Archive for April, 2010

That Drink Can Last A Lifetime!

 By Attorney Raymond A. Cassar

Spring is in the air and many High School students are excited about Prom and graduation parties.  For seniors, this is the end of High School and the beginning of the rest of their lives. 

For many young adults, celebrating with friends includes alcohol. Forty-five percent of twelfth graders report using alcohol. But most High School students really do not know what is at stake if they get arrested for a “Minor in Possession” (of alcohol),  commonly referred to as an “MIP.”

The first thing teens need to know is that police officers are in full force on Prom night.  They get lists from every school in the jurisdiction so that they do not miss this important event.  They are on the lookout and they mean business. 

The Police also love to attend Graduation parties.  They rarely get an invitation, but you can bet they know where the parties are.  They also count on neighbors who call in and eagerly point them in the right direction.  The police get a real bang for the buck when they bust a party.  They can write 20 or more tickets for under age drinking in a very short time, which is a whole lot simpler than hoping to run into some wayward kid who may have had consumed alcohol and now can’t find his way home.

Michigan Compiled Laws 436.1703 makes it a criminal misdemeanor for a “minor” (which is basically every High school student) to purchase, consume or even ATTEMPT to possess alcohol.  The phrase “attempt to possess alcohol” is the key here.  This means the law also applies to all of the students that may not have had any alcohol at the party, but are standing right next to the keg, or holding a bottle of beer for their friend.  The problem is that unless you are in another room playing a video game, if the police come in (and they always do) you stand a good chance of getting an MIP charge.  Rarely does only one officer come to the house, so trying to run away only makes things worse.  It is common for several police cars to be on the scene and that makes it a night to remember.

Contrary to what some teens think, getting an MIP is not something to brag about.  Getting arrested is not fun.  The jail cell you will be held in is very similar to an overcrowded public bathroom at a beach or concert.  Calling your parents from the jail (if the phone works) will provide you with a memory that literally lasts a lifetime for both you and your parents.  

Going to court is no picnic either.  Telling the Judge that you are going off to college in the fall rarely impresses the Judge.  While the fine on a first offense is only $100 the court also imposes work detail on weekends and community service and you have to pay to do the work program.  After all someone has to pay the retired police officers that supervise you while you are picking up trash from the side of the road. 

The court also places everyone on probation for 9 months to a year and again charges you $30 to $45 dollars a month for that privilege.  Suffice to say that the court experience is not enjoyable. Keep in mind that cleaning up the sides of the road while wearing a bright orange vest is demeaning, especially when someone you know drives by and beeps their horn to acknowledge you.

Additionally the Court may revoke your driving privileges, and may order alcohol counseling and ongoing alcohol testing – which you also have to pay for.

You need to also remember that in Michigan an MIP is a misdemeanor which means it is a crime that results in you having a criminal record. Colleges are not impressed with anything on your criminal record.  Future employers also are not amused when they run a record check and see a drinking violation.  Lying on a job application and hoping they will not find your misdemeanor makes working anywhere ten times harder since each day you worry about it popping up and losing the job.

Graduation parties and the memories of friends you have made in High School should last a lifetime.  Do not let an under age drinking event (and a criminal record) be part of those lasting memories. 

 The best way to avoid being arrested on an MIP is to steer clear of situations involving alcohol.  But mistakes happen and teens can “be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  If you or someone you love has been charged with an MIP there are many things an experienced MIP lawyer can do to minimize the costs – and to keep you from ending up with a criminal record. We have represented hundreds of teens who have been arrested for MIP.

Call the Law Offices of Raymond A. Cassar, if you need help with an MIP in Michigan:   Oakland County: 248-855-0911     Wayne County: 313-278-8811.

Or visit our M I P website for more information:

http://www.michiganmiplawyer.com

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The Unintended Consequences of State Government: Understanding Michigan’s Driver Responsibility Law

by Attorney Daryl Wood, JD

In an all-too-common story that is repeated over and over in the State of Michigan and all over the country, a person – we’ll call him George – is pulled over for speeding.  The officer gives George a break and only issues him a ticket for No Proof of Insurance on Person – this way, George doesn’t have to appear for a hearing.  The officer tells George, “Go to the courthouse, and get the ticket signed off, and you won’t have worry about appearing in front of the judge.”  Following the officer’s advice, George takes his ticket up to the courthouse.  As promised, the court clerk signs off on his ticket and charges George $25.  However, a few weeks later, George receives a surprise in his mailbox – a bill for  $200 in driver responsibility fees for each of the next two years.

Since money is tight, George sets up a payment plan with the Department of Treasury.  He struggles to meet the payments and misses one.  Because of his missed payment, George’s license is suspended.  Unable to pay off the assessment right away and facing the loss of his employment, George continues to drive to and from work.  It’s not long before he receives a ticket for Driving While License Suspended and another $500 driver responsibility fee assessment for each of the next two years.

Come tax time, George learns the hard way that if there is an outstanding driver responsibility fee, Michigan will intercept your state tax returns and take out the fee before sending you the rest of your tax return.  George is now stuck in an uncontrollable cycle, which continues and just about consumes him.

How Did This Happen?

In 2003, the State of Michigan enacted the Driver Responsibility Fee through 2003 Senate Bill 509, Public Act 165 of 2003.  Today the list of fees can be found at http://www.michigan.gov/driverresponsibility/0,1607,7-213-32166—,00.html.  In 2003 – much like today – the Michigan Legislature was struggling to balance the state budget, when they decided to mirror a New Jersey program for driver responsibility fees.  Statistics showed that New Jersey was boasting collection rates of 60% on these fees.  Hoping for the same results, Michigan anticipated raising $74.8 million dollars per year from Driver Responsibility Fees.  The Legislature adopted the driver responsible program, stating that its desire was to curb participation in serious driving offenses.  In reality, Michigan’s actual collection rate was somewhat lower than New Jersey’s, and ended up at 48.5% through 2008.

