RECKLESS v OWI IMAGE
Reckless Driving is a crime, does not require an accident of any kind and is comparable in many respects to a drunk driving

As a policy, our Firm does not use ‘scare tactics’ to get your attention.  On the contrary, our aim is to inform our website traffic visitors regarding legal topics in our areas of expertise.  In this article, we will provide information regarding the criminal traffic offense of Reckless Driving based upon our experience in the Macomb County District Courts (37th District Court in Warren, 38th District Court in Eastpointe, 39th District Court in Roseville, 40th District Court in St. Clair Shores, 41-A District Court in Sterling Heights and Shelby Township, 41-B District Court in Clinton Township, 42-1 District Court in Romeo, 42-2 District Court in New Baltimore) and explain why it is as serious (see above graph) as a drunk driving – OWI.

Reckless Driving is a six (6) point criminal offense. Six (6) points is the greatest number of points that can be assessed for any traffic or criminal violation within the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code! Other 6 point offenses include Negligent Homicide*, Leaving the Scene of Accident, and Fleeing or Eluding a Police Officer. Reckless Driving carries more points than the offenses of Operating While Visibly Impaired, Drag Racing or the civil infraction of Careless Driving.

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In Michigan, the offense of leaving the scene of an accident (aka: failing to give identification at the scene of a crash) is charged as a crime. Leaving the scene of an accident is often abbreviated by the police and on Macomb County court notices and dockets as LSPDA or FTSA  for property damage accidents or LSPIA for personal injury accidents. Once an offense for LSPDA, FTSA or LSPIA is on a person’s record, it can never be expunged and can jeopardize personal rights (right to travel into Canada, right to obtain a concealed permit to carry a handgun/CPL). Although we have actively represented clients charged with traffic crimes and tickets in every Macomb County District Court, much of the information in this publication is based upon our extensive experience handling leaving the scene of accident tickets in the 37th District Court in Warren, 38th District Court in Eastpointe, 39th District Court in Roseville/Fraser, 40th District Court in St. Clair Shores, 41-A District Court in Sterling Heights and Shelby Township/Macomb/Utica, 41-B District Court in Clinton Township/Mount Clemens/Harrison Township, 42-1 District Court in Romeo/Washington Township, 42-2 District Court in New Baltimore/Chesterfiled Township.

A ticket for leaving the scene of an accident is a serious offense which has mandatory Secretary of State penalties, a range of court penalties and an inevitable impact on insurance premiums. Pleading guilty to the offense of leaving the scene of an accident without a lawyer is a sure way to wind up with regrets in the future. Leaving the scene of accident tickets can be negotiated in the court system to lower offenses and less severe consequences. However, the court system will treat individuals harsher for leaving the scene of a personal injury accident or, as I have heard it called, leaving a man down.

Penalties for leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage or a personal injury

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Uttering and publishing is the official title in Michigan given for the felony crime of falsifying or forging certain documents with the intent to defraud. This crime has been on the books in since 1931. In my opinion, it is a badly written law that needs to be modernized. However, the statute remains widely used to charge individuals whose conduct falls within the vague provisions of this law. Based upon the number of uttering and publishing / forgery cases that our firm handles in the Macomb County Courts, I would say that this statute is used most extensively to prosecute individuals that are involved in check scandals.

The crime of uttering and publishing is complete upon presenting a false document to be truthful with an intent to defraud another

The uttering and publishing statute (MCL 750.248) provides that:

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Since the passage of Heidi’s Law in Michigan in 2007, a person is subject to felony prosecution for three (3) or more lifetime convictions for any combination of OWI/operating while intoxicated (including OWVI/impaired driving, OUID/operating under the influence of drugs/prescription medications, OWPD/operating with the presence of Schedule 1 controlled substance, super drunk/high blood alcohol content of drugs and under 21 with BAC/zero tolerance)! Driving under the influence convictions which occur in states outside of Michigan are also counted.   This law has been on the books for several years and all states have adopted this law. However, prior to the passage of this Heidi’s Law, a person could only be charged with felony drunk driving if the prior convictions occurred within 10 years of the new arrest.  This blog will explore legal defense strategies, possible penalties and other ramifications associated with a felony DUI offense. For additional information: 2016-2017 Macomb County Drunk Driving Update.

Obtaining an experienced felony drunk driving lawyer is imperative at the earliest possible opportunity 

A third time drunk driving, felony conviction, is a serious matter. A person will lose many rights afforded to United States citizens upon obtaining any felony conviction. For example, a person convicted of a felony, including felony DUI, may never be in possession of a firearm pursuant to both state and federal laws. There are also serious employment, educational and social stigmas and consequences associated with a felony record.  Hiring a lawyer that lacks experience or confidence handling felony matters can be a dreadful mistake. Felony lawyers will first look at every possible angle to get the charge dismissed or reduced to lower offense. For example, we know from experience that a felony charge in Macomb County (including felony drunk driving) may be reduced to a misdemeanor under certain circumstances. In addition, felony lawyers also know what to expect from judges and prosecutors in the jurisdiction where they practice. There are numerous other legal proceedings applicable to felony cases that require expertise such as deviation requests, motion practice and a complete understanding of the Michigan Sentence Guidelines.

Penalties for felony-third lifetime conviction for drunk driving or any combination of OWI, OWVI, OUID, Under 21 with BAC

The penalties for a third driving conviction involving alcohol or drugs are as follows:

  • Fines: $500.00 to $5,000.00 fine, plus costs.
  • *Jail/Community Service: Imprisonment for 1 to 5 years, or,
  • Probation with imprisonment in the county jail for not less than 30 days or more than 1 year and community service for not less than 60 days or more than 180 days. Not less than 48 hours of this imprisonment shall be served consecutively.
  • License Sanctions: License revoked minimum of 1 year for 2 offenses within 7 years or 3 within 10 years. A second revocation is for 5 years. After minimum period of revocation, a person must appear before the Driver License Appeal Division satisfy several requirements before a license will be granted.
  • Other: Destruction of License, Plate confiscation, Vehicle immobilization from 1 to 3 years, Possible vehicle forfeiture .
  • Driver Responsibility Fee: $1,000.00 per year for 2 years.
  • Points: 6

*Jail is mandatory upon conviction for a drunk driving third offense. As you will read further in this post, there is a safety net which our attorneys have advocated when jail is combined with community service or there is a house arrest release program in the applicable jurisdiction.

