OWI Attorneys in Muskegon, MI
Hundreds of people are arrested for DUI in Muskegon every year. The charge is technically referred to as “OWI” for “Operating While Intoxicated,” though the former is the term with which most are more familiar.
OWI conviction carries extensive penalties and stigma, resulting in jail time, extensive fines, driving restrictions and a permanent stain on one’s criminal record.
At Gravel & Associates, our best OWI attorneys in Muskegon are closely familiar with the finer points of Michigan’s drunk driving law, MCL 257.625, as well as with local professionals and policy within the 60th District Court for Muskegon County and the 14th Judicial Circuit Court for Muskegon County. That’s important because if you are facing DUI charges in Muskegon, your case is likely going to be handled by one of these two courts.
Muskegon DUI Court Process
The 60th District Court handles misdemeanor (less serious) cases of DUI and other crimes, as well as arraignment through preliminary exam of felony DUI charges before they are sent to the 14th Judicial Circuit.
If your OWI case is handled by the 60th District, it means the most incarceration you will face is one year in a local jail, while cases handled in the 14th Judicial Circuit Court can carry much longer-term sentences in state prison.
Most DUI cases in Muskegon are misdemeanors. Felonies typically only arise in situations where someone has a long history of prior OWI convictions or else the offense involved a crash that seriously injured or killed another person.
If your case goes before a judge in the 60th District, the process will be:
- Arraignment. You will be advised of your rights, the charge and possible penalties. You will also be given a bond amount (if you are still in jail) and you may enter a plea (almost always “not guilty”). You have the right to be represented by an attorney. Note that once bond conditions are set, they are difficult to modify, which is why it’s important to have an attorney represent you even at this early phase.
- Pre-Trial. This is an ongoing process that involves the sharing of information between both sides about the case. This is where our skilled OWI attorneys might explore filing various motions to suppress to keep key evidence against you from being considered at trial.
- Preliminary Exam. Per MCL 766.4, this is a probable cause conference wherein there will be discussions about possible plea agreements, bail and bond modification, stipulations and procedural aspects of the case and any other matters relevant as agreed by both sides. The conference can be waived by an agreement between prosecutors and defense attorneys. A district judge can accept a plea in a felony DUI case, but if no plea is reached, felony matters will be forwarded to the 14th Judicial Circuit.
- Trial. If no pre-trial agreement is reached, the case will proceed to the trial phase, which can be in front of a jury or a judge. DUI defendants do not need to prove their innocence. However, they do need to successfully challenge the accuracy of prosecutor’s evidence. The judge/ jury will decide the outcome. Juror verdicts in Michigan criminal cases must be unanimous.
- Sentencing. If you are convicted, this will be the final step in the process, with the judge assessing penalties including jail time, probation, community service, fines, mandatory alcohol treatment and other stipulations.
You may further be subject to follow-up via probation for community service and other requirements.
Muskegon OWI Offenses
There are nearly 122,000 licensed drivers in Muskegon County, according to the Michigan Annual Drunk Driving Audit, which also reported 172 drunk or drugged driving crashes in a single year. Of those, six were fatal. Additionally, there were 585 OWI and related arrests.
The most common drunk driving charge filed in Muskegon is OWI. As noted in MCL 257.625(1), this occurs when a person is operating a vehicle under the following circumstances:
- With an alcohol concentration (BAC) that meets or exceeds the per se (statutory) limit of 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, 210 liters of breath or per 67 milliliters of urine.
- Under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance or other intoxicating substance.
- While visibly impaired by an intoxicating substance, including alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription medications or over-the-counter medicines.
A person could also be charged under this statute if they are operating a vehicle with the presence of certain drugs in their system – namely, Schedule I narcotics. Additional charges include being under 21 and having a BAC 0.02 or higher, child endangerment and commercial driver with a BAC of .04 or above.
Breathalyzers and Blood Tests
Data on Muskegon DUI arrests shows that police and prosecutors rely heavily on information gleaned in blood and breathalyzer tests. These tests were requested or compelled in just about every case, with breathalyzer tests administered in 66 percent of cases and blood tests in 22 percent of cases.
In 11 percent of stops, drivers refused to submit to chemical testing, in violation of Michigan’s implied consent law, MCL 257.625c. This violation results in 6 points on your driving record, $2,000 in Driver Responsibility Fines and a one-year suspension of driving privileges.
Blood tests are generally considered to be more accurate than breath tests, but they are more invasive. Per the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Missouri v. McNeely, officers must have a signed warrant to lawfully obtain an involuntary blood sample. The court ruled the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood doesn’t constitute an exigency (an urgent need or demand) in every case. Prosecutors could still argue exigency on another grounds to justify a warrantless blood draw, but they would be facing an uphill battle. Further, those with hemophilia, diabetes or other condition requiring anticoagulants are not considered to have given implied consent to a withdrawal of blood, per MCL 257.625c(2).
Breathalyzers, meanwhile, have been rife with issues in jurisdictions across the country. The primary argument is the machines fail to produce accurate results due to improper calibration, lack of training and outside factors, like medical conditions or weather. Michigan uses the DataMaster DMT model of breathalyzer. Only certified operates can operate the machine; a department’s failure to ensure all operators are properly trained could result in suppression of that evidence. So too could an officer’s failure not to first observe the subject of the test for at least 15 minutes prior, per Michigan Administrative Rules. In the 1993 Michigan Court of Appeals ruling in People v. Tipolt, justices held failure to meet any of the foundational requirements of the state’s administrative rules will preclude use of the test results in court.
Having an experienced OWI attorney to help you thoroughly consider all possible challenges to the evidence against you is essential.
For a free consultation contact us online.