The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich. Dept. of Attorney General Web Site - http://www.ag.state.mi.us)
STATE OF MICHIGAN
MIKE COX, ATTORNEY GENERAL
IMPLIED CONSENT LAW:
MICHIGAN VEHICLE CODE:
Whether a prosecutor may gain access to blood alcohol test results before initiating a prosecution against a suspected drunk driver
Under subsection (6)(e) of section 625a of the Michigan Vehicle Code, MCL 257.625a(6)(e), an actual criminal prosecution need not be pending before a prosecutor may obtain the results of blood alcohol tests taken by a medical facility in the course of providing medical treatment to a driver involved in a motor vehicle accident.
Opinion No. 7237
November 10, 2009
Karen A. Bahrman
Alger County Prosecuting Attorney
Alger County Courthouse
101 E. Varnum Street
Munising, Michigan 49862
You have asked whether, under subsection (6)(e) of section 625a of the Michigan Vehicle Code, MCL 257.625a(6)(e), an actual criminal prosecution must be pending before a prosecutor may obtain the results of blood alcohol tests taken by a medical facility in the course of providing medical treatment to a driver involved in a motor vehicle accident. You advise that you have consistently interpreted this section as authorizing a prosecutor to secure blood alcohol test results before seeking a warrant where an accident occurred that involved other evidence of intoxication while driving.
Section 625a of the Michigan Vehicle Code, MCL 257.625a, is part of what is known as the Implied Consent Law.1 As explained by the Michigan Supreme Court in Collins v Secretary of State, 384 Mich 656, 668; 187 NW2d 423 (1971), the long-range purpose of this law is to prevent intoxicated persons from driving on the highways. The specific language in subsection 6(e) of section 625a, MCL 257.625a(6)(e), was enacted by 1982 PA 310 as part of reform legislation that, among other things, added a per se alcohol-related offense to the Vehicle Code.2 MCL 257.625a(6)(e) addresses how various chemical tests taken in connection with providing medical treatment to one involved in a motor vehicle accident may be used:
(6) The following provisions apply with respect to chemical tests and analysis of a person's blood, urine, or breath, other than preliminary chemical
* * *
(e) If, after an accident, the driver of a vehicle involved in the accident is transported to a medical facility and a sample of the driver’s blood is withdrawn
at that time for medical treatment, the results of a chemical analysis of that sample are admissible in any civil or criminal proceedings to show the amount of
alcohol or presence of a controlled substance or both in the person’s blood at the time alleged, regardless of whether the person had been offered or had refused
a chemical test. The medical facility or person performing the chemical analysis shall disclose the results of the analysis to a prosecuting attorney who requests the
results for use in a criminal prosecution as provided in this subdivision. A medical facility or person disclosing information in compliance with this subsection is not
civilly or criminally liable for making the disclosure. [Emphasis added.]
The question becomes whether the words "for use in a criminal prosecution as provided in this subdivision" mean that a prosecutor may only request blood alcohol test results after having filed a criminal complaint to prosecute a suspected drunk driver or whether a prosecutor may request blood alcohol test results to use in deciding whether to bring a prosecution in the first instance. Because no appellate court cases or Attorney General opinions were found that address your question, it may be analyzed using well established principles of statutory construction.
The primary goal of statutory interpretation is to give effect to the intent of the Legislature. Title Office, Inc v Van Buren County Treasurer, 469 Mich 516, 519; 676 NW2d 207 (2004). That process begins with the language of the statute, ascertaining the intent that may reasonably be inferred from the words chosen by the Legislature. Lash v Traverse City, 479 Mich 180, 187; 735 NW2d 628 (2007). Where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, it must be assumed that the Legislature intended its plain meaning and the statute must be enforced as written. A "necessary corollary" of these principles is that nothing may be read into an unambiguous statute that is not within the manifest intent of the Legislature as derived from the words of the statute itself. Halloran v Bhan, 470 Mich 572, 577-578; 683 NW2d 129 (2004). Moreover, language may not be read in a vacuum. It must be read in context and assigned such meaning as is "in harmony with the whole of the statute, construed in the light of history and common sense." Sweatt v Dep't of Corrections, 468 Mich 172, 179; 661 NW2d 201 (2003), quoting Arrowhead Dev Co v Livingston County Rd Comm, 413 Mich 505, 516; 322 NW2d 702 (1982). Words are to be considered in light of the general purpose sought to be accomplished or the evil sought to be remedied by the statute. Altman v Meridian, 439 Mich 623, 636; 487 NW2d 155 (1992).