Proving Drunk Driving: Actual intoxication is irrelevant when test results are .08% or greater

The elements of a drunk driving which the prosecutor must prove are:

Intoxication or Impairment by alcohol, drugs or marijuana: In Michigan “Operating While Intoxicated” (OWI) means operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (OUID) to a degree that renders one unable to safely drive a vehicle. In Michigan, OWI convictions can be obtained regardless of actual intoxication if a person has a BAC of .08% or greater or tests positive for the presence of certain Schedule 1 drugs. Pursuant to MCL 257.625, “operating while intoxicated” means any of the following:

(a) The person is under the influence of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance or a combination of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance.

(b) The person has an alcohol content of 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath, or per 67 milliliters of urine, or, beginning October 1, 2018, the person has an alcohol content of 0.10 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath, or per 67 milliliters of urine.

(c) The person has an alcohol content of 0.17 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath, or per 67 milliliters of urine.

Proof of operation of vehicle:  The police do not have to witness the offender actually driving or operating the vehicle. In the cases researched, you can be charged and convicted with OWI if the police had probable cause to believe the accused was operating the vehicle at some point in time. In other words, evidence of recent operation will suffice in cases where there is an accident or when a vehicle in a ditch or off the road).

Legal traffic stop:  A traffic stop may be based upon any violation of any Michigan traffic laws. Drivers are often stopped for straddling lane markers, weaving between lanes, driving at excessive or very slow speeds, braking erratically, obstructed vision, defective equipment and coming in close contact with objects or other vehicles. The police may also approach a person that is found fixing a flat tire on the shoulder of a road although nothing illegal is occurring! Cellular phone calls to the police may also be used to give law enforcement officers with notice of a drunk driver’s whereabouts. The caller may be eventually be called as a witness.

Planning a defense strategy for felony drinking and driving

Our goals  in every criminal case, including drunk driving, are always the same: avoiding of a conviction and avoiding jail!  While avoiding a conviction or jail 100% of the time is not realistic even for experienced criminal defense lawyers, steps can be taken to get a case under control, reduce charges and obtain the lowest possible sentence.

Police Report: The police report can be obtained soon after we are retained for a criminal matter. By law, the prosecutor is required to provide full disclosure (known as discovery) of the report, videos and test results. Refuting the accuracy of tests, intoxication and grounds for the traffic stop are ways in which a drunk driving charge may be challenged. An aggressive drunk driving defense may also include:

  • Interviewing any possible witnesses (passengers, last persons who could testify as to client’s sobriety)
  • Obtaining an expert witness to challenge blood or alcohol test results (especially in close cases or cases involving prescription meds or THC levels)
  • Recreating the scene of the traffic stop

Client Background: Obtaining a complete personal history of our client is essential in the preparation of a sound legal defense. In our experience, the positive background of a person can make a vast impression on the prosecutor, the probation department and the assigned judge during various phases of a criminal case.

  • Education, degrees, special skills
  • Employment, years at employment, position, awards
  • Family situation, child support obligations
  • Military duty, tours of service, decorations, honorable discharge
  • Charitable service, community involvement
  • Other awards, achievements, recognition
  • Past and present physical health, mental health, psychological attention, medications
  • Past and present substance abuse/alcohol treatment, in-patient care, attendance of AA, relapse prevention programs

Criminal History: In addition to the personal history, the lifetime criminal conviction history also plays a vital role in the criminal process of a drunk driving offense.  We can usually minimize the value of extremely old criminal offenses.

  • Misdemeanors (including traffic related misdemeanors)
  • Felonies
  • Juvenile record
  • Drinking and drug convictions (disorderly conduct, domestic violence, MIP, possession of marijuana, etc)

Habitual Felony Offenders: For felony convictions, Michigan judges are required to follow the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines. The guidelines factor in prior convictions and felonies for purpose of scoring a sentence range. Prior felonies will be used to label an offender as a habitual offender. A person with 1 prior felony is considered a “habitual offender 1” or Hab-1st. Habitual offender status can go as high as Hab-4.  The maximum penalty for a person with Hab-4th  status (meaning the person has 3 prior felonies not counting the charged felony) is up to life in prison.

Other Relevant Factors:  The following factors may influence the outcome or sentence of a felony drunk driving:

  • Is the person charged with  a *true 3rd DUI offense (meaning the offender has only 2 prior DUI lifetime convictions)?
  • Are any of the prior drinking & driving offenses more than 10 years old?
  • Does the offender have a felony record?
  • Does the pending offense involve an injury accident?
  • Is the blood alcohol content (BAC) in a close range to .08% or is it extremely high (over .17%)?
  • Has the offender engaged a substance abuse counselor and/or AA?
  • Is the offender on probation for any other criminal matter?

*In Macomb County, our firm has advocated plea bargains to a misdemeanor if the offender is charged as a true third drunk driving offender. We have achieved this result in numerous cases; including offenders with more than two (2) prior lifetime DUI offenses. Public policy, accidents involving injuries and directives by the County Prosecuting Attorney may have an impact on plea bargaining drunk driving cases.

Possible outcomes of a drunk driving felony

Everyone likes to believe that they will win their drunk driving case at trial. This is not realistic since the vast majority of drunk driving offenses (as well as all other criminal offenses) in Michigan are resolved based upon a plea bargain.  In fact, recent statistics indicate that over 90% of all criminal cases are resolved by a plea bargain and not by trial.

