Articles Posted in Alcohol and Drug Crimes

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St. Clair County borders Macomb, Lapeer and Sanilac Counties and is just a short distance (via the Blue Water Bridge) to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. There are several recreational attractions in this area, major events (Port Huron to Mackinac Race, Port Huron Float Down, Jobbie Nooner) and many that choose to live in St. Clair County because of its charm and proximity to the St. Clair River and Lake Huron. If you are charged with a crime, get in trouble at the border (Blue Water Bridge or ferry crossing) or are caught driving under the influence (DUI, OWI)  in St. Clair County, your case will be heard at 72nd District Court with locations in Port Huron and Marine City.  The 72nd District Court bench are protective of their communities.

Google Maps Link for Directions to 72nd District Courts

The 72nd District Court has 2 locations in St. Clair County with jurisdiction to handle criminal and drunk driving matters which occur in this region.

72nd District Court (Port Huron)
201 McMorran Blvd.
Room 2900
Port Huron MI 48060

72nd District Court (Marine City)
2088 South Parker (M-29)
Marine City, MI 48039

St. Clair County Serviced by State, Local and Federal Law Enforcement Agencies

There are several active law enforcement agencies in St. Clair County (St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, Michigan State Police, Department of Natural Resources, Homeland Security, US Coastguard, US Customs) which have the responsibility of keeping order in an area with an international border with Canada, miles of waterfront property and that hosts recreational activities which often involve boating, crowds and alcohol.

72nd District Courts: Resolution of Criminal & Drunk Driving Cases in Court with Jurisdiction for the Entire County of St. Clair

Dealing with any court proceeding can be an intimidating experience without the guidance of an attorney. By saying the wrong thing without proper representation, you could end up having your case scheduled for jury trial and miss an opportunity to get out of the system.  If you find yourself in this position, getting experienced attorney is crucial to navigate you through the maize of options in the judicial system.

Our firm has represented clients charged with just about every imaginable misdemeanor and  felony crime in the 72nd  District Courts. The following is list of the most prevalent cases that we regularly see on courts’ dockets:

Getting out on bond, bond conditions: If you are arrested or arraigned for a criminal matter in the 72nd District Court, you will appear before either a magistrate or judge.  Insofar as possible, it is always advisable to have an attorney present for an arraignment hearing to advocate for a personal bond (where no money needs to be posted) or a for a low cash/10% bond arrangement. In addition to the cash component of bond, the Court can also impose bond conditions and restrictions which can include: travel restrictions, no-contact order, drug and alcohol testing. A no-contact order is assured in domestic violence, stalking, assault and sex crime cases.

Misdemeanor or Felony Classification: In Michigan, the district courts have full jurisdiction to dispose of misdemeanors through sentencing. A misdemeanor is classified as an offense that carries not more than 1 year in jail.  Felony cases are another matter. A felony is classified as a crime that can carry more than 1 year in jail. A felony case is initiated in the district court for the arraignment, probable cause conference and preliminary examination. A felony that is not resolved in the district court will be moved to the St. Clair County Circuit Court in Port Huron for further proceedings. In certain cases, a felony can be reduced to a misdemeanor and then remain in the district court. Accomplishing reduction of a felony to a misdemeanor, thus avoiding a felony conviction, is considered a huge victory.

The outcome of a criminal case in the 72nd District Courts is dependent upon many components.  The most significant factors that can have a bearing on the disposition of a case are:

  • Prior criminal history of the accused party.
  • Cooperation with the police.
  • Whether another party was injured, or property was damaged.
  • The ability of the accused party to provide restitution for damages.
  • Whether the offense is a ‘policy case’ (crimes against senior citizens, children)

All these special provisions of law are possible in the 72nd District Courts which can result in the ultimate dismissal of a criminal matter:

Non-Resident or Canadian: If you reside outside of Michigan, consider getting an attorney that is experienced with the 72nd District Court system and will provide you with efficient representation.

