DUI Attorneys in Bay City, MI
Bay City, Michigan is situated near the base of the Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron and is geographically divided east-west by the Saginaw River. Drunk driving enforcement is a top priority in Bay City, where the county prosecutor has said stiffer OWI penalties serve as an effective deterrent – particularly in “super drunk” cases involving drivers with a bodily alcohol concentration that meets or exceeds 0.17. Our OWI defense attorneys in Bay City will work to formulate a strong defense against the charges you face. You aren’t alone in this fight, and we are dedicated to ensuring your rights are protected.
While local officials advertise their arrest and conviction numbers, this kind of aggressive approach negatively – and sometimes unfairly – affects the lives of the accused. There is the possibility of jail time, heavy fines and court costs, mandated community service hours, loss of license, probation and more.
Bay City DUI Court Process
Drunk driving offenses in Bay City are technically referred to as “OWI” for “operating under the influence,” per MCL 257.625).
One can face charges for OWI if he/ she was “operating” (in actual physical control of) a motor vehicle while on a public highway or other area generally accessible to vehicles (including a parking lot or even driveway) AND:
- His/ her bodily alcohol concentration (BAC) met or exceeded 0.08 per 100 milliliters of blood, 210 liters of breath or 67 milliliters of urine (those under 21 are subject to a BAC limit of 0.02);
- He/ she was under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance or other intoxicating substance;
- He/ she had any amount of a Schedule I narcotic in their system.
Bay County’s District Court, designated as the 74th District Court, has jurisdiction over all criminal matters, including minor traffic cases, misdemeanors and possession of drugs. Most OWI arrests in Bay City are misdemeanors, but some – particularly involving numerous prior offenses or crashes resulting in injury or death – are filed as felonies.
In felony cases, the 74th District Court has jurisdiction over preliminary examination. Examples of OWI-related felonies would be:
- Operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated causing death;
- Operating a motor vehicle while causing serious injury;
- Operating While Intoxicated, third offense (up to five years in prison).
In the preliminary examination process, the judge will consider witness statements and other evidence to determine whether the prosecutor has enough to prove probable cause of the alleged crime as well as defendant’s guilt. If the judge deems there is probable cause, the case is “bound over” to the Circuit Court for further proceedings. If the judge finds there is not probable cause, he or she can bind the case over on different charges, reduce the charges to misdemeanors (over which District Court has jurisdiction) or dismiss the charges outright.
Defendants do not have to prove their innocence in these proceedings. Rather, what they must prove is reasonable doubt of the prosecution’s claims.
Super Drunk Driving in Bay City
Michigan’s “super drunk driving” law went into effect in October 2010. The law didn’t create a new crime, but rather enhanced penalties on individuals whose blood-alcohol concentration meets or exceeds 0.17. Before, those with a high BAC were treated the same as any other OWI offender.
Now, penalties for a first-time “super drunk” offender include:
- 45-day ban on driving;
- Mandatory alcohol treatment;
- 320 days of restricted driving;
- Fines between $200 and $700;
- Up to 180 days in jail (double what a typical first-time offender could receive);
- Mandated ignition interlock during the restricted driving period.
The year after the “super drunk” law went into effect statewide, Bay County police officers arrested 285 suspected drunk drivers, of which 79 – or roughly 28 percent – fell into the “super drunk” category.
The Michigan Annual Drunk Driving Audit reports that while there are typically only a few fatal OWI crashes in Bay County each year, there are dozens of reported crashes involving serious injuries and allegedly impaired drivers.
Field Sobriety Tests in Bay City
One of the primary means by which police gather evidence to use against Bay City OWI suspects is field sobriety testing.
Public Act 242, which went into effect in 2016, directly impacted the Standardized Field Sobriety Test battery in Michigan. The law allows a witness to testify to standardized field sobriety test results and how they relate to impairment only if the witness is qualified by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education. The law specifically stipulates that the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (which is an observation of involuntary eye movements) is admissible so long as the officer is trained in how to perform the test. Further, the law says admissibility of non-standardized tests will be allowed so long as the test complies with the Michigan Rules of Evidence.
Finally, the law holds that for any test to be admitted in court, the officer has to administer the tests in “substantial compliance” with the standards set forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA has indicated that slight variations can be accepted when less-than-ideal conditions are present. But that can be an opportunity for our defense lawyers in Bay City to successfully challenge the evidence.
The NHTSA itself has extensively studied the effectiveness of standardized field sobriety tests and found:
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus on its own was 77 percent accurate;
- The Walk-and-Turn by itself was 68 percent accurate;
- The One Leg Stand by itself was 65 percent accurate.
Combining two of the three resulted in an 80 percent accuracy rating. That’s still a huge margin of error when we’re talking about someone’s permanent criminal record. And yet, they continue to be used to determine a suspect’s level of intoxication.
But there is a distinction most people don’t understand: While Michigan’s implied consent law, MCL 257.625c, requires drivers to consent to chemical tests, there is no provision that mandates submission to field sobriety tests. You are not legally required to comply with this request. More often than not, particularly if a motorist is drunk or impaired, it’s better to respectfully decline participation.
You have the right to speak to an experienced OWI defense lawyer in Bay City before giving a statement to police and also during subsequent court proceedings.
Contact us online for a free consultation.