Rarely is a client willing to roll the dice at trial when we can secure a deal to have a drunk driving felony reduced to a misdemeanor. However, our attorneys will examine a case from every angle to determine the best course of action which may include:

  • Scheduling the case for a jury trial
  • Fling and arguing motions to dismiss because of an illegal traffic stop
  • Filing and arguing improper testing procedures or equipment failures
  • Plea bargaining to a misdemeanor (achieved by our firm in numerous drunk driving cases)
  • Negotiating the minimum sentence (30 days with community service) to avoid prison
  • Negotiating to lessen sentence enhancement of habitual offender provisions
  • Negotiating delayed jail sentence, house arrest (sobriety monitoring)

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Unfortunately, a rear end automobile accident is not always avoidable. Rear end accidents can occur because of slippery/icy roads, distracted driving (texting) or inattentiveness to existing traffic conditions.  Traffic tickets issued for rear end accidents are one of the most common traffic tickets that we see every day on our Macomb County District Court dockets. Anyone that drives regularly on M-59/Hall Road, on either the Sterling Heights side, or the Utica/Macomb Township and Shelby Township side, will probably witness a rear end accident at some point in time.

Crain’s Business Detroit, May 3, 2015, had this say about the situation on M-59/Hall Road:  “Slogging through stop-and-go traffic on northern Macomb County’s main east-west thoroughfare — four lanes deep in exhaust and exhaustion — it’s easy to understand why some locals have dubbed it “Hell Road.”

A basic premise in Michigan is that a person is required to have control of a motor vehicle at all times. For this reason, a person that is involved in a rear end accident can expect to get hit with a ticket known as “fail to stop within assured clear distance” (abbreviated on the ticket as FTSACD). The offense of FTSACD is found in the Michigan Traffic Offense Code at MCL 257.627(1) and is a civil infraction which carries 2 points on one’s driving record. MCL 257.627 is the statute that covers FTSACD and also the traffic violation for failing to use due care and caution. The statute reads as follows:

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This publication is dedicated to the topic of drug crimes involving “possession” (as opposed to the more serious felony drug crimes for delivery). This extensive analysis is based upon our firm’s experience in handling drug crimes throughout Macomb County, especially in the 37th District Court (Warren, Centerline), 41-A District Court (Shelby Township, Utica, Macomb Township, Sterling Heights), 41-B District Court (Clinton Township, Harrison Township, Mount Clemens), 42-1 District Court (Romeo, Washington Township) and 42-2 District Court (New Baltimore, Chesterfield Township).

Some of the topics that will be covered in this 2016-2017 Macomb County Possession of Marijuana, Drugs, Paraphernalia Update are:

  • Can the police search my vehicle if I a stopped for a non-criminal traffic violation?
  • Can I be charged with possession of drugs/marijuana if I did not have them in my possession?
  • Can a case be dismissed if someone else is willing to take the rap in the court system?
  • Can the police search my vehicle because they claim that they smell marijuana?
  • Should I do undercover work (snitch) with the police if I am facing a drug crime?
  • Can I be charged with maintaining a drug house if I was in my car and not my house?
  • Will I lose my right to Carry a Concealed Pistol (CPL) if I am convicted of a drug crime (possession of marijuana, possession of analogue, possession of heroin)?
  • Why is 7411 such a big deal?

IMAGE BELOW: Unedited portion of police report from a recent Abdo Law marijuana case in Eastpointe, Michigan (38th District Court).

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The vast drug problem in Macomb County and elsewhere has resulted in limited police resources. In my opinion, the police make pre-textual traffic stops and engage in profiling to maximize their law enforcement efforts. A pre-textual traffic stop is one that usually based some minor traffic violation but allows the police to investigate other suspected criminal conduct during the course of the confrontation.  Profiling (based upon age, race, poverty) is universally condemned by the criminal defense bar as a legitimate practice but is considered a valid means to fight the war on drugs in the eyes of the government/police.

 Important Legal Ramifications of Drug “Possession” Crimes 

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  • Driver license suspension:  The driver’s license of a person convicted of any drug crime will be suspended for a period 180 days with possible restrictions after the first 30 days. License action does not apply when a drug crime is resolved pursuant to HYTA or MCL 333.7411.
  • MCL 333.7411: Disposition under MCL 333.7411 will result in a dismissal upon successful completion of probation and will not result in any license sanctions as stated above. There may be only one (1) lifetime dismissal under this provision. This provision applies ONLY to drug use or possession crimes. It does not apply to possession of paraphernalia, maintaining a drug house (discussed in detail below) or to any drug crimes involving the manufacturing (growing) or delivery.
  • Concealed Pistol License (CPL): A person convicted of a misdemeanor drug crime will not be able to apply for a CPL for a period of three (3) years. A person convicted of any felony, including all felony drug crimes, will not be able to own or possess a firearm pursuant to both State of Michigan and Federal laws. A person with a valid Michigan Medical Marijuana card is not permitted to purchase a firearm pursuant to Federal laws.
  • Excessive possession with medical marijuana card:  A person that possesses an excessive amount of marijuana beyond the scope of the Medical Marijuana laws as a patient or caregiver may be charged with a drug crime for possession (misdemeanor) or possession with intent to deliver (felony).
  • Section 8 Defense:  A person that would otherwise qualify as a patient or caregiver but does not have a medical marijuana card may assert a Section 8 defense (medical purpose) to fight a possession of marijuana case.
  • Double penalty for second drug crime conviction:  A second drug crime conviction is subject to enhancement under MCL 333.7413 with the potential for double penalty as to incarceration and fines. This can lead to harsh consequences when a person is charged with a drug crime otherwise classified as a misdemeanor, such as possession of marijuana. A second possession of marijuana conviction would constitute a felony (2 years maximum sentence) if enhanced by the prosecutor pursuant to MCL 333.7413. In our experience as criminal and drug crime defense lawyers, the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office does not hesitate to utilize the double penalty provision when charging for repeat drug crimes.

