(Photo: GILLIS BENEDICT/LIVINGSTON DAILY)
Lawmakers call it a simple error that will soon be fixed, but changes in wording regarding field sobriety tests for impaired drivers have frustrated Michigan police and prosecutors.
In some counties, the change in the state statute regarding field sobriety tests has led judges to kick sobriety test evidence out of court entirely, possibly letting some suspects to go free.
In Livingston County, it’s defense attorneys crying foul as at least one local judge continues to accept test results.
Confusion arose after Legislators last month amended Michigan law regarding field sobriety tests.
Lawmakers sought to create new standards, potentially making it easier to arrest suspects for drugged driving.
However, Livingston County Prosecutor William Vailliencourt said the Legislature, in adopting the new standards, failed to clearly define the tests.
As a result, attorneys and judges across the state are interpreting the law differently.
Traditionally, field sobriety tests include having suspects recite the alphabet, place a finger to their nose, walk a straight line or count backwards, as well as making them undergo a roadside breath analysis.
Vailliencourt said his assistant prosecutors have argued that the tests are admissible when one reads the “plain language” of the statute, which went into effect Jan. 15.
That means a judge can look at the language and its context to determine what the Legislature intended.
“I don’t think anyone seriously believes the Legislature intended to make all effects of a person’s intoxication inadmissible,” Vailliencourt said.
Livingston District Judge Carol Sue Reader apparently agrees with that argument. She admitted roadside test evidence in two recent cases.