LANSING, MI – The day after the Michigan Senate passed legislation that would allow bars meeting certain requirements to stay open until 4 a.m., the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys coincidentally had a long-planned seminar.
“We were just talking at lunch about the 4 a.m. bill,” East Lansing attorney Mike Nichols of The Nichols Law Firm said Friday.
The Michigan legislation — which passed the Senate last week — would still have to pass the House of Representatives and be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder to become law.
It’s a bill with possible implications for attorneys who handle drunk driving cases.
Neil Rockind of Rockind P.C. in Southfield said he expects to see more incidents.
“Any time you get people more time and opportunity to spend in a bar, I think you’re going to see more alcohol use and obviously more incidents related to alcohol use,” Rockind said.
He’s concerned about the potential for police to increase their use of pretext stops, where they may pull someone over for a busted tail light or not using a turn signal but really want to check if the driver is drunk.
The scenario he’s concerned about?
“The police just sit around the urban centers or the Downtown Development Area and just watch cars leaving the area and say ‘hey if you’re leaving this area where the bars are open until 4 a.m. it’s likely that the driver is drunk.’ I think that’s a concern. And it’s foreseeable,” Rockind said.
But Nichols said that pretext stops have always been a concern.
“Since I’ve become a lawyer that’s been a concern. I don’t think pretext stops and targeted enforcement and giving people tests that are set up to fail, I don’t think that’s going to change at all whether it’s 1:30 in the morning or 3:30 in the morning,” Nichols said.
Patrick Barone, president of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys and an attorney at Barone Defense Firm in Birmingham, said this might create two windows of time when people could be arrested for drunk driving — one as people leave bar parking lots at 4 a.m., and another as people enter those parking lots at 2 a.m., when other bars close. A police officer could hang out in a bar’s parking lot and talk to people as they head in.
“Chances are if somebody’s drunk leaving the bar at 4 (a.m.), they’re going to be drunk driving to the bar at 2 (a.m.). So there’s really going to be two opportunities for drunk driving arrests,” Barone said.
Both he and Nichols pointed to relatively steady drunk driving arrest data over the past several years, and neither thought a 4 a.m. bar option would change the overall number.
“My guess is this is not going to affect overall numbers of arrests,” Barone said.
Rockind, however, thinks there will be more arrests. Police will know that people on the road in early morning hours are most likely coming from a bar, he said.
“There are going to be more people who are accused of crime,” Rockind said.