Misdemeanor or Felony Classifications, Possession of Marijuana, Analogues, Heroin, Cocaine

Again, this publication is intended to provide information for the crimes charged under the Michigan criminal laws that prohibit possession of marijuana or drugs for personal use, as opposed to the more serious felony drug crimes of manufacturing or delivery.  All drugs in Michigan are classified from Schedule 1 to Schedule 5 pursuant to MCL 333.7212 of the Michigan Public Health Code. The breakdown of drugs into schedules is based upon the potential for abuse/addiction (Schedule 1 drugs are considered the most dangerous/addictive/abusive).  Drug crime penalties:

Drug Crime

Possession Ecstasy

Possession Meth

Possession Heroin

Possession Cocaine

Possession Oxycodone

Possession Analogues

Possession LSD

Possession Psilocybin

Possession of Marijuana

Possession Parphernalia

Classification

Felony

Felony

Felony

Felony

Felony

Felony

Misdemeanor

Misdemeanor

Misdemeanor

Misdemeanor

Maximum Penalty

10 years, $15,000 fine

10 years, $15,000 fine

4 years, $25,000 fine

4 years, $25,000 fine

4 years, $25,000 fine

2 years, $2,000 fine

1 year, $2,000 fine

1 year, $2,000 fine

1 year, $2,000 fine

90 days, $5,000 fine

 Can the police search my car if I am only stopped for a non-criminal traffic violation?

The police may not conduct a search without a valid search warrant or legal grounds to conduct a search without a warrant.

If a person is pulled over or stopped by the police for a non-criminal traffic violation, there is rarely any justification to search the vehicle or occupants. However, the reality in our Macomb County criminal cases indicates otherwise. We are seeing a large number of cases where individuals are charged with possession of marijuana, paraphernalia, analogues or other drugs when the police can invent or find a way to conduct a search (see plain view, plain smell, consent discussed below). In fact, drug crimes involving possession, especially marijuana, consistently show up in higher numbers than other crimes on every criminal docket in our Macomb County Courts. I attribute the increase in drug possession crimes in Macomb County to the widespread distribution of marijuana, heroin and analogue drugs (especially Xanax, Vicodin, Adderall, Norco) which seem to be easily available in every community. The extent of the problem was covered in a recent Detroit Free Press article, Mich drug overdose deaths up 14%; heroin, pain-killers are culprits.

Legal grounds to search a person or vehicle without a warrant

In my opinion, the police ignore many opportunities to stop a vehicle for a marginal or minor traffic violation unless they feel that the traffic stop will yield other fruits.

Once a valid traffic stop is made, the police are in a lawful position to observe their surroundings and make an inquiry. Here are some common factors in drug cases that we have handled in the Macomb County Courts:

  • Vehicle is occupied by youthful offenders.
  • The traffic stop or confrontation occurs in the late evening hours.
  • The traffic stop is for a minor traffic violation or defective equipment.
  • The vehicle parked in a dark or suspicious area.
  • The police conduct a search pursuant to consent, smell of marijuana or plain view (see explanation below).
  • Criminal charges will be pursued or the suspected party will be asked to provide cooperation/undercover work if marijuana or any drugs (even slight quantities) are found.
  • In addition to pressing criminal charges, the police may consider seizing any cash and the motor vehicle involved.

Based upon Michigan laws, a search may occur without a warrant under these circumstances:

  • Plain view:  Objects found in plain view are subject to seizure without any further justification provided that the law enforcement officer has acted legally.
  • Consent:  The police do not need a warrant or probable cause to search a person or vehicle if they obtain the consent of the party.
  • Smell of marijuana: The Michigan Supreme Court has held that the smell, or like plain view, “plain smell”, can justify a search of a car without a warrant.
  • Search incident to an arrest:  If criminal conduct is discovered following a traffic stop, such as a person driving on a suspended license, the police may conduct a search of the person and an inventory search of the vehicle incident to the arrest. (Driving on a suspended license (DWLS) is a crime, not a civil infraction.

Link to youtube video regarding consent searches:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kVX6NIPzB0

Do the police ever fabricate grounds or abuse the process to conduct a search without a warrant?

Legal arguments arise when the police look into a glove-box or vehicle compartment and claim that a well-hidden illegal substance, such as marijuana or paraphernalia, was found in plain view. Consent searches are also an area of contention that sometimes demand a closer look especially when consent is obtained based upon coercion or threats. Some tactics used by the police to get a party’s consent:

  • Threat to obtain a search warrant.
  • Threat to get the K-9 dogs to sniff out the dope.
  • Claim by police that person or car smells like marijuana but want to obtain consent as a second means to validate a search.

In a related article from the Washington Post, STOP AND SEIZE, see how the police use traffic stops to take hundreds of millions of dollars from motorists not charged with crimes.

HELP: I did not have the marijuana/drugs in my possession but the police charged me with possession!

In the eyes of the law, there is such a thing as being at the wrong place at the wrong time. When the police find marijuana or other illegal property in a vehicle, they may opt to charge only one party, or every party/occupant that can be said to be in “possession” or control of the property.

Actual possession:  A person caught red handed with marijuana hidden in his clothing (pocket, bra) is in actual possession and would have a hard time proving otherwise.

Constructive possession:  Constructive possession means a person had knowledge of the substance and an ability to control it. This differs from actual possession and would encompass situations where drugs are not found on a person but in an area within his control. For example, assume the police find marijuana or drugs in what we call a “common area” (under a passenger seat, ashtray or on the floor). In these scenarios, the police may charge every occupant with possession under the theory of “constructive possession”.

One person willing to take the blame:  In other drug cases that wind up in the system, we may have a single party that is willing to take the rap for others. Under the circumstances, the prosecutor can still argue joint possession or that the party taking the blame lacks credibility.

Should I do undercover work for the police if I am facing drug charges or get a lawyer and go with the court option?

The police may offer leniency or some concession on the drug charges in exchange for cooperation, or what is commonly known as snitching. Undercover drug operations are dangerous and a favorable deal by the police is not assured. Furthermore, undercover activities are often done outside of the court system and without the protection of a lawyer.

The advice of an experienced criminal defense lawyer is crucial when confronted with this option. Engaging in undercover drug deals is not within the comfort zone of most of our Macomb County suburban clients. In fact, our clients have chosen the court option as opposed to snitching more than 90% of the time. In addition, clients have retained our firm following a frustrating episode of cooperation/snitching.

What does it mean if I am charged with maintaining a drug house?

