January 2012 Archives

Tired Explanations Part 1: Cough Syrup, Second Hand Marijuana Smoke, and Other Excuses That Don't Hold Up In Court

January 20, 2012,

If you spend enough time in the back of a court room you will hear a few common explanations for positive drug and alcohol tests. Often when faced with a probation violation (or show cause while on bond, or if you are appealing to get your license back) defendants/petitioners will attempt to offer an innocent reason for their positive test. What defendants often do not know, that practicing attorneys do, is that Judges have heard it all. While our strategy varies from case to case - we advise that our clients NEVER* to use the following explanations when standing in judgment. Probation violation hearings are oftentimes much more serious than the underlying charge, as the Court will view the defendant as somebody who has been unable to prove themselves. Further, the sentencing Judge has the authority to sentence defendants to the maximum term of incarceration for the underlying charge. Beneath are some common excuses that come up in court. I've done some basic research into each of these explanations to see if they are at all supported by science, unfortunately it seems that they are not.

Excuse #1: 'It Was Secondhand Marijuana Smoke'

When defendants test positive for THC they will sometimes tell the Judge that it was merely secondhand smoke. The Wikipedia page on drug tests (which has a wealth of other relevant information) states that "[t]his legend is technically true but highly misleading." In order for a test to be positive from secondhand smoke one would have to be in a small unventilated space for hours with marijuana smokers. Based on this, it seems that somebody who is by marijuana smoke for a short amount of time would not have THC levels to yield a positive test. The possibility of a positive test aside, Judges hear this excuse all of the time and know it is just that. Dishonesty will always put you in a worse position than where you started.

Excuse #2: 'The Cocaine Seeped Through My Skin'

Though a somewhat more isolated excuse, this still comes up time and time again. Karch's Pathology of Drug Abuse indicates that a positive drug test from this type of exposure is unlikely unless dealing with a large quantity of cocaine. No surprise that Judges do not buy into this explanation. Beyond the fact that it most likely isn't true, there isn't a solid legal reason to be handling a large quantity of cocaine. As advised above, this is a defense that will get you nowhere and if anything will set you back should you use it before a Judge.

Excuse #3: 'I Was Drinking Cough Syrup'

Perhaps the most common of all of the excuses, when defendants test positive for alcohol they often say that it is from drinking cough syrup. I couldn't figure out the exact amount, but alcohol is listed as an inactive ingredient in Nyquil. Some sources stated as low as 10% and some as high as 25%. Nyquil can cause a positive alcohol test. However, it would seem that one would need to drink a large quantity to have a positive BAC or drink cough syrup immediately before blowing. MOST OF THE TIME, this excuse does not hold up. Oftentimes Judges see through this smoke screen and view the defendant as being dishonest and uncooperative. Further, a term of probation is typically no consumption of alcohol, because there is alcohol in some cough syrup this is a straightforward violation. HOWEVER, in some instances (specifically in license appeals at the DLAD) we have been successful in bringing this defense where there is corroborating evidence and/or a doctor's note.

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Federal Criminal Cases In Michigan

January 4, 2012,


In the United States, there are crimes which may be prosecuted at the State level based upon violations of State laws. A Federal crime is one which involves a violation of a Federal law. Many criminal offenses may fall under the jurisdiction of both the State and Federal laws and either or both branches of government may prosecute. The doctrine of double jeopardy does not preclude both State and Federal prosecutions under the doctrine of dual sovereignty.

There are literally thousands of Federal laws. Many Federal crimes are listed in Title 18 of the United States Code. In addition, there are several Federal agencies with authority to investigate Federal offenses including: Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), United States Marshal Service (USMC), United States Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, United States Postal Inspection Service and Homeland Security. Postal Inspectors investigate any crime in which the U.S. Mail is used to further a crime by use of the mail, telephone, or on the Internet (mailfraud).

In Michigan,United States Districts Courts (Federal courts) are located in Detroit (Eastern District), Lansing, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Port Huron, Flint and the upper peninsula. Federal criminal defense attorneys are required to adhere to the Federal Court Rules. The formalities, procedure, sentence guidelines and process of the Federal courts are inherently stricter than the State courts. All of this means that anyone faced with a Federal criminal investigation or Federal criminal charge(s) should retain a qualified Federal criminal defense lawyer.

If you are contacted by any Federal law enforcement agency concerning an investigation, you should immediately consult with an attorney. The Federal criminal justice system is fraught with legal traps. As soon as you talk, you may face an indictment for lying to a Federal agent which can carry 5 years in prison. It is always best to obtain the business card of the agent or obtain a name and telephone number.

It is serious business when our law firm receives a call from a client who is the subject of a Federal investigation or is indicted for a Federal crime. A Federal search warrant will almost always result in the seizure of documents, financial records and computers. An arrest may occur at the same time of the search. However, criminal charges (indictment) may not occur for many months (or even years) after a criminal investigation or search and seizure. During the pendency of a Federal case, a criminal defense attorney will explore all possible options with the United States Attorney/USA (Prosecutor) including cooperation, plea agreements (Rule 11) and trial.

Federal crimes may necessitate the need for a criminal lawyer that specializes. Federal crimes include but are not limited to the following: mail fraud, tax fraud, drug crimes, internet crimes, federal sex crimes (use of the internet), gambling crimes, bank/financial crimes, Medicaid fraud, racketeering, money laundering, computer fraud, pollution, crimes upon waterways or upon federal property and identity theft. At our firm, we are associated with Federal criminal lawyers throughout Michigan. In addition, we can arrange for legal representation by experienced and qualified Federal criminal attorneys anywhere in the United States of America in all areas of specialty.