Drugged driving is the newest buzz across Michigan. People are not using more drugs, and there has been no remarkable increase in the number of drugged driving accidents, but, suddenly, Michigan police officers are targeting "drugged drivers."
How do Michigan police officers know who is under the influence of drugs? Well, that's pretty simple: Anyone who passes a breath test is probably guilty of something else.
New training materials have been provided to police officers, and the increased emphasis on drugged driving has made police officers increasingly suspicious of sober motorists. Drug driving cases employ a whole new series of field sobriety tests, and so-called "Drug Recognition Experts" (DREs) use a battery of tests and measurements to determine whether a person has taken a prescription or illegal drug. Many lawyers have never seen or heard of these new tests because the DRE program is new to Michigan.
Drugged driving cases also depend on complex blood test analysis that drunk driving lawyers do not usually encounter in garden variety drunk driving cases. Most drunk driving cases involve a breath test. Occasionally, if there is an accident or a chemical test refusal, police might get a search warrant to draw blood. The analysis of blood for alcohol uses GC-FID, gas chromotography utilizing a flame ionization detector. Few lawyers understand GC-FID, but it is relatively straight-forward and easy enough to understand with a little training and classroom experience. None of this compares to drugged driving cases and the toxicological analysis utilized in drug cases.
In drugged driving cases, the Michigan State Police use gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to measure drugs of interest in the blood sample. GC-MS is an analytical method that combines the features of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify different substances within the blood sample. This is far more complex than GC-FID, and classes are not routinely offered in GC-MS. Very few lawyers have even the most rudimentary understanding of GC-MS. Worse still, most lawyers do not know how to construe the toxicology reports. We actually had a case a few years ago where a medical doctor was prepared to plead guilty based upon his attorney's advice until we reviewed his toxicology reports. Between the client-doctor (who did not understand the toxicology report) and his first lawyer, it was a remarkable case of the blind leading the blind. We were able to get the drunk driving charges dismissed after the doctor hired our firm based entirely on that toxicology report because we knew how to read it.
In December 2013, I was invited to address defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges on the topic of drugged driving at the Wayne County Criminal Advocacy Program in the Third Circuit Court in Detroit, Michigan. I had previously addressed this same group in 2009 on the topic of drunk driving defense. It was a wonderful opportunity, and I hope that everyone enjoyed the presentation. I also hope that this video will help lawyers as well as members of the general public become more aware of the issues of drugged driving in Michigan.