The prosecutor can raise the stakes on mere drug possession charges by adding an additional serious criminal charge known as “maintaining a drug house” when a person:

Knowingly maintains a store, shop, warehouse, dwelling, building, vehicle, boat, aircraft, or other structure or place that is frequented by persons using controlled substances in violation of this article for the purpose of using controlled substances or that is used for keeping or selling controlled substances.

Maintaining a drug house is considered a high court misdemeanor in Michigan that punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years, or a fine of not more than $25,000.00, or both. For many purposes, it is viewed as a felony because the punishment consequence is greater than 1 year.

Charged with possession of marijuana, paraphernalia or drugs? It’s not as bad as you think!

When confronted with a drug crime, or the issues surrounding a questionable search, our Macomb County criminal defense lawyers will break down the legal options and make recommendations that are in your best interests. Taking an extreme position to engage in an all out war against the police and prosecutor is not necessarily going to be our recommendation. Other less drastic legal solutions are often at our disposal to resolve a drug case.

Fortunately, drug crimes are legally manageable in the court system. Jail is rarely on the table and plea bargains under special provisions of law can equal a dismissal after a period of probation:

MCL 33.7411: (As discussed in an earlier section of this publication) Subject to an offer by the prosecutor and acceptance by the court:  Allows for first time drug crimes involving possession (INCLUDES ALL MISDEMEANOR OR FELONY DRUG USE OR POSSESSION CRIMES) to be dismissed after a period of probation.

HYTA:  Subject to acceptance by the court when requested and approval by the prosecutor for offenders age 21-23:  Allows for dismissal of drug crimes (INCLUDING DELIVERY) to be dismissed. This provision applies to offenders from age 17 but under age 24. This provision of law may be used more than once as long as the offender is meets the age requirements and the offense is one that is not excluded by HYTA.

Felony Drug Possession:  As I have written, 7411 may be utilized to get a dismissal of a felony “possession” drug charge. However, 7411 is not available more than once or for those with a drug crime record. When the answer cannot be found in 7411 or HYTA, our goal may be to negotiate reduction of a felony drug possession charge down to a misdemeanor.

Even repeat drug crime offenders, or those with a prior criminal record, are not necessarily looking at jail. In this regard, we are seeing more compassion exercised by the court system in cases where the offender is willing to engage in substance abuse treatment. In addition, the courts are starting to lighten up on offenders that have a medical marijuana card. Again, the Macomb County Courts will consider a viable treatment plan in lieu of jail in our experience.

Our blogs are based upon our personal experience as criminal defense lawyers.  For more information about felony representation, misdemeanor representation, drug crime representation, plea bargaining, sentencing or other areas of criminal law, please  feel free to review our website and other blogs published by ABDO  LAW.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

42nd-District-Court-Division-1-Romeo-Lawyer-Attorney-2
Retail fraud is the formal criminal charge when a person is caught shoplifting in Michigan.  Although the information in this publication is relevant to our retail fraud practice in Macomb County, I would say that the vast majority of the retail fraud cases that we handle in the 42-1 District Court occur at the Meijer store located in Washington Township on the northeast corner of  26 Mile and Van Dyke. Most of those that we see facing retail fraud charges in this jurisdiction are first time offenders or those with a minor prior criminal record which we try to discount in the court system. The age of a person does not have any barriers for those who commit the offense of retail fraud. Our firm has represented individuals that qualify as juveniles (under age 17) as well as senior citizens. Some reasons associated with the conduct of retail fraud are financial distress, psychological issues, substance abuse, recent loss of a loved one, PTSD, adjustment to medications and peer pressure.  However, I would say that isolated impulsive behavior is the number one reason that a person commits an act of retail fraud.  

Retail fraud may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony

Retail fraud can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending upon the value of the property involved. Here is how the State of Michigan breaks it down in the Michigan Penal Code:

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Drunk driving is charged as a crime; not a traffic violation. From our experience, first offenders finding themselves in this position rarely fit the mold of someone that you would expect to get into trouble with the law. On the contrary, most clients that we see charged under Michigan’s drunk driving laws are victims of unexpected circumstances that they never anticipated. In many cases, they lack a recent experience or episode with alcohol consumption and underestimate its effects.

Some of the questions that will be covered in this article are:

  • Will I lose my license if I am convicted of a drunk driving?
  • Will I go to jail?
  • Can the police obtain a search warrant and force me to take a blood test if I refuse the breath test?
  • How long does it take for alcohol to be eliminated from my body after consumption?
  • What will happen to my right to obtain or maintain my Concealed Pistol License (CPL)?
  • Can I cross the border into Canada if I am convicted of a DUI?
  • Can a drunk driving case ever be dismissed?
  • What is a deviation request?
  • Can I still drive on a temporary license and when will I get my picture license back?
  • Can I be charged with DUI-marijuana?
  • Do police like making DUI arrests?
  • See Link: How do I find information about Sobriety Court?
  • Can a drunk driving offense ever get expunged?

Although I have not officially counted, there are more laws, ordinances and administrative rules on the books for drunk driving than exist for murder, kidnapping and armed robbery combined!

The court process is foreign and frightening to most individuals that are charged with a drunk driving offense. I have written this article to provide updated information on the topic of drunk driving, provide answers to frequent questions and dispel any myths or rumors that may haunt individuals in this predicament. I have no doubt that those seeking information regarding drunk driving ranks consistently high as a popular topic considering that recent information compiled by the Michigan State Police in its annual drunk driving audit indicates that Macomb County and Oakland County made approximately 6700 combined drunk driving arrests in 2015! Arrests  by the Macomb Sheriff Department (217), Shelby Township Police (162), Sterling Heights Police (164) and Warren Police (190), top the list for DUI arrests made by Macomb County police agencies. (MSP 2015 drunk driving audit).

What do the abbreviations mean for OWI, DUI, OUIL, OWVI, OUID, OWPD, OWI High BAC?

I would like to reduce  some of the confusion that exists regarding the use of abbreviations in relation to drunk driving offenses in the legal system.Over the years, drunk driving laws have evolved but some of the old abbreviations have survived and are still widely used to refer to a drunk driving offense.

