Earlier this month, a Michigan appellate court issued an opinion upholding a woman’s 25-year sentence of incarceration for a second-degree murder conviction based on the death of her daughter in a DUI accident. According to one news source reporting on the court’s opinion, the appellate panel consisted of three judges, two of whom voted to affirm the sentence, while the third felt that a lesser sentence would be warranted. The single dissenting judge asked a higher court to take the case and help clarify under which circumstances a defendant can be convicted and sentenced on a second-degree murder charge for a DUI-related death.

Skidding Tire MarksThe Facts of the Case

Back in September 2013, the defendant’s four-year-old daughter died after her mother was involved in an accident. Evidently, the accident occurred when the 27-year-old mother collided with another vehicle when attempting to enter a highway from a highway off-ramp. After the collision, the vehicle rolled, and the four-year-old was ejected from the vehicle. It was later determined that the mother was intoxicated at the time of the accident.

At trial, the court determined that the woman possessed the requisite level of “malice” or intent to support a second-degree murder conviction. After the trial, the woman was sentenced to 25 years in jail. Not satisfied with the result of the trial, she appealed to the appellate court, seeking relief.

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After someone is convicted of a crime, probation will often be a part of the sentence handed down by the presiding judge. Probation sentences can have a number of conditions, including mandatory drug treatment, community service, restitution, fines and costs, and of course, remaining conviction-free during the period of probation.

GavelIn Michigan, there are two types of violations of probation, direct and indirect. An indirect violation of probation is a failure to comply with a term of the judge’s probationary sentence. For example, this may happen if a probationer reports to his probation officer and submits a drug test that comes back positive. A direct violation of probation occurs when a probationer picks up a new case and is convicted. Importantly, an arrest without a conviction is rarely a violation of probation because there has not yet been an adjudication on the new arrest.

A recent article highlights one man’s violation of probation sentence. During his sentencing proceeding, he was ordered to engage in drug treatment, to remain free of drugs and alcohol, and to report to all further court proceedings. However, he failed to appear for court, and a bench warrant was issued. When he was later arrested on the bench warrant and brought before the judge, the man explained that he had not completed treatment and had continued to smoke marijuana and consume alcohol. After hearing this, the judge sentenced the man to an additional 12 to 24 months’ incarceration.

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Police are constantly trying to come up with new ways to deter drunk driving. The most recent attempt to curb Michigan DUIs is a pilot program allowing certain officers to conduct road-side saliva tests for motorists suspected to be under the influence of non-alcohol substances, such as marijuana, crack, or heroin.

Cotton SwabsAccording to one local Michigan news outlet, the new bill, signed by Governor Rick Snyder at the end of last month, will allow officers trained as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) to conduct the saliva tests. The program allows an officer who suspects that a motorist is under the influence to call out a DRE team to conduct the test. The DREs will then swab the inside of the motorist’s mouth to take a sample of the motorist’s saliva. The test would be performed road-side and supposedly provides an immediate result. Currently, the testing method has only been approved for a limited purpose, meaning that it will only be used in the five counties that were a part of the pilot program and will be used in addition to the normal 12-step analysis that the DREs use to determine if a motorist is likely under the influence of drugs.

The accuracy of the saliva testing method has not yet been proven, and the test program hopes to establish whether the new testing method is even accurate enough to be used in criminal prosecutions.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Michigan issued a written opinion in a case against several police officers who were alleged to have lied during an official investigation into one of their peers. In the case, People v. Harris, the court reluctantly upheld a police officer’s unqualified privilege to lie, even while under oath.

CourthousePolice Officers Can Lie When Conducting an Investigation

While not at issue in this case, it is worth noting that the principle underlying the court’s decision is that police officers are allowed to lie when conducting an official investigation. For example, if police arrest two individuals under suspicion of robbing a bank, police are able to isolate each person and question them individually. Not only are police able to question each of these individuals, but they are also entitled to lie to them, perhaps explaining that the other person confessed and that they should do the same for more favorable treatment. Indeed, the promise of favorable treatment – with no intention to carry through on the promise – is one of the most common lies told by law enforcement.

The case decided earlier this month goes further. This case involved allegations that an officer assaulted a motorist during a traffic stop. During investigations, the officer who allegedly engaged in the assault and his partners all denied that the assault occurred. However, they were later shown a video clearly depicting the officer assaulting the motorist. All three officers who had lied during the investigation were charged with perjury.

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Getting convicted of a drunk driving offense often changes a person’s life. The various punishments that come along with a conviction of OWI or DUI are seemingly endless, ranging from probation or jail time to court costs, supervision fees, mandated treatment programs, and so on.

