Lansing, Michigan Drunk Driving Defense Attorney Interview – Part One

August 27th, 2012

Part one of a two part interview with our very own Attorney John English. Mr. English has been defending clients throughout the Lansing area against wrongful DUI and OUI arrests for years, and can be seen sharing some insights into this highly complex practice area. Mr. English is available to help anyone facing a Lansing DUI or other Drunk Driving related charge.

The Importance of Jury Selection In a drunk driving or operating while intoxicated (OWI) Trial

May 22nd, 2012

The selection of the jurors who will consider the evidence and vote on the defendant’s guilt in a Michigan drunk driving or drugged driving case is a critical component of an effective DUI trial strategy.

An OUIL jury will be told more than once by the judge that they are to base a verdict only on the evidence presented in court during the trial. For example, jurors are typically instructed not to research any issue in the trial on the web, and not to visit the scene of the offense. Yet many Michigan citizens who are summoned for jury duty walk into the courtroom with a clear bias against a defendant who is charged with driving while intoxicated or impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Potential jurors are repeatedly exposed to messages that not only warn of the dangers of driving drunk, but also demonize drinking any amount of alcohol and then getting behind the wheel, such as: “you drink, you drive, you lose”; “stay alive, don’t drink and drive”; “drink and drive in Michigan and our officers will show you some new bars”.

These and other similar slogans have become generally accepted as basic truths, and they typically have broad support among the people who will ultimately decide whether a defendant goes to jail or loses their driving license.

In recognition of this fact, jury selection in a DWI trial may be viewed more realistically as an opportunity to dismiss the people who are obviously biased and to discover which remaining potential jurors would be least open to give the accused a fair trial. Experienced defense attorneys remind the potential jurors that criminal defendants, even in alcohol and drug cases, are entitled to begin their court trial with the presumption of innocence. Both the Michigan and the Federal Constitution require that presumption of innocence (for whatever value that may, or may not, have to potential jurors.)

Before the individual potential jurors are questioned in the jury box by the court and the defense lawyers, they are administered an oath by the court swearing or affirming they will answer the questions posed to them in the selection process truthfully.

Jurors can be challenged for cause, which is generally interpreted as bias (I think all drunk drivers should go to jail) or conflict of interest (one of the lawyers is related, or a close friend, to one of the jurors). If cause is established it is grounds for the juror to be dismissed. There is no limit to the number of jurors who can be dismissed on this basis, because a defendant has a right to a fair trial, and one of the basic parts of a fair trial is an impartial jury.

Both parties are provided a certain number of jurors they are allowed to dismiss for no reason whatsoever, which are called peremptory challenges.

The general rationale regarding juror selection is that the parties in a case are best able to determine what jurors may be subject to a challenge for cause, based on their detailed knowledge of the case. While judges typically ask potential jurors a series of basic questions, not surprisingly the responses will focus on giving judges the “right” answer.

Many judges, however, will allow the attorneys to ask additional questions, which can at times delve into personal, intimate and/or embarrassing issues that people naturally avoid whenever possible. A skillful OUIL defense attorney must have the ability to elicit information in such a manner as to establish a rapport and trust which will increase the likelihood of candid answers from people who have already demonstrated an ability to underemphasize their personal viewpoints.

Attorney-conducted questioning enables an experienced drunk driving attorney to frame questions based on responses to prior questions and allows observation of the jurors’ reactions to these questions. Through these carefully crafted questions, answers, and observations, defense counsel can more accurately determine whether actual bias exists in the minds of the prospective jurors and exercise both challenges for cause and peremptory challenges in a rational and informed fashion, in consultation with the client.

Because determining whether a juror is biased is difficult, the questions asked of prospective jurors must be probing enough to allow the parties’ attorneys to make meaningful decisions regarding challenges for cause and peremptory challenges.

In an OWI case, few people are ambivalent about drunk driving but many people are reluctant to publicly reveal their true positions. Juror self-assessment of bias is inherently untrustworthy, and the questions from the attorneys are often necessary to reveal bias that is not initially apparent.

Questions may be phrased in terms that encompass others besides the jurors themselves- for example, “have you, a family member or a close friend ever….” This can be important because people are often influenced by family or friends who have experienced difficulties they have not.

Inquiry should be made as to whether or not jurors personally know the judge, court personnel, police officers or other witnesses involved, as well as the attorneys trying the case and even other attorneys in the office of the Prosecuting Attorney.