  • OWI=Operating while intoxicated: This offense covers charges when a person has a blood alcohol content of .08% or greater which is abbreviated as OWI. The abbreviations of DUI and OUIL mean the same thing as an OWI but are from a generation of prior drunk driving laws.
  • OWVI=Operating while visibly impaired:  This is the offense which is a lower charge than OWI . OWI is often reduced to OWVI in the court system.
  • OWPD=Operating with the presence of a Schedule 1 controlled substance: As determined by a blood test.
  • OUID=Operating under the influence of drugs: Includes situations where someone is affected by the use of prescription medications.
  • OWI with High BAC=Operating with a high blood alcohol content: This is also referred to as a “super drunk driving” and is charged when a person has a blood alcohol content of .17% or more. OWI with high BAC carries much higher criminal and driving penalties than OWI or OWVI. Most county prosecutors have a policy and do not reduce OWI with a high BAC without policy deviation granted.

Why did the police destroy my driver’s license? Can I still drive with a temporary license? When will I get my picture license back?

dui 257g

The following is a directive to law enforcement officers after placing someone under arrest for a DUI:

MCL 257.625g: On behalf of the secretary of state, immediately confiscate the person’s license or permit to operate a motor vehicle and, if the person is otherwise eligible for a license or permit, issue a temporary license or permit to the person. The temporary license or permit shall be on a form provided by the secretary of state.

Once officially arrested for a drunk driving offense, the police will destroy the plastic driver’s license and issue a Michigan Temporary Driving Permit as seen above.  This permit will be provided to the offender upon release from jail along with a baggie containing the following:  breath-test result, ticket or other notification, bond receipt and towing receipt. This Michigan Temporary Driving Permit will enable the person to continue to operate a vehicle without any restrictions. Any license restrictions or suspension will not be triggered by the Secretary of State until there is a finding of guilt for a drinking and driving offense (or other offense as listed below). Upon conviction or finding of guilt, the Secretary of State will issue license action by mail to the last address of the offender. The aggrieved party may obtain a new picture license after all of the license action has expired with respect to the underlying conviction offense. License action may also be imposed for alcohol/drug test refusals pursuant to Michigan’s implied consent laws.  As I state in various parts of this article and in our website, license action is mandatory and is imposed by the State of Michigan, not the court system. The court system is powerless to intervene or provide any relief when a person is suspended or revoked for a drinking or driving offense.  However, the court does have the power to grant license restrictions for certain drug crimes involving possession or use when restrictions are otherwise allowed by statute.  Sobriety court may also save a repeat DUI offender from a mandatory license revocation.

Michigan Alcohol or Drug Crime License Action
OWI/Impaired Causing Death Indefinite revocation
OWI/Impaired Causing Serious Injury Indefinite revocation
1st Offense OWI or OWPD 30 days suspended, 150 days restricted
2 OWI/Impaired in 7 year period Indefinite revocation (sobriety court is a possibility to get restrictions with BAIID)
3 OWI/Impaired in 10 year period Indefinite revocation 1 year to 5 years before eligible for license appeal
Child Endangerment w/child u/age 16 90 days suspended, 90 days restricted
Super Drunk (High BAC .17% or greater) 45 days suspended, 320 days restricted with BAIID
Impaired Driving (OWVI) 90 days restricted
Zero Tolerance, Under 21 w/.02% – .07% 30 days restricted
1st Offense Possession Drugs/Marijuana 30 days suspended, 150 days restricted
2nd Offense Possession Drugs/Marijuana 60 days suspended, 305 days restricted
1st Offense Minor in Possession of Alcohol No action
2nd Offense Minor in Possession of Alcohol 30 days suspended, 160 restricted

An indefinite license revocation may be appealed after a minimum of one (1) year (or after 5 years for a second revocation) to the Driver Appeal and Assessment Division of the Michigan Department of State. Any tickets obtained during a period of revocation will result in an additional period of revocation of one (1) year or possibly more.

Some facts about our first offender clients facing a drunk driving

Here are some of our findings regarding a majority of first offender clients, or nearly first offenders, that get hit with a drunk driving:

  • Does not have any prior drunk driving history or may have a DUI offense from many years ago.
  • Does not usually consume alcohol in excess.
  • Was cooperative with the police.
  • Is caught driving within a few miles from home, usually in the late evening hours.
  • Has a good driving record.
  • Was not involved in an accident.

Alcohol consumption issues, blood alcohol content, search warrant for blood, elimination of alcohol over time

Shot, Beer, and Wine

Legal intoxication means the amount of alcohol contained in one’s blood (reported as a percentage) that will constitute drunk driving (operating while intoxicated). Law enforcement officers use breath, blood or urine tests to measure a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC). In Michigan, a BAC of .08% or more is considered legally intoxicated, regardless of actual intoxication. A search warrant for a blood test may be obtained when a chemical test is refused or under circumstances where the police are seeking a blood test for drugs or marijuana. If the Secretary of State finds that the refusal was not reasonable, the offender’s license will be suspended for a one (1) year period pursuant to Michigan’s implied consent laws. Drink/weight BAC index charts are a fairly reliable source of information on the subject of blood alcohol content.

DUI BAC CHART MALE & FEMALE

Unfortunately, this whole process is technical, confusing and often catches people by surprise. Seniors citizens are especially vulnerable as they usually avoid alcoholic beverages because of medications or other age related health concerns. In addition, senior citizens, like most people, rarely understand their individual tolerances to alcohol and how much alcohol consumption is required to be legally intoxicated. The science of alcohol elimination from the body also plays a role in a person’s BAC. Just as alcohol is absorbed in a person’s blood over time, it is also eliminated. Although each person has a unique metabolism rate, it is estimated that alcohol is eliminated from the body at the rate of .015% per hour after hitting a peak BAC.  At this rate, it takes an estimated 70 to 90 minutes, or longer, for the human body to eliminate a single drink. A single drink = 1.5 oz. shot of 80 proof hard liquor, a 5 oz. glass of wine (12% alcohol) or a 12 ounce beer (5% alcohol).  See hours to zero chart below:

HOURS TO ZERO

Once behind the wheel of a car after consuming alcoholic beverages, ignorance of the law is not a excuse and the law enforcement officials do not discriminate even for those individuals that have never been in trouble.

