SENATE BILL 207 – POLICE AND PROSECUTORS PLEASED THAT ‘ROADSIDE’ TESTS ARE RELABELED – NOW ADMISSIBLE IN COURT
Michigan Senate Bill 207 – What Is It?
Senators Rick Jones (R – 24th District) and Tonya Schuitmaker (R – 26th District) have amended legislation through the Michigan Senate ready for Governor Snyder’s approval. Language in the Michigan Vehicle Code concerning the admissibility of roadside field testing and preliminary breath tests for those suspected of drunk or drugged driving will again be admissible this year. Since January, these tests, which are conducted at the point of arrest by the police have been inadmissible in court when being prosecuted for drunk driving. The new changes are a seeming victory for cops and prosecutors to use any means necessary to secure drunk driving convictions based upon traditionally ‘less reliable’ evidence including both of these methods.
Why Did the Law Change in Favor of the Prosecution?
The prior law passed in late 2014 read in such a way as to be unclear about allowing roadside tests as evidence in court. As a result, those alleged as drunk drivers and their defense attorneys have been relying on their inadmissibility. With this pending and updated legislation the phrase ‘Preliminary roadside analysis’ which includes PBT’s (Preliminary Breath Tests – the blow-in-a-tube box that initially registers a person’s breath alcohol content) and SFST’s, (Standardized Field Sobriety Tests – promulgated by the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration – the various balance and coordination tests given to the suspect by the arresting officer) now gives way to the more authoritative term “Preliminary Chemical Breath analysis.” So these traditional methods of showing drunkenness now have a leg up with their heavyweight doppelgangers’ The Datamaster (breath test) and forensic science blood tests – the definitive machines and analytical tools used to convict drunk and drugged drivers that they have exceeded statutory limits of ‘intoxicating’ substances in the body while operating motorized vehicles.
So – it seems to come down to the long-standing debate on giving police officers more latitude in securing their drunk driving suspicions in the name of public safety versus using these tests and devices whose critics including defense attorneys who view them as subjective at best. There are many instances of people pointing to their own noses and standing on one leg for extended periods of time during roadside SFST’s. These tests can be difficult no matter what condition someone is in, much less having people recite odd combinations of numbers backwards or the alphabet in midstream knowing that people have to run through ‘the alphabet song’ just to figure out where they are.
Because of the inherent dexterity and memorized recitation problems with FST’s that people can have at any point in time, these tests are somewhat flawed as to their accuracy. They are also flawed because police administer them as they wish instead of how they were trained. They can help an officer get to the point of probable cause if nothing else, but by this point in time someone has already been pulled over and likely given a PBT to begin the process of justifying either observed or reported erratic driving or on a routine traffic stop. The changes in this opaque legislation will not stop officers from conducting their investigations as they have been regarding drunk drivers or how prosecutors will use this evidence to build their case.
What Can You Do About It?
For the hand wringing over this issue it does not change the fact that if you have been arrested and charged for OWI in Michigan, you are strongly urged to hire a qualified DUI specialist criminal defense attorney who can best help you deal with what can feel like an overwhelming and frightening process. OWI laws in Michigan are rather strict and you will want an attorney that can help you steer through the complexities that are often presented in these cases. Be it phrased as ‘preliminary roadside analysis’ or ‘preliminary chemical breath analysis’ – if the evidence that you blew a .09 into a tube or couldn’t stare outwardly on one leg with your arms akimbo is allowed in court, you should not be handling these matters by yourself.
There is an ongoing responsibility to ensure the safety of Michigan drivers by keeping those impaired and intoxicated off of our roads – of this there is no doubt. In the meantime, we do not want the idea of ‘borderline’ and suspect testing measures being used against people to secure a conviction without harder proof and evidence. Though these tests can be open to debate as to reliability, drunk driving cases are pursued aggressively. Please contact our office at (248) 541-2600 for a case evaluation today.