DUI Attorneys in Grand Traverse County, MI

Hundreds of Grand Traverse County OWI arrests are reported every year, according to the Michigan Annual Drunk Driving Audit. Of the county’s nearly 400 arrests for operating while intoxicated in a single year, nearly 60 percent involved a breathalyzer test, while 26 percent involved a blood test.

Grabel & Associates DUI defense lawyers in Grand Traverse County have a long history of success in challenging chemical tests, suppressing damaging evidence and helping obtain charge dismissals and reduced penalties for our clients in Traverse City and elsewhere throughout the county.

Grand Traverse County, with its 1,200 miles of road and 92,000 residents, is also a prime destination for hiking and camping at the Traverse City State Park as well as wine tours and tastings and pub crawls. Those who imbibe and drive, however, may find themselves ensnared in a criminal case.

Technically, it’s not unlawful for over-21, non-commercial drivers to get behind the wheel after drinking. Problems only arise when drinking leads a driver to become “visibly impaired” (by the arresting officer’s judgment) or have a bodily alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher. In too many cases, though, that determination is highly subjective and/ or the results of the chemical testing may be questionable.

Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI) is considered a slightly lesser offense than Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated (OWI), with the main difference being in an OWVI, there is no presumption that one’s BAC met or exceeded 0.08. The term “DUI” doesn’t exist in Michigan Code of Laws because the legislature avoided using the term “drive,” opting instead to employ the word, “to operate,” as defined in MCL 257.35a. (The statute requires proof a defendant was in actual physical control of the vehicle or caused the vehicle to move under its own power.) Nonetheless, we sometimes still use the term “DUI,” as it’s simply more commonly-used and widely understood.

Beating a charge in Grand Traverse County requires a dedicated defense lawyer who is knowledgeable about Michigan OWI laws, your constitutional rights, the local processes and players within the 86th District Court and the complex science of chemical testing in OWI cases.

Breathalyzer Tests in Grand Traverse County OWI Arrests

The standard breathalyzer test used in Grand Traverse County and throughout Michigan is the DataMaster Transportable (DMT). It’s an alcohol test instrument made by an Ohio-based company that uses infrared technology to analyze breath alcohol samples. As shown time and again, its results are not infallible.

The DataMaster DMT replaced the old BAC DataMaster several years ago. A study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences in 2011 compared the two devices, revealing the tests performed very similarly in the field, and that the DMT results were accurate compared with measurements made using simulators containing standard ethanol solutions. However, a study the following year published in the Syracuse Journal of Science and Technology Law revealed errors in the “partition ratio” used to convert breath alcohol testing results to blood alcohol testing results that are later used in court. The standard is set at 2100 to 1 (meaning the breath alcohol result is converted to blood alcohol by multiplying the results by 2100). The problem is there is a great deal of variability in this testing, and thus, it may not be scientifically sound.

Michigan courts still use these results all the time, but it adds to the list of challenges that can be successfully mounted. Of the 60 percent of OWI cases in Grand Traverse County that relied on a breathalyzer test, 90 percent had a breath-alcohol test result that met or exceeded 0.08 and 38 percent had a breath-alcohol test that met or exceeded 0.17 (the threshold for Michigan’s “Super Drunk” penalties).

Still, for these test results to be accepted as evidence in a Michigan court:

  • Operators must be trained and certified;
  • A person is observed for 15 minutes by one or more certified operators before the sample is taken, during which time subject does not smoke, throw up or put anything in his/ her mouth;
  • Device is verified for accuracy and calibration (every month for portable devices and every 120 days for others);
  • Instruments are inspected and certified to be in proper working order;
  • Inspections of device comply with departmental rules, policies and procedures.

Those provisions are direct from Michigan Code of Laws and the Michigan State Police. Law enforcement will insist these results are accurate when used correctly, but it should be noted independent study authors have often come to very different conclusions.

Other potential challenges our OWI defense lawyers in Grand Traverse have identified include:

  • Objects or jewelry in one’s mouth;
  • Presence of solvents or other chemicals;
  • Radio frequency interference;
  • Gastro-esophageal reflux disorders (GERD).

In many cases where the DataMaster DMT is central to the case, your defense attorney will call on an expert defense witness to help challenge the scientific validity of the instrument and its results.

Blood Test Challenges in Michigan OWI Cases

Blood testing also frequently arises in Grand Traverse County DUI cases. Although blood tests are thought to be more accurate than breath tests, you may recall just a few years ago when the Michigan State Police copped to botching some 4,000 blood alcohol tests at the state crime lab. The problem involved the utilization of an incorrect calibration model over a four-month time frame. Although some of the tests in question withstood closer scrutiny, more than half didn’t and those convictions were successfully challenged.

The incident illustrates just one of the many issues that can arise with blood testing. If the sample isn’t properly tracked, that could lead to questions of contamination. If the sample is drawn without defendant’s consent, we’ll need to see whether the police had a warrant, in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Missouri v. McNeely.

That ruling did allow for exceptions when there are “exigent circumstances,” but that leaves a lot open to interpretation. Basically, the courts will want to know if the process of obtaining a warrant would lead to an unreasonable delay that will prevent collection of critical evidence. In most cases, getting a warrant is not a long and arduous process, so there is little reason for law enforcement officers not to first obtain one.

Challenges of chemical tests are just one aspect of OWI defense in Traverse City and throughout the county. To help you beat a drunk driving charge, our OWI attorneys will also carefully review field sobriety test practices and the reasonable suspicion/ probable cause basis that prompted the traffic stop/ search in the first place.

For a free consultation contact us online.