High Number of Drunk Driving Cases in the 72nd District Courts

Based upon 2016 statistics, the St. Clair County Sheriff administered 118 breath tests and 86 blood tests for operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The Port Huron police were in second place with 107 breath tests and 43 blood tests. Blood tests are administered to determine the presence of drugs, as a primary test for alcohol in lieu of a breath test or court ordered when a party refuses to give a breath sample. From a total of 354 tests reported by these police agencies (not including other agencies from Clay, Marysville etc.), 131 tests registered a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or greater (OWI) and 108 test results scored a BAC .17 or greater. Operating with a BAC of .17 or higher constitutes a more serious offense commonly referred to as Super Drunk Driving.

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ESTIMATION OF BLOOD ALCOHOL CONTENT (BAC)

1st offense drinking and driving:  For most first time drinking and driving offenders, jail is not likely absent some other aggravating circumstances in the 72nd District Courts. A person without any prior drinking and driving offenses can expect to get an OWI reduced to ‘operating while impaired’. It is extremely difficult and rare, but not impossible, to get a drinking and driving offense reduced to a non-criminal offense. In addition to probation, a person convicted for a first drinking and driving offense (operating while impaired) is looking at:

  • Probation for 1 year or less (non-reporting is possible)
  • Fines and costs approximately $1,200.00
  • Restricted license for 90 days (mandatory by Secretary of State)
  • Possible alcohol or substance abuse program
  • Possible drug testing, alcohol testing, AA meetings
  • 4 points on driving record (mandatory by Secretary of State)

Super Drunk Driving: If a person is charged with Super DUI (BAC .17 or greater) a deviation may need to be filed to get a plea bargain to a lower offense. Super DUI convictions will result in mandatory license suspension for 45 days followed by a restricted license for a period of 320 days with the requirement of a vehicle breathalyzer ignition interlock device (BAIID). The Court can also order installation of a BAIID on any vehicle driven by a person convicted of any drinking and driving offense, not just a Super DUI.

Repeat DUI Offender: A repeat drinking and driving offender may be looking at a longer period of probation, up to 2 years, with the possibility of possible  jail time.  There are many steps that we can recommend to those charged with a repeat offense to reduce the likelihood of incarceration in the 72nd District Courts

Third Lifetime DUI = Felony: DUI 3rd is a felony/with a maximum penalty of 1-5 years in prison.  Felony matters begin in the district court and can remain in the district court for purpose of sentencing and probation only when reduced to a misdemeanor. Felonies that are not resolved in the district court are moved up to the St. Clair County Circuit Court after the probable cause conference or preliminary examination.

Felony cases are evaluated on a case by case basis in the early stages to determine whether a legal course of action can improve the prospects negotiating a reduction to a misdemeanor.

Court Personnel are Forbidden to Give Legal Advice: Court employees will not tell you if you are eligible to get a criminal charge or drunk driving reduced to a lower offense.  If you plead guilty without a lawyer, you will not be told that the matter could have been handled with a special provision of law to get it dismissed. The path of least resistance, pleading guilty without a lawyer, can be much costlier in the long run.

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‘Fleeing & Eluding’ and ‘Resisting or Obstructing’ the police are crimes that are classified as felony offenses in Michigan. These laws are meant to discourage conduct that endangers the public and the police who are engaged in the lawful performance of their duties. Our firm has seen an increase in fleeing and eluding cases, as well as resisting and obstructing cases, in Macomb and Oakland Counties. There are many reasons that are given by clients charged with these offenses. Some of the most prevalent reasons are as follows:

  • The offender is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or a combination of both, and engages in risky behavior or irrational conduct.
  • The offender suffers from psychological disorders (PTSD, bi-polar disorder, ADHD), needs treatment or had an adverse reaction to medications.

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A Qualified DUI Lawyer Should Know the Law and the Science

Qualified DUI lawyers know the laws and the science that can make the difference in the defense of a DUI case. On the legal side, there are hundreds of complex laws, administrative rules, rules of evidence and trial procedure that are involved in the defense of a DUI case. An understanding of the science requires a working knowledge of alcohol and drug interaction with the body.