Unfortunately, the driver responsibility program has had a devastating effect on the lower-income residents of this state.  In 2005, there were 95,323 offenses involving Driving While License Suspended.  By 2007, that statistic rose to 44%, or 137,673 cases.  Since 2003, the State of Michigan has billed over $800 million but collected only approximately $400 million.

Many of the individuals that are assessed the driver responsibility fees are not even aware of the program until it is too late.  Assessments of $200 for No Insurance or No Proof of Insurance and assessments of $150 for Expired License commonly surprise individuals who generally are not advised in advance of the consequences of pleas of responsibility or guilt.  These fees don’t just hit you for one year, but they come back again the next year.

Unintended Consequences

Here is the problem:  The State created the program because it needed a new revenue stream, but even at the time they implemented it, their model for the program – New Jersey’s system – showed that they would never collect all of the fees.  This meant that over 40% of the people who were covered by the far-reaching umbrella of the driver responsibility program would never be able to afford to pay off their driver responsibility fees, and thus would end up with suspended licenses and continually multiplying bills.

The consequence of this is that the legislature’s new revenue stream became a direct hit to low-income families and individuals.  While the legislature knew that there was a very good chance that 40% of the people charged with these fees would be financially unable to pay, they failed to build a safety valve into the program.  There currently is no way for low-income people to petition for a reduction in the outstanding balances based on financial hardship.

Why was this bill enacted?  Those responsible for enacting the legislation wanted to be able to state to the public that they did not vote to raise taxes.  However, this is really a tax in disguise – a punitive measure on low income individuals without judicial oversight.

Thank you, State Legislators, for creating a new criminal class for the poor.  Even criminal restitution statutes allow for a person to avoid imprisonment based solely on their inability to pay.  However, now that driver responsibility fees are the law, many in Michigan people face jail time for Driving While License Suspended for no other reason than that they are unable to pay their bills.

Attorney Daryl Wood is an experienced Michigan defense attorney, and a recognized legal expert on Driver’s License suspension and restoration issues. If you have received a ticket, have had a license suspended, or have been subject to Driver’s Responsibility fees in Michigan, Mr. Wood can help and advise you.

Contact Mr. Wood at: 313.278.8811 or 248.855.0911. Or visit his web site at http://www.crimlawattorney.com or  http://www.drunkdrivingmichiganlawyer.com

Think Before You Tweet

by Sarah Blalock

Think that all your Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, and Myspace updates could never cause you any trouble?  Think again.

Thanks to the recent release during a lawsuit of several internal documents from the United States Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service, we now know that the government is using social networking sites to investigate cases of all types.  According to an recent article in the Detroit Free Press by Associated Press writer Richard Lardner  (http://freep.com/article/20100316/NEWS09/100316040/1320/Careful-New-Facebook-friend-might-be-the-feds), agents are even going so far as to go undercover on these online sites in order to gather information about suspects or witnesses in criminal cases.  

While this is something that may just now be becoming public knowledge, the fact that law enforcement officers look to social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Twitter to assist in their investigations is old news to those of us who defend people involved in computer-related crimes.  In fact, here at the Law Offices of Raymond A. Cassar, it is standard procedure for us to ask our new clients about their accounts on social networking sites, in order to be best prepared to handle their cases.  It is almost a given in this day and age that the prosecutor and police will be searching for our clients’ Facebook pages to see if they contain any incriminating evidence. 

Government agents, probation officers, and prosecutors can either go undercover by submitting a “friend request” on sites like Facebook, or by “following” a person on Twitter.  Once the agent is accepted as a friend or follower, they will have full access to the person’s page, and any posts or photos there.  Agents can pose as underage girls or boys in order to catch a person they believe is an online predator, or they can seek out photos of a person engaged in illegal activity such as drug use or underage alcohol use.  Often, agents don’t even need to go undercover – they simply have to click on the person’s social networking page.  Once they do, if the page is not set to private, they have access to a virtual goldmine of personal information.  Even if one’s profile IS set to private, police and probation officers may be able to access their information through a friend’s page that isn’t private – it all depends on how diligently they are willing to search.

In Michigan, the use of social networking sites for this type of investigation is of particular note.  If prosecutors can tie the commission of a crime to a person’s computer use, the penalties are even higher than they would be if that crime were committed “in the real world.”  Use of a Computer to Commit a Crime is a common felony charge in Michigan that can apply to all types of criminal cases – from Solicitation of a Minor to Fraud charges.  Use of a Computer to Commit a Crime can drastically raise the stakes and the potential penalties for anyone who is charged with that offense in conjunction with any other criminal charge.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing things about this new trend is that so many people feel “safe” online on social networking websites.  Because they have to approve or deny “friend requests,” many people generally feel that the information they are posting will only be disseminated to people they know and trust.  Lardner’s article, however, is a harsh reminder that when you are online, you are never truly private. 

So the next time you think about updating your Facebook status, or posting a new Tweet, think very carefully about what you are about to say.  “Big Brother” could be watching…

Sarah Blalock is an attorney at the Law Offices of Raymond A. Cassar, a Detroit Area Criminal Defense firm. Mr. Cassar has twenty years of experience in State & Federal Court. His office is happy to give advice regarding criminal matters. You may learn more about Attorney Raymond Cassar and Attorney Sarah Blalock by visiting : http://www.crimlawattorney.com/