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Michigan’s New Drunk Driving Law Might Lead to More Acquittals

There has been quite a buzz around Michigan lately as the press is waking up to the fact that Michigan’s Legislators blew it last year when they amended the State’s drunk driving laws.

Last October Michigan Public Act 315 was signed into law.  This new law, which became effective on January 12, 2015, makes all field sobriety tests inadmissible during the trial of an allegedly intoxicated driver.

The law was drafted as part of compromise between those who wanted roadside saliva testing for intoxicated driving cases, and those who did not.  The problem is that, unlike intoxication by alcohol, there is no sure way to test roadside for intoxication by drugs. This meant that if a Michigan driver was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, they could challenge the arrest. The “solution” was to create a new phrase, that being preliminary roadside analyses, and then to make an arrest lawful on that basis alone.  The problem is that by doing so, Michigan’s lawmakers made all field sobriety testing inadmissible at trial.

Earlier this week (March 2, 2015) the Detroit News published an article explaining this snafu entitled “Roadside Sobriety Tests Lose Legal Teeth.”  This was followed by Chanel 7 news Detroit picking up the story with an interview of a drunk driving expert Patrick Barone, as well as the Patch in Oakland Township Michigan.  Later that week, an Op Ed was published, also in the Detroit News entitled “Barone: Bad Law Could Make Roads More Dangerous.”

While this may have been unintended, the law in Michigan is clear.  Until the law is changed, all field sobriety tests are now inadmissible at trial.  This does not mean that all intoxicated driving cases will be dismissed, or that prosecutors can’t get convictions.  What it does mean however, is that obtaining convictions will be somewhat more difficult because a police officer will be unable to tell the jury how madly a driver did while trying to state the alphabet, touch their finger to their nose, or walk a straight line.

It is a near certainly that Michigan will change the law to allow field sobriety tests back into evidence.  However, according to Ryan Ramsayer, Senior associate at the Barone Defense Firm:

The current change that we are under right now was actually passed in October. However, as you can see it did not become effective until much later. In fact, that was part of the argument that lead so many judges to agree to Grant the motion. They realize that although the law was passed in October the legislature informed of the mistake in November by our article and definitely knew about it by December when they had an opportunity during the “lame duck session” to fix it. However, since they failed to fix it, then it went from being a mistake to a policy. This time line would be the same for the new amendment. The prosecutor would then argue depending on how the amendment is written that it would be retroactive to cases already in the system. This puts them in the ridiculous position of arguing the contrary position of what they just have been asserting. Obviously, the prosecution will have no qualms about arguing one way and then turning around to argue the other is soon as the law favors them. It should be quite spectacular.

It would appear therefore that because the soonest the new law could take effect would be mid-summer, the first part of 2015 will be the best time in decades to try a drunk driving case in Michigan.

The Barone Defense Firm has offices in Birmingham and Grand Rapids Michigan.  Its six lawyers, exclusively represent citizens accused of intoxicated driving, including those cases involving injury or death.  No other cases are accepted. As Michigan’s largest law firm with this singular focus, the Barone Defense Firm remains on the cutting edge of professional excellence.

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Patrick Barone

Patrick Barone

Patrick T. Barone is the Founding Partner and CEO of The Barone Defense Firm with offices throughout Michigan. Mr. Barone is the author of two books on DUI defense including Michigan DUI Law: A Citizen's Guide and the well respected two volume treatise Defending Drinking Drivers (James Publishing),a chapter in Defending DUI Vehicular Homicide Cases, 2012 ed. (Aspatore Books), an adjunct professor at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and a graduate of the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer’s College. Mr. Barone has an “AV” rating from Martindale-Hubbell and since 2009 has been included in America’s Best Lawyers.

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