People who are or know police or corrections officers will often be conservative and law-abiding and have disdain for others who break the rules (laws). Also, many in law enforcement have a “them versus us” point of view, which can cause them to view events with rigidity and in black-and-white terms. If the potential issue is the adequacy of an investigation by a police officer, such a juror can be extremely close-minded and unwilling to consider the defense perspective. It is not uncommon for criminal defense attorneys in Michigan to see a “holier than thou” attitude from police officers.

Additionally, many jurors view law enforcement, state troopers, police officers and deputy sheriffs as inherently more believable than a “civilian” witness, and they find the cross-examination of defense counsel, especially if conducted in an aggressive manner, to be offensive. This bias remains even after the jury is instructed by the judge to look at the testimony from police officers exactly as they look at testimony from all other witnesses.

Nearly everyone has an operator’s license and drives a vehicle, while the majority of persons drink alcohol of some type at least occasionally. It is a good idea to know who doesn’t drive, and if so, why not, and it is essential to make a determination as to who does not drink alcohol so that follow-up questions can be asked. Some families have members who are substance abusers that have caused themselves or a relative great pain and hardship, and such people are quite set against any alcohol consumption.

Many people know someone who has been a victim of a crime, even if they have not personally. In these circumstances, the Michigan criminal justice system can be seen as either friend or foe- that is, as being helpful in obtaining redress and seeing justice done, or as letting the guilty go free on a perceived “technicality.”

Many people have been involved in vehicular accidents, some involving intoxicated drivers. It is not unusual for a number of potential jurors to either have family members or a close friend who was seriously injured, or even killed, in an accident involving a drunk driver. It would be completely understandable for such a person to be bitter or angry about such misfortune, and to want to see “justice” done by punishing the defendant, who is alleged to be a drunk driver.

While most jurors would prefer to hear a defendant’s version of events, many of them are, surprisingly, willing to acknowledge the Constitutional right to remain silent. These jurors will accept the fact that this information will not become part of the evidence at trial, in part due to notions of fairness, as between a government with seemingly infinite resources and a defendant with limited resources. Despite all of the talk about a fair trial, experienced criminal defense lawyers know that the playing field is almost never level.

Jurors should be questioned as to their feelings and beliefs about all important issues in the defense that is being presented, such as the conduct of “sobriety” tasks routinely administered on the roadside and the reliability and protocol of breath or blood chemical tests the prosecutor will seek to introduce. Will guilt be established to a juror’s satisfaction if a chemical test result over the legal limit is introduced, without more? Can a particular juror be made to understand the many possible errors that can exist with the chemical or breath testing of a defendant? Or is the juror too close minded to even take a meaningful look at the flaws in the testing?

Most importantly, is the potential juror willing and able to keep an open mind throughout the presentation of all the evidence? The prosecutor, who has only the burden of proof, in every criminal trial in Michigan, presents evidence first. The initial information provided to the jury is about the defendant on the date of arrest and will include his or her alleged improper driving, speech difficulty, poor balance and inability to follow simple instructions from the arresting officer,. Testimony will also usually include chemical test results said to be above the legal limit of 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath, or per 67 milliliters of urine.

Will each juror listen to any evidence of improper driving, for example, without concluding such operation is necessarily due to alcohol consumption? Has that juror ever driven poorly themselves (most likely) and, if so, was it due to intoxication or poor judgment (often the latter) or simply being distracted? Poor performance of “sobriety” tasks will be argued as reliable evidence of impairment, until the jury sees the officer have difficulty performing the tame tasks in the courtroom or they attempt to perform the same task in the jury room.

Similarly, is a juror willing to consider deficiencies in any chemical test results that were offered as evidence of intoxication that are derived from a laboratory that may not be properly certified or that are conducted by poorly-trained lab personnel using equipment that may be defective or improperly calibrated?

In summary, jury selection in a Michigan OWI case is an important tool for a competent and experienced OWI defense attorney to use to “level the playing field,” discover and minimize biased potential jurors and increase the likelihood of a not guilty verdict at trial.

Michigan DUI Lawyer – Michigan Court of Appeals Further Defines “Operating” for Purposes of Drunk Driving Charges

March 30th, 2012

Though we often refer to drunk driving as DUI or OWI, the truth is that in Michigan, drunk driving is actually called Operating While Intoxicated (OWI). [It is illegal in Michigan to operate a vehicle “upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state if the person is operating while intoxicated.”