In this publication, we key in on aspects of the law and the science that comes into play with respect to DUI testing.

Michigan’s Implied Consent Law: Testing for drugs or alcohol if suspected of operating under the influence

Under Michigan’s Implied Consent Law, all persons with a Michigan driver’s license are considered to have given their consent to submit to testing upon the request of a law enforcement officer. Blood, breath or urine chemical tests are utilized to determine blood alcohol content (BAC) or the presence of drugs. Positive test results for illegal drugs, marijuana and prescribed medications are all fair game to support a charge of “operating under the influence of drugs” or “operating while impaired”.  Commonly, the police utilize the breathalyzer to determine a person’s BAC. If a person is extremely inebriated or incapacitated, a blood draw at a medical facility is often utilized and also to allow for medical treatment and detoxification if deemed necessary.

Michigan’s Implied Consent Law pertains to the chemical test offered by the police when you are arrested for a drinking or drugged while driving offense, such as:

  • Zero Tolerance for those Under Age 21 Operating with a BAC of .02 – .07
  • Operating while Intoxicated (OWI), BAC .08 or more
  • Operating with a High Blood Alcohol Content – BAC .17 or more (Super DUI)
  • Operating with any Presence of Drugs (OWPD) (cocaine, heroin, marijuana)
  • Operating Under the Influence of Other Drugs, including prescribed medications
  • Operating while Impaired

Michigan Drunk Driving Laws make the offenses of Zero tolerance (.02-.07), OWI (.08 or more) and Operating with a High BAC (.17 or more) presumptive crimes whereby intoxication is presumed based solely upon blood alcohol content, regardless of actual intoxication.

Search Warrant for Blood Test: If you refuse the chemical test offered by the police, the police may obtain a search warrant for a blood test. If a search warrant for blood is approved, you will be transported to a facility, such as a hospital, for a blood draw by a qualified person.

Your Right to a Second Test: If you take the test offered by the police, you are entitled to request a second test of your own choosing and expense. This right to a second test of your choice is forfeited if you have refused the test offered by the police. In some cases, a second test may be used as evidence to refute the first test obtained by law enforcement officers.

Sanctions for Refusal: If you refuse a test, six (6) points will be added to your driver record license will be suspended for one year. A suspension of a license, or non-resident operating privilege, is automatic for any refusal to submit to the test. This is a separate consequence from any subsequent convictions resulting from the traffic stop or drinking and driving charge. If you are arrested a second time in seven (7) years and again unreasonably refuse the test, six (6) points will be added to your driver record and your license will be suspended for two years. If you refuse to take the test under the Michigan Implied Consent Law, or if the test shows your BAC is 0.08 or more (Operating While Intoxicated) your Michigan driver’s license will be destroyed by the officer and a 625g paper permit to drive will be issued until further action by the State of Michigan as to your license.

Appeal Rights: The Implied Consent suspension may be appealed to the Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD). The request for hearing must be mailed within 14 days of the date of arrest or your operator’s or chauffeur’s license and vehicle group designation or operating privilege will be automatically suspended without a hearing. You are entitled to have an attorney present for this hearing. However, if you lose at this hearing, you have a right to appeal a first time implied consent suspension to the circuit court where the offense occurred and request a restricted license based upon hardship and need. You may also appeal based upon the merits of the decision of the DAAD hearing officer.

