operator’s license has been suspended in any state. The Secretary of State can grant the CDL if five years has passed since the suspension period lapsed and the suspension was from a jurisdiction other than the one who issued the driver’s license.

The bottom line: if your driver’s license is suspended or restricted, you lose your CDL which means you lose your job. The only option other than a dismissal for drivers who depend on their CDL is the civil infraction of careless driving which prosecutors rarely give. That is, unless they have to or you can force their hand by making their case crumble apart.

There is also a different blood alcohol content (BAC) for those operating a commercial motor vehicle. The regular BAC of .08 does not apply. Instead, the legislators impose a more strict BAC of .04 – .08. You can lawfully operate a commercial motor vehicle only if you have a BAC less than .04. If you are charged with operating a commercial vehicle with an unlawful BAC, you face up to 93 days in jail, a $300 fine, and costs of prosecution. You may re-apply for a CDL after the suspension period of 90 days lapses. If you are convicted of such an offense two times in a seven-year period, you permanently lose your Michigan CDL. Oddly enough, the statute doesn’t address operating a commercial vehicle with a BAC above .08, but it’s safe to say the legislators were merely trying to adopt a lower threshold for those operating a commercial vehicle.

If you depend on your CDL for a living and you are charged with OWI, you have a lot to lose. That is why you need the best representation possible. Seek out an experienced Michigan OWI attorney so you can get the best possible resolve. Call Austin Legal Services, PLC today at (517) 614-1983 to speak to a Michigan DUI attorney.

 

Representing clients on DUI, OWI, and drunk driving charges throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Barry, Clinton, Gratiot, Jackson, Livingston, Washtenaw, Kent, Calhoun and in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Haslett, Okemos, Williamston, Eaton Rapids, Charlotte, Potterville, Hastings, St. Johns, Bath, Ithaca, Alma, Jackson, Brighton, Howell, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek Grand Rapids.

Medical Marijuana DUI: Court Rules Prosecutors Must Prove Drivers “Under the Influence”

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The conflict between Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA)[1] and the OWI statute has now been settled. On Tuesday the Michigan Supreme Court announced that the MMMA trumps the OWI statute[2] thus allowing medical marijuana patients to legally operate a motor vehicle unless the prosecution can prove they are “under the influence” of marijuana. This is similar to the standard for when a driver is taking prescription medication in which he cannot be guilty of drunk driving unless the medication “substantially interferes with his ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.” Furthermore, the Supreme Court noted that the state legislatures should more specifically define “under the influence” in the MMMA.
The case is People v Rodney Koon and has been a hotly discussed and debated topic in DUI circles ever since it began. Mr. Koon was stopped for speeding around Traverse City when police seized a marijuana pipe. Koon stated he was a medical marijuana patient and thus believed he was entitled to drive his car with marijuana in his system. A blood test revealed he had 10 nanograms per milliliter (10 ng/ml) of THC in his system.
Under the OWI statute, driving with any amount of marijuana in your system is against the law. However, the MMMA states a medical marijuana patient can operate a motor vehicle unless “under the influence of marijuana.” Unfortunately, the drafters of the act didn’t elaborate any further on what they meant by “under the influence.” The prosecution’s argument was that the two statutes, when read together, clearly reveal what the legislators meant; they intended any amount of marijuana in someone’s system to be considered “under the influence.” The defense’s argument was that the legislators clearly did not intend that as that would effectively make it legally impossible for a medical marijuana patient to ever drive a car, especially since it stays in the system for up to a month. They argued that the prosecution should have to show that the marijuana “substantially effected the driver’s ability to safely operate the motor vehicle.” After all, why would the legislators allow people to use medical marijuana only to prohibit them from ever driving? Both the district and circuit courts agreed with the defense’s argument. The Court of Appeals, however, did not. 
That is when the charge began from medical marijuana patients that they would never be allowed to legally drive since at least some amount of marijuana will be present in their system, even if only used semi-regularly. While the argument sounds compelling at the onset, I found it to be rather theoretical and less realistic when examined more closely. Marijuana or THC will not register on a breath test which is the most frequently used chemical test to determine intoxication. It would show up in a blood test, but unless the officer has some reason to suspect the driver of using drugs, they don’t have someone qualified to use the DataMaster, or it hasn’t been calibrated, then it’s not likely the officer would do a blood draw. From my experience, officers generally only insist on a blood draw if they believe drugs are involved or when the driver has been in an accident and they perform a blood draw out of convenience. Nonetheless their point couldn’t completely be ignored. The real question was what was the legislative intent and if there is an apparent conflict between the two statutes, who fills the gaps– the Court or the legislators?
I don’t believe that the legislature intended for medical marijuana users to never drive again. However, they created their own dilemma by not being more precise and more clearly articulating their intentions in the MMMA. This entire problem could have been avoided by merely adding one sentence (“by ‘under the influence’ we mean…”). Surely it’s not as if they couldn’t see this becoming an issue? Or maybe it was a matter of them foreseeing that the courts would eventually bail them out, thus alleviating the need to be more specific. It’s happened before after all.
 