Reading the operative words of MCL 257.625a(6)(e) in context, the phrase "for use in a criminal prosecution as provided in this subdivision [subdivision (e) of subsection (6)]" plainly operates as a limitation on the purpose for which the test results may be used by a prosecutor who requests them, but it does not impose a particular time frame within which a request for results must be made or imply the stage of criminal proceedings that must have been reached before results may be requested or disclosed. That is, once requested, the results of a chemical analysis must be disclosed in order for a prosecutor to use them "to show the amount of alcohol or presence of a controlled substance or both in the person's blood at the time alleged" in a criminal proceeding. Had the Legislature intended the phrase to only apply in connection with a "pending" criminal prosecution, it could have included this qualifier; in the absence of language providing this additional temporal requirement, however, one may not be implied. Halloran, 470 Mich at 577-578.
This conclusion is consistent with the purpose of MCL 257.625a(6)(e) and affords the language a common sense meaning. As explained by the Court in People v Stoney, 157 Mich App 721, 726; 403 NW2d 212 (1987), quoted approvingly in People v Perlos, 436 Mich 305, 332-333; 462 NW2d 310 (1990), the purpose of MCL 257.625a(6)(e) is "to ease the prosecution of drunk drivers [who have been involved in an accident] by making the results of blood alcohol tests performed by hospitals available to prosecutors, without the use of otherwise cumbersome procedures." In order for a driving while intoxicated charge to be sustained, evidence of intoxication must be presented. In fact, it would be improper for a charge to be issued before any evidence of intoxication is determined. While there are other signs that might lead to such a determination, such as slurred speech, an odor suggesting the use of alcohol, a swerving vehicle, or glassy eyes, nevertheless the most reliable and significant indicator of intoxication is blood alcohol level. Thus, an interpretation requiring a pending charge before a prosecutor may request and gain access to blood alcohol results would be contrary to the Legislature's intent as well as logic.
Further, as a matter of sound public policy, affording a prosecutor access to blood alcohol results in advance of filing a criminal case enhances the government's ability to avoid bringing weak cases and protects the accused from having to face questionable charges. If MCL 257.625a(6)(e) could not be used in the investigation of drunk driving cases, the ability to obtain a conviction in meritorious cases would be significantly jeopardized. For example, in a serious accident where a driver is driving under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substance but is rendered unconscious or severely injured, other evidence of intoxication, such as slurred speech or hampered motor skills, will not be obtainable. Rather, the choice facing a prosecutor under such circumstances would be to forego prosecution due to insufficient available evidence or to charge the driver on a lesser evidentiary basis in order to obtain the blood alcohol test results with the expectation that the evidence will later support the charges. Interpreting MCL 257.625a(6)(e) in accordance with its plain language, on the other hand, allows the use of blood alcohol test results as an investigative tool, and makes the most reliable evidence available to the prosecutor before a charging decision is made, whether inculpatory or exculpatory.
Finally, People v Perlos lends further support to the conclusion that MCL 257.625a(6)(e) affords prosecutors access to blood alcohol test results taken in the course of providing medical treatment before a criminal prosecution is brought. In Perlos, the Michigan Supreme Court granted leave in six consolidated cases to determine the constitutionality of what was then subsection (9) of section 625a of the Michigan Vehicle Code, now subsection (6)(e), and to decide whether disputed blood test results obtained without a warrant should have been suppressed. In upholding the constitutionality of this provision, the Court observed that it was a "carefully tailored statute" that only allows test results to be turned over to the State under narrowly defined circumstances: there must be "an accident, a person must be taken to a medical facility, the person must have been the driver of a vehicle involved in the accident, and medical personnel must order a chemical analysis, on their own initiative, for medical treatment." 436 Mich at 328. Notably, although in each of the cases the results of the chemical analyses were provided before the commencement of a criminal prosecution, the Michigan Supreme Court did not include a pending criminal charge as among the necessary conditions precedent to a proper request and disclosure. Id. at 335 n 2 (J. Levin, dissenting).
It is my opinion, therefore, that, under subsection (6)(e) of section 625a of the Michigan Vehicle Code, MCL 257.625a(6)(e), an actual criminal prosecution need not be pending before a prosecutor may obtain the results of blood alcohol tests taken by a medical facility in the course of providing medical treatment to a driver involved in a motor vehicle accident.
1 See sections 625 through 626c of the Michigan Vehicle Code, MCL 257.625- 257.626c, which are captioned "Driving While Intoxicated, and Reckless Driving." Section 625c of the Michigan Vehicle Code, MCL 257.625c, states that, under the circumstances specified in the section, a person "who operates a vehicle upon a public highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state is considered to have given consent to chemical tests of his or her blood, breath, or urine for the purpose of determining the amount of alcohol or presence of a controlled substance or both in his or her blood or urine or the amount of alcohol in his or her breath."
2 Mueller, Analysis of