As you can imagine, there is quite a bit of gray area as to what it actually means to “operate” a vehicle. For example, what if a person is passed out drunk in their driver’s seat with car engine running and in gear with their foot on the brake? (The Michigan Supreme Court decided this was “operating” a vehicle in People v. Wood). Or, what if a vehicle owned by the drunk defendant is sitting on the road and causes another car to get in an accident? (The Michigan Court of Appeals held in People v. Lechleitner that the “defendant” was operating the vehicle until he could return the vehicle to a position of safety).

Recently, the Michigan Court of Appeals revisited the legal issue of what constitutes operating a car for the purposes of the OWI law in Michigan. In the case, People of the City of Plymouth v. Brittney Lynn Longeway, a doorman at a martini bar told a police officer that he observed some females hit a concrete barrier with their vehicle when they arrived at the bar and also that they later appeared drunk when leaving the bar. The police officer observed that the female driver had the reverse lights of the vehicle on but then put the car back in park. The car’s wheels never moved. The driver was charged with Operating While Intoxicated and she argued that, based on past case law and statutory language in Michigan, she was not “operating” the vehicle. Her argument lost at the District Court level but won at the higher Circuit Court level. The prosecutors appealed, however, and the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the defendant was “operating the vehicle.” In deciding this, the appellate court looked to the drunk driving statute that says operating means being in actual physical control of the vehicle. Starting the car, applying the brakes, shifting gears into reverse, and then putting it back into park are all signs of the driver being in actual physical control, according to this ruling.

Many people ask us why they need a drunk driving lawyer if they blew a .08 or more blood alcohol content on their Preliminary Breath Test or DataMaster Test. It’s possible that there may be legal challenge issues in your case, such as whether you were actually or legally operating the vehicle. An experienced OWI attorney can fully examine all the facts of your case and prepare a defense strategy. Contact a drunk driving attorney today.

Guest DUI Blog – What to Do if a Cop Pulls You Over for DUI

March 23rd, 2012

You’re pulled over on the side of a road, with your engine turned off. The reflection of bright lights from the police car behind you irritates your eyes. The police officer on duty stands outside of both vehicles, and checks over the information listed on your license and registration. He begins asking you how many drinks you’ve had that night. Are you required to answer?

  • You have the right to remain silent. The Fifth Amendment makes it completely legal for you to refrain from responding to the police officer’s inquiries. Your refusal to answer his questions cannot be held against you in a court of law, but if you choose to answer, then a prosecuting attorney can use the officer’s testimony against you. Testimonies based on slurring or stumbling perceived by a police officer can be subjective and manipulated, so it’s best to exercise your right to plead the Fifth.
  • Stay inside your car unless the officer asks you to get out. Jumping out of your vehicle when a cop pulls you over can send out the wrong message. The police officer might mistakenly think that you are armed and might feel threatened. Whatever wrongdoing he suspects of you will only increase if you are not careful, so just sit still and try not to offend anybody.
  • Do not consent to performing field sobriety tests if you feel uncomfortable. Field sobriety tests include having a driver suspected of being intoxicated walk a straight line, balance on one foot, touch his finger to his nose, etc. These tests check for signs of poor coordination before official chemical testing for blood-alcohol level. You are not required to take these sobriety tests if you feel they may be manipulated and used to incriminate you later. You may safely remain silent and refuse.
  • Make an informed decision either to take or to refuse chemical testing. Every state has Implied Consent laws which rule that any licensed driver who chooses to operate a vehicle has automatically agreed to chemical testing requested by a member of law enforcement. Chemical testing includes breath, blood or urine tests. In most states, refusing chemical testing will automatically give prosecutors grounds to revoke your license. Sometimes the consequences are more severe. To find out whether it is better in your state to refuse or to submit to chemical testing, contact a local DUI lawyer.

Sometimes a police officer will arrest you on suspicion of a DUI even if you refuse chemical testing. Whatever the case is, consulting a DUI lawyer who has your best interest in mind will ensure that your rights are defended properly. Many citizens convicted with a DUI do not realize that there are many legal rulings designed to protect them. A DUI lawyer has experience using these protections to defend you. He or she can determine whether the test leading to your arrest was properly administered and whether the machine used to convict you was properly calibrated. With legal assistance you have the potential to save your time, money and reputation.

