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Appellate Court Overturns OWI Dismissal


Case: People v. Wright, Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished Opinion)

Probable cause; People v. Champion; People v. Lyon; People v. Nguyen; People v. Coleman; Principle that the warrant requirement may be dispensed with in the face of probable cause & a warrant exception; People v. Wood; Principle that the smell of alcohol or burnt marijuana provides probable cause to conduct a search; People v. Kazmierczak; People v. Hilber; People v. Anthony; People v. Rizzo; Preliminary breath test (PBT)


Holding that evidence that defendant was intoxicated, which emerged shortly after he was stopped, supported probable cause for his arrest, the court reversed and remanded. The lower courts found no probable cause existed to administer a PBT, suppressed the evidence, and dismissed the charge against defendant. In a prior appeal, the court reversed, holding that the totality of the evidence available to the investigating troopers was sufficient to establish probable cause and, by extension, any lesser standard that he was operating while intoxicated, supporting the provision of a PBT. On remand, the lower courts again suppressed the evidence, agreeing with defendant “that the troopers failed to follow proper protocol in administering the PBT and that absent the test results,” they lacked probable cause to arrest. In this appeal, the court agreed with the prosecution that even absent the PBT results, the troopers had probable cause to arrest. They smelled alcohol and burnt marijuana. He “was alone in the vehicle and behind the wheel. The odors detected therefore suggested not only that [he] had used two intoxicating substances, but also that he operated a vehicle after doing so.” In addition, the troopers noted that he “used slow, fumbling movements to remove his wallet from his pocket.” Despite one trooper’s loud commands, he “was slow to process and place his hands on the steering wheel. The troopers noted in the post-incident report that [his] eyes were watery and bloodshot, another telltale sign of intoxication. Given the early morning hour, [his] demeanor, and the odor of intoxicants, an officer using ‘reasonable caution’ could honestly and reasonably believe that [defendant] had operated his vehicle while intoxicated.” The previous panel “thoroughly reviewed the evidence and concluded that it was sufficient to justify the administration of a PBT. The information before the troopers was sufficient not only to conduct such a search, but it also supported placing [him] under arrest.” It agreed with the previous panel that “ideally field sobriety tests should have been conducted, but also agree[d] that such hurdles are not mandatory under the OWI statute.” It concluded that the lower courts “abused their discretion in dismissing the OWI charge against” him.

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