The Science of Blood Alcohol Content: Consumption, Absorption and Elimination

Both math and chemistry are at play in the determination of blood alcohol content (BAC).  Alcohol consumption is the first step in the process of alcohol entering the human body.  After taking a drink, alcohol first enters the digestive system. From the digestive system, it is absorbed into the blood. The process of elimination occurs over time whereby alcohol is dissipated from the blood. Alcohol absorption and elimination are influenced by several factors including weight, sex, metabolism, medications and consumption of food. For purposes of calculating blood alcohol content (BAC), most graphs consider a standard drink to be equal to:

  • Wine: 5 ounces with 12% alcohol content
  • Beer: 12 ounces with 5% alcohol content
  • Liquor: 1.5 ounces with 40% alcohol content (80 proof)

Alcohol testing (in connection with DUI cases) is accomplished by testing the blood, breath or urine of an individual. Analysis of blood is a direct method of testing for alcohol, while breath and urine tests are indirect methods. Alcohol graphs take three (3) major factors into consideration for purposes of estimating blood alcohol content (BAC). Those factors are number of drinks (based upon the above measurements) the body weight and the gender of the individual.

Gender: In general, women have less body water than men of similar body weight, so the result is higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood after drinking. In addition, women have a higher concentration of body fat than men. Body fat does not absorb alcohol, which results in a higher concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream as well.

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Absorption: The process of alcohol being absorbed into the blood from the digestive system can occur over a period of 30 to 60 minutes but can take up to 2 hours. The recent consumption of food prior to drinking alcoholic beverages can slow down the rate of absorption. In addition, the absorption rate is faster when higher alcohol content beverages are consumed.

Elimination: Like absorption, time is the major factor which has an influence on the elimination of alcohol from the blood. The average elimination rate for most drinkers is .010 to .015 per hour. Consumption of water does not have an impact on the elimination rate of alcohol. Ninety (90%) of alcohol is broken down or eliminated by the liver. The remainder is eliminated by breath, sweat and urine.

CLICK HERE: For additional information on the topic of alcohol absorption and elimination.

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41-A District Courts: 2 Courts Cover 108 Square Miles of Macomb County

Jurisdiction of the 41-A Districts: Sterling Heights, Shelby Township, Macomb Township, Utica

The 41-A District Court corridor encompasses the cities of Sterling Heights, Utica, Shelby Township and Macomb Township. These areas are in a period of strong economic growth and expansion. In these areas you will find industry, major retail shopping centers, Jimmy John’s Field, 7 Class A high schools, numerous bars and restaurants.  In this area you will also find the M-53 Expressway, Hall Road and other major roads which handle a massive amount of local, commuter and connector traffic. These areas have a reputation for being safe places to live and visit. However, the 41-A District Courts cover a huge area, growing population and a high volume of criminal, drunk driving and traffic matters on their dockets as I will discuss in this publication.

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MACOMB COUNTY DISTRICT COURT MAP

STERLING HEIGHTS DIVISION: 41-A District: 40111 Dodge Park, Sterling Heights, Michigan 48313:  The Sterling Heights Division of the 41-A District Court covers an area of 36 square miles with its borders from 14 Mile Road to Hall Road, and its east to west borders from Hayes to Dequindre Road. According to 2010 census records, the City of Sterling Heights has a population of approximately 130,00. The Sterling Heights court docket is managed by 3 elected judges. The Honorable Michael S. Maceroni, Stephen P. Sierawski and Kimberly A. Wiegand have long held these positions.

SHELBY TOWNSHIP DIVISION: 41-A District Court: 51660 Van Dyke, Shelby Township, Michigan 48316: The Shelby Township Division of the 41-A District Court also covers a 72 square mile area with jurisdiction over criminal, drunk driving and traffic cases that occur within Shelby Township, Macomb Township and the City of Utica.  Shelby Township and Utica have their own police departments. Macomb Township utilizes the Macomb County Sheriff Department to patrol its roads and provide law enforcement services. There is only 1 elected judge appropriated to the Shelby Township Division of the 41-A District which encompasses jurisdiction over a population of approximately 160,000. This is somewhat of an anomaly given the fact that 3 judges are assigned to the Sterling Heights Division which has a significantly lesser population and is half the size geographically. The Honorable Douglas P. Shepherd presides over the Shelby Township Division of the 41-A District Court. A new court building, which is long overdue, has been recently approved for the Shelby Township Division of the 41-A District Court.