Drunk driving basics

The term drunk driving as used in this article means criminal charges for:

  • Super Drunk Driving: Operating with a high BAC (BAC .17% or more)
  • Operating while intoxicated / OWI (BAC .08% or more)
  • Operating while under the influence of drugs (including prescription meds)
  • Operating while impaired

Our website contains detailed information, including license sanctions, for each of the above offenses.  An ignition interlock device (BAIID) is mandatory for persons convicted of super drunk driving but also may be imposed as a sentencing condition for other drinking and driving offenses!  All of the above offenses contain mandatory state of Michigan sanctions. The State of Michigan sanctions include: license suspension/restrictions, driver’s responsibility fees and points. In addition to mandatory State of Michigan sanctions, a person convicted of any of the above offenses is subject to numerous court sanctions upon sentencing. Most court sanctions are discretionary and may include one or more of the following:

  • Incarceration
  • Probation for up to 2 years
  • Fine and court costs
  • Mandatory alcohol assessment
  • Imposition of substance abuse program, attendance of AA meeetings, in-patient care
  • Imposition of random alcohol and/or drug testing, or require a transdermal testing monitor
  • Community service
  • Restrictions on travel out-of-state
  • Restrictions on consumption of alcohol
  • Imposition of ignition interlock device on motor vehicle (BAIID) as a condition

What about driving under the influence of marijuana?  Do police need a warrant to search my vehicle?

Michigan is way behind when it comes to the issue of marijuana. The main issue is whether marijuana will be legalized for recreational use. The response to that issue will be reserved for another article. For this article, the question is whether someone can be charged with driving under the influence of marijuana. The answer to this question is YES. However, we are not seeing many cases whereby a person is charged with DUI-marijuana. Instead, our firm has been retained for several cases in the Macomb County District Courts where the police opt to charge an operator of a vehicle (usually a youthful offender), along with the occupants, with possession of marijuana and/or paraphernalia and not OWI-marijuana.  I believe this to be the case because, unlike testing for alcohol (.08% = OWI), the State of Michigan lacks any standardized rules/testing for what constitutes being “under the influence” or impaired” by the consumption of marijuana. Another reason, in my opinion, is because police really do not like to make DUI arrests. A DUI arrest can keep a law enforcement officer off of the road for several hours. A DUI arrest entails compliance with several state laws as well as administrative rules in order to accomplish technical testing procedures, booking and incarceration of the offender and extensive document preparation (police report, temporary license, bond forms, etc.). 

Frequent possession of marijuana scenario, consent search: Search warrants are time consuming and there is rarely sufficient justification for the officer to obtain one after a routine traffic stop. However,  a search warrant is not required when the police find something in plain view, obtain consent to search or make a search incident to an arrest. This brings us to the typical scenario:  After pulling over a vehicle, or seeing one parked in a dark area, the police will confront the driver and occupant(s) and claim that they can smell marijuana. The police are skilled at getting information and can usually avoid the search warrant requirement by getting the occupants of the vehicle to surrender any marijuana or consent to a search.

For the offender, getting charged with the drug crime of possession of marijuana  or analogues is preferable to anything associated with a DUI and is usually resolved favorably in the Macomb County Courts with a dismissal under MCL 333.7411 or HYTA for youthful offenders (age 17 to 23).

It is another story entirely, and felony charges are likely, under circumstances whereby the operator of a vehicle tests positive for THC or other drugs and is involved in an accident causing the injury or death of another person. In this scenario, the defense attorney would obtain the blood test results and determine whether the marijuana usage was recent and examine the THC nanogram levels.

What can someone with a clean record expect?

I would assume that the answers to this question are the main reason that someone would read this article.  Getting a dismissal is a top priority in every criminal or drunk driving case. This lofty goal is not always attainable. Depending upon several factors in a given case, we may recommend fighting the case at trial, seeking a deviation request or negotiating a plea bargain. Realistically, recent statistics indicate that approximately 90% or more of all criminal and drunk driving in the Untied States are resolved by plea bargaining. Our Macomb County district courts are no exception.  Plea bargaining can result in reduction in the charges as well as recommendations for leniency at the sentencing phase of the case. For every criminal and drunk driving case, the prosecutor, probation officer and the judge will look at the prior criminal record of the offender. Depending upon the circumstances, I am not usually concerned about an old criminal conviction from back in the 1970’s or 1980’s. However, recent prior criminal offenses may preclude an offer of a plea bargain in drunk driving cases without a formal deviation request. Other variables that are taken into consideration are:

  • Whether there was an accident
  • The prior traffic record of the offender
  • The blood alcohol content, high or low?
  • Whether there are any other egregious factors or criminal charges brought at the same time (fleeing the police, resisting arrest)
  • Whether the offender mixed alcohol with other drugs or medications

If an individual is charged with first offense operating while intoxicated (OWI), plea bargaining down to an impaired driving may be the best option.  For those charged with super drunk driving (.17% or more) or a repeat offense involving drinking and driving, a reduction to a lower drinking offense will take additional legal maneuvers  and possibly a deviation request as I describe further on in this article. Our firm will also ask a person charged with a super drunk driving or a repeat offense to obtain a substance abuse evaluation which we will eventually utilize at various stages of the court process including pretrial conference, probation interview and sentencing.

Ruling out any variables that grab the court’s attention, I can say that based upon our experience, first offenders are treated extremely fair in every Macomb County Court. Although I have listed several possible court sentencing sanctions in the prior paragraphs which represents the larger picture, our experience has been favorable to the extent that we can often avoid the harshest penalties. Again, the sanctions imposed by the State of Michigan (license sanctions, driver responsibility fees, points) are inescapable. Also, every court will invariably impose fines and court costs in the range of $800.00 to $1,500.00, depending upon the district court. Fines and costs in the 41-B District (Clinton Township) and 42-1 District (servicing Romeo, Washington Township) tend to be the highest while the 41-A District (with 2 locations servicing Shelby, Macomb, Utica and Sterling Heights) and the 42-2 District Court (servicing New Baltimore, Chesterfield Township) are on the lower side. In addition to fines and costs, a person with an otherwise clean record can expect some probation, an alcohol education/counseling program and possible random alcohol testing. Fighting for non-reporting probation, no testing, a limited counseling program (1 day class) and other leniency are realistic goals for individuals that qualify as isolated offenders and do not display a problem with alcohol.

