Taking Apart a Michigan Drunk Driving Investigation

Whenever Michigan police make a warrantless, like they do in most drunk driving cases, they must be able to demonstrate to the court that their decision to arrest was supported by probable cause. When challenged, the prosecution will try and introduce as much evidence as possible to justify law enforcement actions, including:

A. Questioning the Initial Observations by the Police

In our experience, Michigan’s law enforcements’ initial observations often determine whether you are simply cited for a civil infraction sent on your way or detained for further investigations. Michigan Police rely on these common observations to make that determination:

  • Direct questioning, e.g., “Have you been drinking?” “Where are you coming from?”  “How much have you had to drink?”
  • Smelling the “odor of intoxicants”
  • Red, bloodshot eyes
  • Poor dexterity, i.e., fumbling for the wallet
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty answering questions
  • Poor balance

The inferences drawn from observations can be readily challenged in court with logic and science. For example, none of these so-called “indicators of intoxication” have been proven capable, in any scientific study of which we are aware, of reliably differentiating between somebody who is intoxicated and who is not, so what is the point? Moreover, some of these observations may be belied by a more objective review provided by a video or audio recording. While the police often point to these “facts” as indicators of intoxication, they often fail to mention or observe other facts that might be an indication of sobriety, such as the good driving (or lack of “bad” driving) as the driver safely pulls off to the side of the road in a timely fashion when the officer turned on his lights and sirens. Springstead Bartish & Borgula Law’s experienced DUI defense attorneys know how to effectively counter what might, at first, seem like damning observations with good legal advocacy, science and logic.

B. Scrutinizing the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

Because law enforcements initial observations discussed above often do not provide adequate basis upon which to make a warrantless arrest, the police rely heavily on the so-called “standardized field sobriety tests.” These “sobriety” tests include:

  • The alphabet test
  • The number count (35 to 20 backwards, e.g.)
  • The walk and turn (W.A.T.)
  • The one-legged stand (O.L.S.)
  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus (H.G.N.)

Michigan police ostensibly use these field sobriety “tests” to determine whether a drunk driving suspect is intoxicated or not. Whether these tests can actually and reliably differentiate between somebody who has been drinking but is not legally intoxicated and somebody who is legally intoxicated is a much more complex question. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (N.H.T.S.A.) has commissioned studies to prove that these “tests” are scientifically valid to bolster drunk-driving prosecutions, the results of these studies are underwhelming. It appears few, if any, of these “tests” can reliably determine who is legally intoxicated and who is not. As such, this type of evidence has a limited value, though the police and courts routinely rely on it.

Regardless of what we think of these tests, to be admissible in court, the prosecution must establish, at a minimum, that the officer administering these tests was properly trained to administer the tests and followed that protocol in your case. This is often not the case, in our experience. Too often the officers do not follow the proper protocol or even understand that they are supposed to be objectively assessing whether the designated “clues” are present. The knowledgeable DUI Defense Attorneys at Springstead & Bartish know the protocol inside/out, perhaps better than the arresting officer. Using this in-depth knowledge, we may be able to exclude these tests in court so they cannot be used to legally justify your warrantless arrest.

C. Challenging the Preliminary Breath Test (P.B.T.)

Probably because the field sobriety “tests” discussed above cannot reliably determine whether a suspect is legally intoxicated, the police usually rely heavily on the results of P.B.T. in deciding whether to arrest a suspect. The P.B.T. is a less reliable, stripped-down, portable version of the breath test given at the jail. Currently, the Alco-Sensor III is the primary device used for P.B.T.’s in Michigan.

 Currently, the Alco-Sensor III is the primary device used for P.B.T.’s in Michigan

However, because the results are not as reliable as the breath test at the jail, the P.B.T. results are not admissible at trial, except in limited circumstances. The P.B.T. can be used to support probable cause to arrest someone suspected of drunk driving. In order to win a case based on a lack of probable cause to arrest, it is imperative, therefore, to prevent the results of the P.B.T. from being introduced in court.

The drunk-driving lawyers at Springstead Bartish & Borgula Law know how to accomplish this—most often, by demonstrating that the police have failed to follow their own protocols for ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the results, e.g., failing to comply with the 15-minute observation rule or failing to properly calibrate the P.B.T. For example, breath testing is based on a number of critical assumptions, such as the temperature of the mouth (hot or cold drinks or cigarettes can

affect the results) and that the P.B.T. is testing the presence of alcohol in the air from the lungs, not leftover alcohol found in the mouth. For these reasons, it is critical that the police strictly adhere to the Administrative Rules that dictate that they ensure that nothing has been in the test subject’s mouth for 15 minutes prior to the test. If the results are not reliable, then a strong argument can be made that they should not be admitted into evidence, because they would not be relevant to determining whether or not somebody is over the legal limit or not.

Because warrantless DUI arrests often hinge on the results of a P.B.T., our DUI defense lawyers do everything we can to prevent the prosecution from introducing the results in your case.

With offices in Grand Rapids as well as Fremont, the West Michigan Drunk Driving Defense Attorneys at Springstead Bartish & Borgula Law regularly defend DUI Charges in the Greater Grand Rapids Area, Hudsonville, Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Hart, Ludington, White Cloud, and Big Rapids. Contact us online or call now Grand Rapids 616.458.5500 | Fremont 231.924.8700