Police CarsIndeed, that list may get a little longer in Michigan, if Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) are successful in their recent campaign to increase the use of ignition interlock devices as an additional punishment for all people convicted of drunk driving offenses.

As the law stands now, any person convicted of drunk driving with a blood-alcohol content of .17 or greater is required to have an ignition interlock system installed on their vehicle, once they get their license reinstated. However, under MADD’s proposed suggestion, the interlock would be an available tool for judges to use in any case in which someone was convicted of DUI or OWI.

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Most criminal cases in Michigan must be brought within a certain number of years, pursuant to state statutes. One reason for this is so that someone does not receive notice that they are being charged with a criminal offense many years after the alleged act, potentially limiting the person’s ability to gather and present evidence in their defense. The general rule in Michigan is that the government has six years to bring a case against someone from the time of the alleged act that completed the crime.

CalendarHowever, Michigan law makes exceptions for certain crimes. And while most cases are subject to a statute of limitations of some sort, some of the most serious crimes are not subject to any time limitation and may be filed at any time. These crimes include murder, solicitation to murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and criminal sexual conduct of the first degree.

Statutes of limitations only deal with pre-arrest delay, and it is important to note that the right to a speedy trial is different from the right provided by a statute of limitations. Once someone is arrested and charged with an offense, the statute of limitations will not apply. However, under the speedy trial rule, the government has only a certain amount of time to bring that person to trial.

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Police cannot keep their eyes on all parts of a city at all times. Indeed, police rely on citizens to report crimes so that they can then send officers out to investigate. However, the United States Constitution requires that police follow certain rules before they go out and arrest people in response to tips they receive from anonymous citizens.

antiques-942851_960_720The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects all citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. In general, this means that police are required to have a warrant. Of course, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement, and one of those is a search conducted after a valid arrest. However, police officers cannot get around this requirement by arresting people for no reason, since the same constitutional amendment prevents police from doing so.

In general, when acting on an anonymous tip, police must conduct an investigation and determine some corroborating facts before acting to arrest or detain the subject of the tip. If a police officer fails to take the necessary precautions, the arrest may be held to be invalid, and anything seized as a result of the arrest must be suppressed at trial.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Michigan heard a case that arose after the defendant was convicted of Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) and child endangerment charges and sentenced to what he claimed was an unfair sentence. The case was prosecuted by the Ionia County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

beer-s-dew-1189815The Facts of the Case

To summarize the relevant facts of the case, the defendant was found by an off-duty officer behind the wheel of a car that was parked outside a video rental store. The officer noticed the man because he was drinking an open beer. In the back seat were two young girls, ages nine and six.

The man was arrested for Operating While Intoxicated, and he was transported to have his blood-alcohol content tested. The test came back positive for alcohol and marijuana. The driver’s blood-alcohol content was .14, well over the legal limit. The man was convicted after pleading guilty and then was sentenced to 24 months’ incarceration as a result. The man’s sentence took into account that there were children who were put in danger as a result of the man’s conduct.

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In the age of the internet, policing has evolved, and the court system has allowed police to engage in increasingly surreptitious investigations designed to trap those who seek to carry on relationships with minors over the internet and in person. These investigations are conducted mostly pursuant to what police believe they are entitled to do. In fact, police are under no obligation in the majority of situations to identify themselves as police. That is exactly how one former Michigan man found himself charged with attempting to coerce or entice a minor in sexual activity.

computer-keyboard-1188763According to a recent news report, a former Michigan man was sentenced to 10 years in jail for traveling to Florida with the intention of having sexual relations with a “minor” whom he had met over the internet. In reality, the minor was an undercover police officer who was posing as a minor in an effort to trap the unsuspecting man.

Evidently, the 51-year-old Ann Arbor man was an assistant professor at the University of Michigan prior to his arrest. However, he will now be required to serve a 10-year jail sentence as well as be required to register as a sex offender.

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Holiday weekends are always a busy time for Michigan State Police, but perhaps none so much as Saint Patrick’s Day. According to one local Michigan news source, Michigan State Police are preparing for what they believe will be a very busy weekend for drunk driving arrests. In fact, last year there were over 2,000 drunk driving arrests in the month of March alone. Many of those occurred over the weekends surrounding St. Patrick’s Day.

cold-beer-1055987To help limit the number of drunk driving arrests, some organizations have offered free rides to intoxicated patrons. However, the reality is that there will still be a significant number of drunk driving arrests over the week.

Punishments in Michigan for Drinking and Driving

Any time a driver is in control of a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol content of .08 or greater, he is in violation of the law for drunk driving. The law also prohibits driving while under the influence of any drug, regardless of whether the driver has a valid prescription. Of course, therapeutic levels of some potentially intoxicating medications are permitted, but it is a fine line.

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