Additional sanctions and consequences of a DUI conviction include:

  • CPL rights: A person convicted of a drunk driving offense (either OWI or impaired driving) will lose CPL rights for 3 years. There are no exceptions to this rule.
  • Canada inadmissibility:  Based upon Canadian immigration laws, a person that has been convicted of driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs will probably be found criminally inadmissible to enter into Canada. Under certain circumstances, this harsh restriction may be overcome by showing of rehabilitation or obtaining a permit.
  • Police response costs:  In recent years, the costs incurred by the responding police agency are subject to collection for a person charged with a drinking and driving offense. I have seen these costs run anywhere from $300.00 to $600.00.
  • Expungement: The process of expungement (setting aside a conviction) is controlled by rigid rules in Michigan. While we are able to get extremely serious crimes (drug dealing, felony assault, theft/embezzlement) expunged, traffiic and drunk driving cases are not eligible. Personally, I am critical of this absurd exception which is contained in the Michigan expungement statute. This exception is based in part to the fact that the drunk driving laws contain sentence enhancements for repeat lifetime offenses (lifetime DUI third = felony). Also, in my opinion, the insurance industry may have had some influence in this matter to keep tabs on drivers and adjust rates accordingly.
  • Insurance costs: A person convicted of any drinking and driving offense will ultimately be hit with increased insurance premiums for several years after the conviction. These higher insurance costs are in addition to hefty fines/costs imposed by the legal system, driver responsibility fees, police response costs, substance abuse evaluation and court imposed programs. Some individuals will be labeled “high risk” or terminated by their own insurance company following a DUI and will need to hunt for a coverage elsewhere.

Can a drunk driving case ever be completely dismissed?

I am sure you are wondering whether a drunk driving can be completely dismissed. There are a couple of legal avenues that can be pursued which may result in a dismissal or reduction of a drunk driving. Getting a not guilty verdict at trial is one way. The second way is by preparing and filing a deviation request with the prosecutor’s office assigned to the case.

Trial:  Anyone accused of a crime has the right to a trial. In drunk driving cases, there may be a question regarding the legality of the traffic stop or whether the police officer followed protocol in administering the BAC test for breath, urine or blood. Trial services will cost more money with every experienced drunk driving firm. In addition, there is no guarantee that a person will win at trial. Only after evaluating a case will an attorney be able to render an opinion as to whether there are good grounds for trial and make recommendations accordingly.

Deviation request:  A second way to obtain a dismissal is by filing a deviation request with the prosecutor’s office. A deviation request is a formal request with supportive material to seek a favorable outcome when the policy of the prosecutor otherwise is against any plea bargain. Our firm utilizes deviation requests in our criminal and drunk driving cases when a client has several positive factors and we feel that the prosecutor will consider a compassionate outcome. In addition to the prosecutor, the arresting officer’s consent is typically needed before a deviation request may be granted. For this reason, one of our first questions at an initial consultation for a drunk driving case is whether the client cooperated with the police.  In our experience, when a deviation request is granted, the drinking and driving charge is reduced to careless driving (a non-criminal offense) and probation conditions may also be imposed by the court.  Again, like trials, there is an additional expense to prepare and file a deviation request with no guarantee as to the outcome.

Drunk driving cases in Michigan (except felonies) are handled in the district courts

With the exception of felony drinking and driving cases, all misdemeanor drunk driving cases are handled to completion in the district courts. Felony drunk driving offenses (DUI third offense, DUI involving injury or death) are ultimately resolved in the higher court (Macomb County Circuit Court).  In limited circumstances, a Macomb County DUI third offense/felony can be negotiated downward to misdemeanor in the district court.

The Macomb County district courts, along with jurisdictions covered and internet links are as follows:

 

 

COP CAR
Since 2003, the State of Michigan collects Driver Responsibility Fees against driver’s when excessive points are abstracted on a person’s driving record (Category 1 Offenses). Fees are also collected for specific offenses, regardless of points (Category 2 Offenses). Drunk driving is an example of an offense categorized under Category 2.  For example, a person who is convicted for Operating While Intoxicated is required to pay $1,000.00 per year for 2 years for a total of $2,000.00. A conviction for the lower drinking and driving offense of “impaired driving” requires $500.00 per year for 2 years in fees.

These fees have been called a “death penalty for drivers” by State Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland). Haveman favors legislation which would phase out all driver responsibility fees and he has called the law a “cash grab” for the state at the expense of motorists, who can lose their license for non-payment.

Traffic tickets are handled in the district Courts. In the district courts where we appear frequently, including : 37th District (Warren/Centerline), 38th District (Eastpointe), 39th District (Roseville/Fraser), 40th District (St. Clair Shores), 41-A District (Sterling Heights, Shelby Township, Macomb Township, Utica), 41-B District (Clinton Township, Harrison Township, Mount Clemens), 42-1 District(Romeo/Washington Township), 42-2 District (New Baltimore/Chesterfield Township), 72nd District (Marine City/Port Huron Divisions), 44th District (Royal Oak), many individuals are driving without a license and without insurance. They just cannot afford all of costs associated with traffic tickets and Driver Responsibility Fees.

imagesCA94DB7I.jpg
In Michigan, the offense of embezzlement is a crime of opportunity which is committed by someone who is in a position of trust which includes anyone that is an employee or associated with others in a business entity such as a partner or corporate officer.  It can also include persons in unpaid positions that are entrusted with charitable proceeds to collect money for school or club functions.  In the most basic terms, embezzlement means stealing, or committing the act of larceny, during the scope of an employment situation.  Some examples of embezzlement that we have seen in our Macomb County Courts include:

  • Employee working with an outsider and failing to scan items at the point of checkout.
  • Bookkeeper that uses company credit card or checks for personal use.