Criminal Cases in the 41-A District Courts: Provisions of Law to Get Dismissals Available!

Our firm has represented clients charged with just about every imaginable misdemeanor and  felony crime in the 41-A District Courts. The following is list of some of the most prevalent cases that we regularly see on the 41-A District Courts dockets in both Sterling Heights and Shelby Divisions:

Getting out on bond, bond conditions: If you are arrested or arraigned on a criminal matter in the 41- A District Courts, you will appear either before a magistrate or judge.  Insofar as possible, it is always advisable to have an attorney present for arraignment purposes. An attorney can make a considerable difference at arraignment by advocating for a personal bond (where no money needs to be posted) or a for a low cash/10% bond arrangement. Most judges will listen to an attorney’s remarks regarding bond which can save potentially thousands of dollars that a bondsman would otherwise take.  In addition to the cash component of bond, the Court can also impose bond conditions upon a person’s release from jail. Drug and alcohol testing are common bond conditions for those charged with any crime involving drugs or alcohol. A ‘no-contact order‘ is assured in assault cases, domestic violence, sex crimes and all other crimes involving a victim. In retail fraud cases, the accused party may be instructed to refrain from entering the establishment where the alleged shoplifting occurred. A motion for a hearing can always be filed to modify bond conditions, remove a no-contact order or eliminate travel restrictions.

Misdemeanor or Felony Classification: In Michigan, the district courts have full jurisdiction to dispose of misdemeanors through sentencing. A misdemeanor is classified as an offense that carries up to 1 year in jail.  Felony cases are another matter. A felony is classified as a crime that can carry more than 1 year in jail. A felony case is initiated in the district court for the arraignment, probable cause conference and preliminary examination. A felony that is not resolved in the district court will be moved to the circuit court for further proceedings. In certain cases, a felony can be reduced to a misdemeanor and can remain in the district court. Accomplishing reduction of a felony to a misdemeanor, thus avoiding a felony conviction, is considered a huge victory.

The outcome of a criminal case in the 41-A District Courts, as well as other Macomb County District Courts, is dependent upon many components.  The most significant factors that can have a bearing on a case are:

  • The prior criminal history of the accused party.
  • Whether another party was injured or property was damaged.
  • Whether the accused party can provide restitution for damages to the injured party.
  • Whether the offense is a ‘policy case’ (crimes against senior citizens, children).

In our experience, criminal cases can be resolved favorably at the 41-A District Courts. Whenever possible, the judges in both divisions will accept dispositions to allow an offender the opportunity to get a dismissal under these special provisions of law: HYTA for youthful offenders (age 17 to 23), MCL 333.7411 for first time drug offenders and MCL 769.a for domestic violence. The court will also utilize a provision of law known as a deferral or delayed sentence which allows an offender leniency or a dismissal after a period of probation. Even individuals that have a prior criminal record will be given respect and consideration for plea deals to get a dismissal under certain circumstances.

Drunk Driving Cases in the 41-A District Courts: 215 DUI cases in 2016

Hall Road (M-59), M-53, Van Dyke, Dequindre, Schoenherr and Hayes are just a few of the major roads that are within the 108 square miles of the 41-A District Court’s territory. Statistics for 2016 reveal a high number of drunk driving arrests in this region with approximately 170 arrests in Shelby Township, 60 arrests in Utica and 193 arrests in Sterling Heights. Over 120 of the test results in Shelby Township and Sterling Heights alone registered a blood alcohol content of .17 or greater to support a charge of ‘Super DUI‘ or ‘OWI with a high BAC’.

