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What is Statute of Limitations for Drunk Driving Cases in Michigan?

Dec 6th, 2016 DUI Defense DUI Trials OWI

According to Michigan Compiled Laws 767.24, the Statute of Limitations for a drunk driving case in Michigan is 6 years.  However, under certain circumstances this time period can be extended.  Also, although the limitations period is 6 years, according to Michigan case law, prejudice is presumed after only 18 months.  This means if your drunk driving case is brought just 18 months after you are arrested, then it might sometimes be dismissed.  This speedy trial issue is discussed in more detail below.

Relative to the statute of limitations, the most important date is the date of the arrest because this is the date used to start calculating the applicable time period.  In other words, the “clock” runs from the date of the arrest to the time the charges are brought, either by the issuing of the ticket or the complaint. This is true even though the statute of limitations uses the word “indictment.”  You do not necessarily have to know about the indictment, the prosecutor need only file it within the limitations period.

Also, if you are from out of state, or move out of state during the running of the limitations period, then the limitations might be “tolled” meaning paused.  This means if you are arrested on January 1, 2017, then leave the state to take a new job on January 2, 2017, the statute of limitations won’t start to run again until you return to the state.  Consequently, if you came back to the state of Michigan to retire on January 1, 2030, the prosecutor would have until December 31, 2037 to file the indictment/information with the court. This is because section 8 of the Statute reads as follows:

Any period during which the party charged did not usually and publicly reside within this state is not part of the time within which the respective indictments may be found and filed.

Another thing to consider is that the statute of limitations does not run after you’ve been notified of the charge.  So, if you are arrested on January 1, 2017, and upon arrest the officer serves you with a citation or ticket, then the statute has probably stopped, and you will have no defense.  This is true even if the court does not schedule your first court hearing until January 2, 2025.  Technically your attorney might argue that the statute was not satisfied because no “indictment” was filed, but this argument is not likely to prevail.

Separate but similar to the statute of limitations is the idea that a delay in prosecution is “prejudicial” to your defense.  Prejudice is presumed after 18 months.  This means if there is a delay of 18 months between your arrest and prosecution, then your attorney may be able to have the charges dismissed on this basis alone.  This is called a “speedy trial” violation.

The speedy trial time period is comparatively so short because it is fundamental to our system of justice and “one of the most basic rights preserved by our Constitution.”[i] The provision prevents persons accused of crimes from “undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial … anxiety and concern accompanying public accusation and … impair[ed] … ability … to defend himself.”[ii]

As the courts have observed, serious policy considerations drive the speedy trial rule:

“Inordinate delay between arrest, indictment and trial may impair a defendant’s ability to present an effective defense. But the major evils protected against by the speedy trial guarantee exist quite apart from actual or possible prejudice to an accused’s defense. To legally arrest and detain, the Government must assert probable cause to believe the arrestee has committed a crime. Arrest is a public act that may seriously interfere with the defendant’s liberty, whether he is free on bail or not, and that may disrupt his employment, drain his financial resources, curtail his associations, subject him to public obloquy and create anxiety in him, his family and his friends.[iii]

Although the balancing test requires an ad hoc approach to each specific case, the United States Supreme Court has noted that the lower courts have generally found post-accusation delay “presumptively prejudicial” at least as it approaches one year.[iv]   In Michigan, an 18-month delay is presumptively prejudicial.[v]

Finally, it should be noted that the statute of limitations and speedy trial issues are “affirmative defenses.”  This means they do not work to stop a prosecutor from filing charges. Even if these rules are violated, you can still be charged and even convicted of the “stale” crime, including drunk driving.  If the charges are filed late, then it will be up to your attorney to successfully convince a judge to dismiss them.

Also, if your attorney misses this missed deadline, and fails to raise the defense, then once again, you can still be prosecuted and convicted of the crime even if the information/indictment is filed after this 6-year limitations time period or 18-month speedy trial issue.

[i] Klopfer v North Carolina, 386 US 213, 226; 87 S Ct 988, 995; 18 L Ed 2d 1 (1967).

[ii] US v Marion, 404 US 307, 320; 92 S Ct 455, 463; 30 L Ed 2d 468 (1971).

[iii] Id at 320.

[iv] Doggett v United States, 505 US 647, 671 n4, 112 S Ct 2686, 2701, 120 L Ed 2d 520 (1992).

[v] People v Grimmett, 388 Mich 590, 606; 202 NW2d 278, (1972) (overruled on other grounds, 390 Mich 245; 212 NW2d 222 (1972)).