About the Author: Christopher McCann is an Orange County DUI lawyer and criminal defense lawyer. McCann is a practicing lawyer at the Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann and generally writes on topics related to criminal defense and DUIs. McCann was voted as a “Rising Star Attorney” in 2010 by Southern California SuperLawyers Magazine.

Michigan DUI Attorneys – Man Shows up Drunk in Court and Leads Police on High Speed Chase

February 9th, 2012

Recently, a man was at the 55th District Court in Mason, Michigan on charges of Operating While Intoxicated. The man was in court to enter a plea when the judge noticed the man appeared drunk and asked him to take a breathalyzer test. That is when the man refused and walked out of the courthouse. He got into his vehicle and drove away, hitting an Ingham County deputy in the process. That deputy followed the man onto US 127 North. The man led police officers on a high speed chase with speeds of up to 128 miles per hour, and eventually came to a stop after hitting a semi truck. When police arrested the man, they registered his blood alcohol content as .205, which is almost three times the legal limit of .08 in Michigan. The man is now facing a further OWI charge, a felonious assault charge, and a fleeing and eluding charge.

As top drunk driving defense attorneys, we know that going to court to face a judge on drunk driving charges is unnerving. However, it is never a good idea to consume alcohol before appearing in court. In general, judges like to see that defendants are remorseful for their actions and have learned a lesson. This man is clearly in more legal trouble now than he would have been had he showed up for court sober.

Being charged with drunk driving in Michigan is a scary thing, especially for those people who have never had to face criminal prosecution. That is why it is best to contact a skilled and experienced OWI lawyer immediately. Your attorney can help you with the entire criminal process and will be there with you every step of the way to work towards achieving a favorable outcome.

Michigan Drunk Driving Attorneys — Holiday Season Brought Drunk Driving Arrests

February 1st, 2012

We are officially past the 2011 holiday season, which was a time to get together with family, friends, and coworkers. Many of these gatherings involved the consumption of alcohol. On nights like Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, Michigan State Police and county and local patrol officers were on the lookout for drunk drivers. Judging by the number of calls we have received, many people were arrested for drunk driving during the holidays.

We are often asked, “Will I go to jail for drunk driving?” The penalties for an Operating While Intoxicated case depend on whether this is a person’s first drunk driving offense, second drunk driving offense within 7 years of the first, or third drunk driving offense in a lifetime. Sentencing also depends on whether the person’s blood alcohol level was high enough to be considered a Super Drunk offense.

Hiring a drunk driving defense lawyer is an excellent idea for those people charged with a drunk driving offense. This is because the attorney may not only argue that the charges should be dropped, but they may also argue against the imposition of any jail or prison sentence. At Kronzek & Cronkright, PLLC, we have successfully kept many of our clients who were charged with OWI out of jail.

If you have been charged with drunk or drugged driving, contact an attorney today.

Michigan Drunk Driving Defense – Drunk Driving App Available Today!

November 2nd, 2011

The Michigan Drunk Driving Attorneys are pleased to announce their first drunk driving tip-card application. This app is currently only available for the Android Operating System (OS) and requires version 1.6 or higher. This app is designed to work within the web-browser of your phone, and features tips on how to handle being pulled over by a police officer, what you can and cannot refuse during this roadside stop, and a quick contact form to instantly submit an e-mail to one of our DUI attorneys.

Please remember to drive safely and designate a sober driver when you are out with friends and drinking. If you do find yourself arrested for a DUI, we have an attorney on call 24/7 at 866-7-NoJail. That is (866) 766-5245.

Michigan Drunk Driving Defense Attorney App
Note: To install this app, please enable the install ‘unknown sources’ setting on your phone.

Michigan DUI Lawyer – Michigan State Police Drunk Driving Crackdown

September 19th, 2011

The Michigan State Police recently completed a drunk driving crackdown in Michigan. During such crackdowns, there are more state troopers searching for signs that someone is driving while drunk. Michigan drivers are not subject to sobriety checkpoints, which are legal in other states. However, efforts to crack down on Michigan drunk drivers usually result in hundreds of extra drunk driving arrests.