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APPROXIMATE BLOOD ALCOHOL CONTENT (BAC) CHART

1st offense drinking and driving:  For most first time drinking and driving offenders, jail is not likely absent some other aggravating circumstances in the 38th and 39th District Courts. A person without any prior drinking and driving offenses can expect to get an OWI reduced to ‘operating while impaired’. It is extremely difficult and rare, but not impossible, to get a drinking and driving offense reduced to a non-criminal offense. In addition to probation, a person convicted for a first drinking and driving offense (operating while impaired) is looking at:

  • Probation for 1 year or less
  • Fines and costs approximately $1,200.00
  • Restricted license for 90 days
  • Attend an alcohol or substance abuse program (discretionary)
  • Possible drug testing, alcohol testing, AA meetings (discretionary)
  • 4 points on driving record

Super Drunk Driving: If a person is charged with Super DUI (BAC .17 or greater) a deviation may need to be filed to get a plea bargain to a lower offense. Super DUI convictions will result in mandatory license suspension for 45 days followed by a restricted license for a period of 320 days with the requirement of a vehicle breathalyzer ignition interlock device (BAIID). The Court can also order installation of an ignition interlock system on any vehicle driven by a person convicted of any drinking and driving offense.

Repeat DUI Offender: A repeat drinking and driving offender may be looking at a longer period of probation, up to 2 years, with the possibility of some jail time.  There are many steps that we can recommend to those charged with a repeat offense to reduce the likelihood of incarceration in almost every Macomb County court.

Third Lifetime DUI = Felony: DUI 3rd is a felony/with a maximum penalty of 1-5 years in prison.  Felony matters begin in the district court and can remain in the district court for purpose of sentencing and probation if reduced to a misdemeanor. Felonies that are not resolved in the district court are handled in the Circuit Court after the probable cause conference or preliminary examination. We evaluate every DUI 3rd for opportunities to get it reduced to a misdemeanor by filing strategic legal motions, negotiations and filing a deviation request.

The 41-A District Court Probation Department: 40111 Dodge Park, Sterling Heights, Michigan 48313

The 41-A District Courts share the probation department located at the Sterling Heights Division. I expect the Shelby Township Division to have its own probation department once the new court building is up and running.

It is within the judge’s discretion whether or not to place an individual on probation after being convicted of a criminal or drunk driving offense. In many cases that qualify as isolated incidents, we may be able to convince the judge that probation, also known as community supervision, is not necessary. When probation is imposed, the judge may require reporting or non-reporting probation.  The maximum period of probation that can be imposed in the district courts is 2 years. However, our experience is that probation is rarely imposed for more than 1 year for most first time offenders.

Traffic Violations in the 41-A District Court: Reduced to Avoid Points and Record of any Conviction!

The Sterling Heights Police, Shelby Township Police, Utica Police, Macomb County Sheriff Department and Michigan State Police all have an active presence monitoring the activity of vehicular traffic within the 108 square miles of the 41-A District Courts.  Similar to other districts, I would say that traffic tickets are on the top of the list of cases that are litigated at the 41-A District Court.


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Shelby Township, Utica, Macomb Township and Sterling Heights share roads with the heavy traffic volume in Macomb County

When resolving a traffic matter in the 41-A District Courts, we are often able to negotiate a reduction or avoid points. A substantial reduction in a traffic ticket occurs when it is reduced to an offense such as impeding traffic or double parking. A traffic ticket that is reduced to impeding traffic or double parking does not carry any points and will never appear on a person’s driving record! We are also able to get favorable results for individuals charged with misdemeanor traffic offenses such as driving while suspended, reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

Court Personnel are Forbidden to Give Legal Advice: Yet most courts are making it easier than ever to just pay your traffic ticket by visiting the court’s website and giving offenders the convenient option to pay by credit card.  What they won’t tell you on their website is that you will get points on your driving record and that you may will wind up with higher insurance premiums for several years. Unfortunately, most individuals that receive a traffic ticket do not hire a lawyer. The path of least resistance, paying the ticket, can be much costlier in the long run.

