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Grand Rapids Criminal Defense Law Blog

Avoid drug charge tears by being aware of justice tiers

If you are arrested for drug possession in Michigan, chances are the police officer represents a local jurisdiction. Depending on the circumstances of the encounter, however, drug charges eventually brought could expand beyond just possession. They could also come at you from more than one level. Protecting your legal rights may require a strategy that involves defending against the full array of possible actions.

It's good to keep in mind that there are federal drug laws and there are state drug laws. Authorities at each level have jurisdictional right to prosecute so it's possible for a person to be charged at the state level, federal level, or both. The sooner a defendant has legal representation, the more chance there is of influencing which system eventually handles the case. 

Criminal conduct or someone in need of treatment?

For decades, Michigan law enforcement has viewed drug use as primarily one of criminal conduct, deserving of punishment for violating the law and societal norms. Much of the force of criminal law is based on a rational weighing of costs and benefits. You can rob a bank and enjoy the "profit" of your robbery until you are caught and sentenced to prison. That "cost" outweighs the temporary benefit for most people.

Drugs are different. Many people believe they will never become addicted, that their rational thoughts can overcome the chemical reaction that takes place in their brain. The jails and prisons of Michigan are full of individuals who believed this. The danger with any drug use is that no matter why someone began using, once they are addicted, they no longer have the ability to control their use.

The police are always looking for an excuse to stop a vehicle

Police cannot stop a vehicle legally simply because of a random whim. They have to have what is known as probable cause or reasonable suspicion or an ordinance violation or criminal activitiy. This standard is typically satisfied by a driver traveling over the speed limit, weaving in a lane, failing to signal a turn or having some type of equipment failure, like a burnt-out taillight or turn signal.

In Michigan, as in most states, police often use reasonable suspicion as a means of getting a closer look at a driver. The Michigan Court of Appeals recently decided a case involving a question of whether a slightly defective taillight provided adequate grounds for a police stop. The court ruled that an officer's perception of a dim taillight was sufficient to make a legal stop.

Corsages, dresses, tuxes and OWI charges?

Besides the weather warming up, there’s another definite indicator that it is spring: girls in prom dresses and boys in tuxes. It’s a special time of year for our teenagers, many of whom prepare for the event months ahead. Parents will likely pay a pretty penny for corsages, dresses, tuxes and limousines, and an unfortunate few may end up having to pay criminal fines if their child is stopped post-party and charged with OWI.

If a driver who is not of legal drinking age is found to have a blood-alcohol concentration of .02 or more, that driver may face OWI charges in our state. If this charge leads to a conviction, it could have a negative impact on your child’s future.

The Michigan Department of Corrections has been misnamed

Criminal justice systems are based on two premises. One, the police and prosecutors should arrest and try dangerous criminals to maintain public safety. Second, those incarcerated should be reformed, rehabilitated or corrected, to enable them to return to broader society and become productive citizens.

This is why many states have departments of "corrections." As inmate populations have grown and the criminal justice systems have become more and more expensive to operate, costs of training and educating inmates have become some of the first things to be cut, often seen as "luxuries" the state was providing to "criminals."

"No, I’ll keep recording"

A recent case highlights some police behavior that can be a problem in certain situations. A man driving for Uber was stopped for a broken taillight on his vehicle. As the police approached, he began taking video with his cellphone. The police officer ordered him to turn off the camera, stating "Hey, bud, turn that off, okay." The driver politely declined.

He replied to the officer, "No, I’ll keep recording, thank you, it’s my right." The officer then insisted that "You don't record me, you got me?" The next part of the conversation is one that many drivers in Michigan have probably experienced. The police officer then stated, "Be careful because there is a new law," and "Turn it off or I’ll take you to jail." But that statement was a lie. And the Uber driver knew it.

Determining if a search of your car was unlawful

Take a moment and imagine being pulled over by police one evening. Even if it's not your first time getting pulled over, you may very well be on edge. You might not know what you did wrong or why police are pulling you over.

On the other hand, police know exactly what they want and what they are looking for when they pull any driver over. They know the procedures they are supposed to follow and how far they can bend the law before breaking it. This can put you at a serious disadvantage, especially if police search your car.

Will the legislature's actions reduce recidivism?

Criminal justice reform in on the agenda of the Michigan Legislature again this year. A package of bills has been introduced and received unanimous support in the Senate. The bills are supposed to help save the state some of the $2 billion spent every year by the Department of Corrections, which is the single largest element of the state's budget.

There are more than 100,000 individuals under the jurisdiction of the DOC, and the immense cost of this system, has slowly made some type of criminal justice reform a priority within many states' legislatures. The difficulty for the lawmakers is that it is always easier to find support for increasing penalties when some high-profile crime occurs, while it is much more difficult to develop effective programs that reduce recidivism and return offenders back to society as productive citizens.

Don't think you need an attorney?

On television, criminal cases are neatly solved by the end of the episode. The police are portrayed as haveing sophisticated technology and clever detectives. You may even believe that if you were arrested, you must be guilty. The reality is often different.

If you have been arrested and charged with drunk driving in Michigan, you may think that there is little you can do dispute the charges.  The police have impressive uniforms, vehicles and CSI-like devices that can "discover" the truth. The important thing to remember is that all of this is operated by fallible humans who often make mistakes.

How does 13 DUIs happen?

A man was arrested earlier this month and charged with what could become his 14th drunk driving conviction if he is convicted. Many complain and wonder how is this possible? Because the Michigan legislature says so. The news report states he has not had a valid license since 1983. Some outraged individuals wonder why he has not been sentenced to life in prison since that is the only time he seems to stop driving while intoxicated.

It's a complex issue. Part of it is the difference between policy and adjudication. The legislature makes policy. They decide the types of activity that are considered "criminal," and the penalties. Back in the 1970s, when this man began driving, prohibitions against drunk driving were different. People thought little of having "one for the road," and punishments were much lighter.

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