OWI Attorneys in Grand Rapids, MI
If you are arrested for an OWI in Grand Rapids, MI, you are probably reeling. Bear in mind: An arrest is not a conviction. You have numerous legal options, no matter how much evidence it seems police and prosecutors have against you. The experienced DUI defense lawyers at Grabel & Associates will help you formulate the most effective defense strategy.
The number of DUI arrests in Grand Rapids, per the Michigan Annual Drunk Driving Audit, has fallen slightly the last several years, but still tops more than 1,700 annually in Kent County. The number of DUI/ OWI convictions countywide is more than 2,100 – but that considers some defendants were convicted of more than a single charge, while others avoided a DUI conviction altogether.
DUI Arrests in Grand Rapids
As the second-largest city in Michigan (and the largest in West Michigan), the city’s Grand Rapids Police Department boasts approximately 300 uniformed personnel and handles 150,000 calls for service each year – a significant number of those involving DUI/ OWI. The larger Grand Rapids metropolitan area has a population of more than 1 million, policed by various local agencies and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.
Although the Michigan Supreme Court has deemed sobriety checkpoints constitutionally invalid in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, as a violation of the Fourth Amendment, these agencies regularly conduct concentrated patrols to catch inebriated drivers – particularly during holidays and local events.
Michigan police and prosecutors have a myriad of options when it comes to the types of charges they can proceed with in a DUI case. Any driver who has a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) that meets or exceeds 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, 210 liters of breath or 67 milliliters of urine, can be arrested and convicted of DUI. But those are not the only circumstances wherein drivers can face charges. For instance, motorists under 21 can be convicted with a BAC of just 0.02. One could also be convicted for operating with the presence of drugs in their system. Additional charges, such as child endangerment, require proof of the underlying DUI/ OWI offense.
Among the offenses most commonly charged in Kent County, as outlined in MCL 257.625:
- Operating Under the Influence of Intoxicating Liquor (OUIL), MCL 257.625(1)(a),(b),(c)
- Operating While Visibly Impaired, MCL 257.625(3)
- Drug or Alcohol-Related Crash Death, MCL 257.625(4)
- Operating Under the Influence of Intoxicating Liquor Causing Injury Crash, MCL 257.625(5)
- Operating under 21 with a BAC of 0.02 and Over, MCL 257.625(6)
- Child Endangerment, MCL 257.625(7)
- Operating With the Presence of Drugs (OWPD), MCL 257.625(8)
- Commercial Driver License (CDL) Driver with BAC of 0.04 or Over, MCL 625m
All of this works out to 47 arrests per every 100 miles of road in Kent County every year.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 2 percent of Michigan licensed drivers report driving after drinking too much in the last 30 days. There are an estimated 7.1 million licensed drivers in the Wolverine State. That means there were at least 140,000 impaired drivers on roads statewide last month – probably more, given the fact that the statistics is self-reported and not all drunk drivers are appropriately licensed.
Impaired driving considered a grave offense, and prosecutors in Michigan doggedly pursue convictions. However, as the premier DUI/ OWI defense attorneys in Grand Rapids, we know these cases are often highly defensible. Even in situations where it seems conviction is inevitable, there are always methods to mitigate the penalties.
To prove DUI/OWI in Michigan, prosecutors need to show defendant was “operating” the vehicle under one of the following circumstances:
- Under the influence of alcohol, controlled substance or any other intoxicating substance or combination of those substances;
- Had an alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, 210 liters of breath or 67 milliliters of urine.
- Was visibly impaired in their ability operate a motor vehicle due to consumption of alcohol, a controlled substance or other intoxication substance or combination.
- Had any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance as described in MCL 333.7271 in their body (OWPD).
Successful challenges to DUI arrests often focus on the test results – particularly field sobriety test results, as those can be rather subjective. We may also seek suppression of evidence based on improper testing or illegal blood draws. In some cases, there may be room to contest that defendant was not visibly impaired or that officer had bias or was inaccurate in his/her reporting.
To learn more about how to beat a DUI charge in Grand Rapids, MI.
Challenging Traffic Stops in Grand Rapids DUI/ OWI Arrests
The primary way most DUI/ OWI arrests unfold is with a traffic stop. A traffic stop must be legal for prosecutors to use any of the information gleaned thereafter against you in court. The Fourth Amendment prohibits an officer from stopping or “seizing” a person absent legally sufficient grounds. Evidence obtained after seizing a person can’t be used to justify the seizure.
The standard against which the legality of a traffic stop will be considered is reasonable suspicion, which is an articulable and reasonable suspicion that the vehicle or one of its occupants is subject to seizure due to a violation of law (see the 2002 Michigan appeals court decision in People v. Marcus Davis).
In other words, unless an officer had probable cause that you committed a crime or were about to commit a crime before you were stopped, the fact that you are later found to be driving impaired can’t be used to justify that initial stop.
There are countless reasons an officer can legally initiate a traffic stop – from a broken tail light to speeding to swerving – but that doesn’t mean police have a blank check to initiate stops. Probable cause is an objective (as opposed to subjective) standard, and your DUI/ OWI defense lawyer may consider filing a motion to suppress if evidence of probable cause is weak.
When police receive 911 calls about a suspected drunk driver, your defense lawyer will carefully examine the content of the audio and transcripts because absent the officer’s corroboration of those allegations (which can be anonymous), there may well have been a lack of probable cause.
City of East Grand Rapids v. Vanderhart
That does not mean all challenges will prevail. In many cases it all comes down to “reasonableness.”
For instance, in the case of City of East Grand Rapids v. Vanderhart, defendant challenged a DUI based on a traffic stop initiated due to a dim taillight. The majority opinion in State of Michigan Court of Appeals held such a stop could be lawful, at least as it pertained to the totality of circumstances in that particular case. Officer passed defendant’s vehicle traveling in the opposite direction and saw one taillight was completely out.
After catching up to defendant, officer noted his initial perception was not correct – the taillight wasn’t out, it was only significantly dimmer than the other. Based on this, officer stopped defendant, who was deemed by officer to be impaired. His BAC was measured at 0.14. Defense attorneys sought to suppress all evidence gleaned from the stop, arguing the officer lacked reasonable suspicion because his taillights were visible from 500 feet, and thus he had not violated Michigan Vehicle Code.
The judge set the motion aside, the jurors found defendant guilty, but then trial court judge granted defense motion to set aside the verdict.
On appeal, the circuit court vacated the trial court’s ruling and reinstated the verdict, finding the officer’s belief he could stop defendant to inspect the vehicle on the basis of a dim headlight was reasonable per the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Heien v. North Carolina. Defendant appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which affirmed the jury’s conviction, finding that even if the officer was incorrect that a dim taillight was legally insufficient, his belief was a reasonable mistake of law.
However, dissenting opinion held that the majority opinion set a precedent for its own standard of “unsafe” illumination of a light – something that more rightly would be set by legislators, had they so chosen. That leaves some room to challenge future cases brought on the same basis, particularly considering the matter hasn’t been settled by the state supreme court.
Free Consultation for DUI in Grand Rapids
If you are arrested for DUI/OWI, you are likely unsure of your rights and legal options. As the Best DUI attorneys in Grand Rapids, we offer free consultations for prospective clients to give them a sense of potential defenses and challenges in their case.
For a free consultation contact us online.