Link to Sterling Heights Points and Fine Schedule

Link to Shelby Township Points and Fine Schedule

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Map of Lake St. Clair, St. Clair River, Detroit River and Bordering Communities

Lake St. Clair, Detroit River, St. Clair River 

In Michigan, operating a watercraft, including a jet ski, while intoxicated or impaired is a crime. Michigan laws pertaining to Boating under the Influence (BUI) or Boating While Impaired (BWVI) are similar to drunk driving laws which pertain to operation of motor vehicles of public roads. In particular, the State of Michigan has adopted the same blood alcohol content threshold for BUI that has existed for OWI in a motor vehicle (BAC .08%). This publication will focus on Boating Under the Influence (BUI) cases that arise on Lake St. Clair and its tributaries; the St. Clair River and the Detroit River. This publication is based upon the experience of our Macomb County criminal defense attorneys handling BUI cases in all of the jurisdictions that are evident in the above map (Macomb County, St. Clair County and the Grosse Pointe Municipal Courts.

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Super Drunk Driving = Operating with a High BAC .17 or Greater 

Effective October, 31, 2010, Michigan’s “SUPER DRUNK” law went into effect.  The Super Drunk Law, now on the books for several years, is commonly referred to as ‘operating with a high BAC’ on police and court documents.  This law adds harsher penalties to drunk drivers with high blood alcohol levels of .17% or greater as follows:

  • Up to 180 days in jail.

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Introduction

The nature of this publication will be dedicated to the frequent talking points which arise with our clients faced with a Michigan drunk driving case. When I refer to drunk driving, I am referring to the plethora of Michigan laws that cover operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) or impaired (OWVI) by the consumption of alcohol, illegal drugs or prescribed medications. Numerous laws may be involved or tied to a single OWI offense, including:

  • Criminal laws which empower the court to impose incarceration and other penalties.

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Blood alcohol content (BAC), Michigan State Police Statistics

Blood alcohol content (BAC) refers to the amount of alcohol which is estimated within a person’s blood as determined by a blood alcohol test.  Blood tests and breathalyzer tests are the most common methods for testing BAC. The Michigan State Police maintains statistics with respect to BAC testing, DUI convictions, average BAC levels and the number of convictions for those charged with a DUI offenses.  The statistics are further broken down for each county and each district and circuit court. In 2016, the Michigan State Police Drunk Driving Audit revealed the following statistics for those who submitted to a breath or blood test in Macomb County:

  • 2,182 tests were administered for breath or blood samples (breath tests accounted for 1,404)

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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-alcohol with a BAC of .08 or greater,
  • OUID/operating under the influence of drugs/prescription medications,
  • OWPD/operating with the presence of Schedule 1 controlled substance,
  • Super drunk driving/operating with a high BAC of .17 or greater,
  • OWVI/operating while impaired driving,
  • Zero Tolerance/under 21 with any BAC (0nly 1 such conviction may be counted towards a felony).

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 any felony driving offense. 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 .
  • Points: 6

*There is NO ATTORNEY IN THE ENTIRE STATE OF MICHIGAN that can guarantee that you won’t get jail upon conviction for a felony drunk driving (OWI 3rd) because Michigan’s drunk driving statute requires a mandatory term of incarceration upon conviction. However, there is a safety net which our attorneys have advocated when jail (30 days minimum) is combined with probation and community service. A request can be made for work release or for jail to be served on weekends.  In addition, jail is not mandatory if the felony is reduced to a misdemeanor!

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 (see blog regarding alcohol/drug testing). 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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What does it mean to provide cooperation, snitch or be an informant for the police?

Cooperation, using the little fish to get the big fish, is a major law enforcement tactic utilized everywhere and every day in the United States to gain information that would otherwise be next to impossible to obtain. This practice is also used extensively in the County of Macomb as a means to frustrate illegal drug activity.

The concept of “cooperation” with the police (also called “snitching” or “acting as an informant”) occurs when the police utilize an informant to obtain the information that would otherwise be difficult to discover.  Those asked to provide cooperation are usually in trouble with the law (busted for a drug crime) and are promised consideration in the legal system in return for providing assistance. Assistance is expected to be substantial and typically involves undercover work with narcotics agents or special units.  The informant may later be required to testify as a witness in subsequent court proceedings unless given protection as a confidential informant (CI).

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