You washed down some Crack Fries with one too many All Day IPAs at Founder's Brewery, but you feel fairly alert driving home along 131. You see a sobriety checkpoint ahead and think, "I've got this." The officer looks suspicious when you admit drinking "just a couple beers," and before you know it you are handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser. DUIs are remarkably easy to earn, but the legal proceedings that follow are confusing, to say the least. To give you a better idea of what's coming your way, FindLaw has created this guide to your Grand Rapids DUI case.
Had anything to drink tonight, sir?
Your DUI case begins when you are stopped by a Grand Rapids police officer. This event is critical as the state's evidence comes from the subsequent investigation. Police are also required by law to follow a number of procedures and meet a variety of constitutional requirements.
In general, a police officer will begin by asking you whether you've had any alcoholic beverages to drink. Criminal defense lawyers generally advise clients against admitting to any alcohol consumption. A prosecutor may be able to use any statements, however innocently made, as a "confession" to later convince a jury of your guilt. Your best bet is to politely cooperate with the officer without divulging extra details.
The officer will likely ask you to step out of your vehicle to perform a field sobriety test. This is often composed of simple exercises designed to test your coordination. The officer may have you blow into a breathalyzer to determine the alcohol content in your bloodstream, normally called "BAC." If your BAC is above the legal limit, the officer can arrest you on the spot.
Heck no, we won't blow!
Unfortunately, if you have a Michigan driver's license you've already given the State "implied consent" for a chemical test. If you refuse to submit, your driver's license will automatically be suspended for one year. Furthermore, refusal does not prevent a DUI conviction on top of the suspension; the prosecutor won't have BAC evidence, but may argue that you knew you were too intoxicated to pass.
Michigan DUIs are broken into different categories. An "OWI," operating while intoxicated, will be charged when your BAC is above the legal limit. The legal limit for most adults in 0.08%, but it is 0.04% for commercial drivers. Minors can be charged with an OWI for driving with any measurable amount of alcohol in their bloodstream. An OWI is also appropriate when the chemical test reveals the presence of Schedule 1 drugs or cocaine in your system.
An "OWVI," operating while visibly impaired, does not require BAC evidence. OWVI is charged when the police officer visually observes that you lack the coordination to drive. This usually follows a person's refusal to submit to a chemical test.
There is an old saying among lawyers: "he who represents himself has a fool for a client." It is not easy to evaluate the state's evidence, nor is it a breeze to file motions or conduct a trial. This is why it may be advisable to talk to an experienced Grand Rapids DUI defense attorney. If you do, you should know that defense attorneys typically work on a flat fee basis, which means you'll know up front what you'll be paying for particular services and the attorney won't rack up "billable hours."
Depending on your income, you may qualify for the services of Kent County Public Defender. At your first court appearance, you can ask the judge to refer you to their office.
Law in Motion
The most common defense strategy in DUI cases is filing a motion to suppress evidence. Under the "exclusionary rule," any evidence gathered by the state in violation of your constitutional guarantees might be inadmissible in court. In such circumstances, neither the judge nor the jury would consider the unlawfully gathered evidence for any purpose.
To lawfully "seize" you in accordance with the Fourth Amendment, the officer must reasonably suspect that you are committing a crime, such as a traffic offense. To arrest you, the officer must have probable cause that you were intoxicated. If the judge determines that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to pull you over, or probable cause to arrest you, all evidence gathered after that point could be deemed inadmissible. In a best case scenario for you, if the initial stop was unlawful, all of the evidence would be excluded and the case thrown out of court.
Let's Make a Deal
In some circumstances, the prosecutor may allow you to plead to the lesser charge of "reckless driving involving alcohol," commonly referred to as a "wet reckless." This favorable plea is more likely when BAC is barely illegal, there was no accident, and you have no prior DUIs. But beware -- a wet reckless will be considered a prior DUI for sentencing purposes in subsequent cases.
The penalties for DUI in Michigan start off mild but quickly become borderline draconian. Your first conviction carries no mandatory jail sentence, but up to a $500 fine, some community service, license suspension, and possibly a mandatory ignition interlock device.
Michigan has a seven year "lookback" period for determining prior DUIs, which means an eight-year old DUI conviction is ignored. If you suffer a second conviction within seven years of the first, you will be sentenced to five days in jail. You will also pay a bigger fine and your driver's license will be revoked for at least one year. The state may even take your vehicle in extreme circumstances.
If you get a third DUI, you'll face a felony conviction and be shipped off to prison for between one and five years. Your driver's license will be revoked for at least five years, and possibly forever.
But I have to drive to work!
If your license has been suspended you can still apply for a restricted driver's license. This type of license allows you to drive under specific circumstances, such as to and from work, school, or court ordered treatment. For more information, visit FindLaw's DUI law section or find out more about your constitutional rights.
Contact a qualified attorney.