Though many people typically call drunk driving offenses “DUIs,” the actual names of drunk driving crimes in Michigan include Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) and Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI). Regardless of the name of the crime, a person convicted under Michigan drunk driving laws can expect to face any or all of the following: payment of multiple fines and fees, loss of a driver’s license, jail or prison time, community service, installation of an ignition interlock devise, and random urine tests.

One frequently charged Michigan crime is called Operating with the Presence of Drugs (OWPD). This is where someone uses drugs like Marijuana, Cocaine, Ecstasy, Meth, or Heroin and operates a vehicle on a public road in Michigan. Depending on the drug, officers may be able to arrest the driver if there is even the smallest amount of the drug in the body, even if the driving was not impaired by the drug. Prior drunk driving crackdowns in Michigan have led to numerous arrests for OWPD.

If you have been arrested for a drunk driving crime in Michigan, now is the time to contact a very good drunk driving lawyer. Your lawyer can review your case to determine if the police violated any of your constitutional rights during the drunk driving arrest. Law enforcement is required to follow a strict set of procedures when deciding whether you were intoxicated or impaired while operating a vehicle, and if those procedures were not followed, a top flight Drunk Driving Attorney may be able to use this fact to your advantage.

Our attorneys strive to offer clients the best possible defense. However, as you might expect, our advice is always that people who have consumed alcohol or any substance which impairs their ability to drive should never get behind the wheel.

Michigan Drunk Driving – DUI Could Stop Entry into Canada

September 14th, 2011

When people travel from the United States to other countries, they usually go through some sort of customs, border patrol, or security screening process in order gain entry. Often, that process involves screening people to see if they have any criminal convictions. If so, some countries may not allow the person to enter.

For example, Michigan residents often travel to Canada for vacation or work. For people with a drunk driving conviction, entry into Canada may not be allowed for many years. Ultimately, the border patrol agent conducting the security screening has discretion as to whether to refuse entry. This means that some people with drunk driving convictions may be granted entry without question. Canada allows a person to apply for “rehabilitation” status after a few years in order to be allowed into Canada and may allow temporary permits for some individuals to enter the country for a particular purpose despite a drunk driving conviction. It is always wise to consult with a knowledgeable immigration attorney before traveling to a foreign country if you have any kind of criminal conviction, are out on bond or on probation.

Michigan OWI, OWVI, and OWPD offenses can lead to potential jail time, fines, community service, probation, and more. But the immigration consequences of drunk driving—and all other criminal convictions—can also be quite serious. This is especially true for business travelers, because they may face loss of employment for not being able to gain entry into certain countries.

Our Michigan DUI lawyers regularly represent people who have been charged with Operating While Intoxicated. We understand the complexities of drunk driving defense in Michigan. We have delivered many excellent results to our past clients. Let us put our experience to work for you!

Michigan Drunk Driving – Former NBA Star Jalen Rose Sentenced to 20 Days of Jail Time for Drunk Driving

July 28th, 2011

Jalen Rose—born and raised in Detroit, Michigan—played NCAA basketball for the University of Michigan, where he was a member of the famed “Fab Five.” He then went on to play in the NBA for 13 seasons. In March, he was arrested in West Bloomfield Township, Michigan, on drunk driving charges, to which he pled guilty in May.

On Wednesday, July 27, Jalen Rose was sentenced to 20 days in jail for drunk driving. Judge Kimberly Small presided over the sentencing in the 48th District Court in Oakland County, Michigan. To skilled Michigan DUI attorneys, she is known for being tough on people who drink and drive. Judge Small told Rose at his sentencing, “I don’t care if you want to get drunk — have at it. I do mind when you get behind the wheel of a vehicle and use it in a way that can kill all of us.”

In Michigan, the most common drunk driving crimes are called Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI), and Operating With the Presence of Drugs (OWPD). If there is a minor in the vehicle at the time of the violation, the driver will most likely also receive Child Endangerment charges in Michigan. Depending on whether this is a person’s first, second, third, or subsequent drunk driving offense, the penalties vary. For Jalen Rose, this was his first drunk driving offense, and it would have been quite possible for Rose to be given a sentence that included no jail time. Rose’s lawyers have publicly stated that they feel Judge Small abused her discretion by making an example out of such a public figure.

If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Michigan, you need to hire an attorney who is skilled at defending such cases. Fortunately, the attorneys at Kronzek and Cronkright have over 80 years of combined experience practicing criminal defense in Michigan, which includes drunk driving defense. We have delivered very favorable results for our clients all over the state of Michigan.