Just a couple of years ago the issue arose of whether a homeless person had to comply with the Sex Offender Registry’s requirement of “updating his residence.” The issue was how do you comply with such a directive when you’re literally homeless and don’t have a traditional residence or address? Michigan’s SORA had no apparent provisions to deal with this issue although many other states did. Once again the Supreme Court stepped in and instead of leaving the issue to the legislators to fix, they held that a homeless person can register a residence– he can put down his address as 123 Homeless.[3]
 
Essentially, the court has done the same thing here. Without any quantifiers to fill the gap, I think the more specific language of the OWI statute trumps the vagueness of the MMMA. The legislators can (and should) easily fix the problem by attaching a measuring unit (arbitrary number?) for the amount of THC that can be allowed in a medical marijuana user’s system while driving just like they’ve done with the .08 blood alcohol threshold. Washington has recently resolved a similar conflict by allowing up to 5 ng/ml of THC in a driver’s system to lawfully operate a car.[4] Unfortunately for Mr. Koon, even if Michigan had adopted this standard, he would have still been twice the legal limit. If anything, this ruling gives a much wider degree of latitude to medical marijuana patients because prosecutors don’t have to show that alcohol impaired or substantially effected a driver’s ability to safely operate a car.  They just have to show his BAC at the magic number of .08. 
In any event, the conflict between the two acts is now resolved. The bottom line: if you are a medical marijuana user and you’re charged with OWI, now the prosecutor has to prove you were “under the influence.” Whatever that means. Is a “legal limit” forthcoming for marijuana like the BAC for alcohol? Let’s see if the legislators clean up their mess.
If you or someone you know has been charged with DUI or OWI, contact Austin Legal Services, PLC today at (517) 614-1983 to speak to a Michigan OWI Attorney about your case.
Representing clients on drunk driving charges throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Barry, Clinton, Gratiot, Jackson, Livingston, Washtenaw, Kent, Calhoun in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Charlotte, Hastings, Bath, St. Johns, Ithaca, Jackson, Brighton, Howell, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Haslett, Okemos, Holt, Williamston, Eaton Rapids.
[1]    MCL 333.26421 [2]    MCL 257.625(8) [3]    Peo v Dowdy, 489 Mich 373 (2011) [4]    Wash Rev Code 46.61.502(1)(b)

Field Sobriety Test: Walk and Turn

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FST– Walk and Turn (WAT)

This is the second of the three field sobriety tests that we will be discussing in detail. This one requires standardized instructions. The subject is instructed to perform nine steps touching heel-to-toe and is then told to turn around and perform the nine heel-to-toe steps again. However, a demonstration by the officer only consists of three heel-to-toe steps.

 

The officer is taught to look for eight clues which can off the score of the subject. They are:

  1. Unable to keep balance while listening to instructions
  2. Starting before the instructions are finished
  3. Stopping while walking
  4. Not touching heel-to-toe
  5. Stepping off the line
  6. Using arms to balance
  7. Making an improper turn
  8. Performing an incorrect number of steps

If the driver exhibits two or more clues, they fail, thus indicating intoxication.

This test requires a straight line and a reasonably dry, hard level and non-slippery surface and enough room to turn. Often a burm line or parking space line will be used if available. If the driver is wearing two-inch heels, they should be given a chance to take them off. Take as many mental notes as possible to relate to your DUI lawyer about the surrounding area. It is also best to view the place in the daytime for a more accurate observation. Again, the police report and cruiser cam videos should be carefully scrutinized to make sure the instructions were given properly and the test was administered correctly.

 

If you are facing an OWI, contact our Michigan OWI lawyer today at Austin Legal Services, PLC at (517) 614-1983.

 

Defending OWI charges throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Shiawassee, Lenawee, Jackson, Barry, Livingston, Kent, Washtenaw in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Holt, Okemos, Delta Township, Lansing Township, Jackson, Bath, St. Johns, Jackson, Hastings, Howell, Brighton, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Corunna.