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What Are The Penalties For Operating An Aircraft Under The Influence Of Alcohol Or Drugs In Michigan?

by | Dec 23, 2020 | DUI Offenses |

 

Michigan has tough laws criminalizing the use of motor vehicles, snowmobiles, boats and off-road vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  Not surprisingly, there are statutes that also punish the operation of aircraft while intoxicated or impaired.  Unlike a terrestrial vehicle where the operator can simply stop or pull over to the side of the road, a pilot making a landing must have the mental sharpness and sobriety to safely put the aircraft on the ground.  If the pilot’s senses are dulled by intoxication, then lives are at risk.  As a result, offenders are looking at serious penalties for violating these provisions.

For purposes of these laws, the following definitions apply:

  • “Aircraft” means “any contrivance used or designed for navigation of or flight in the air.” MCL 259.2(c).  This includes non-motorized objects used for air flight such as hang gliders.
  • “Operation of aircraft” or “operate aircraft” means “the use of aircraft for the purpose of air navigation, including the navigation or piloting of aircraft. Any person who causes or authorizes the operation of aircraft, whether with or without the right of legal control in the capacity of owner, lessee, or otherwise, of the aircraft, is engaging in the operation of aircraft.” MCL 259.6(e).

A person, whether or not licensed or certified to operate an aircraft, is prohibited from doing ALL of the following:

  • Operate an aircraft or act or attempt to act as a crew member of an aircraft over or upon the lands or waters of this state while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a controlled substance, or any drug or combination of drugs that renders a person incapable of safely operating an aircraft or acting as a crew member of an aircraft, or a combination of intoxicating liquor and a controlled substance or any drug or combination of drugs that renders a person incapable of safely operating an aircraft or acting as a crew member of an aircraft. MCL 259.185(1).
  • Operate an aircraft or act or attempt to act as a crew member of an aircraft over or upon the lands or waters of this state while having an alcohol content of 0.02 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath, or per 67 milliliters of urine. MCL 259.185(2).
  • Operate an aircraft or act or attempt to act as a crew member of an aircraft over or upon the lands or waters of this state within 8 hours after the consumption of an intoxicating liquor or a controlled substance, or any drug or combination of drugs that renders a person incapable of safely operating an aircraft or acting as a crew member of an aircraft. MCL 259.185(3).

The penalties for violating any of these statutes are as follows:

  • For a first offense, a misdemeanor conviction punishable by a fine between $100.00 and $500.00, or up to 93 days in jail, or both, together with the costs of prosecution. MCL 259.185(6).  The court may also order up to 45 days of community service.
  • For a second offense within 7 years of a prior conviction, a misdemeanor conviction punishable by a fine between $200.00 and $1,000.00, or up to 1 year in jail, or both, together with the costs of prosecution. MCL 259.185(7).  The court may also order up to 45 days of community service.
  • For a third or subsequent offense with 10 years of two prior convictions, a felony conviction punishable by a fine between $500.00 and $5,000.00, or up to 5 years in state prison, or both, together with the costs of prosecution. MCL 259.185(8).  The court may also order up to 45 days of community service.
  • If a violation of these statutes resulted in the serious impairment of a body function of another person, a felony conviction punishable by a fine between $1,000.00 and $5,000.00, or up to 5 years in prison, or both. MCL 259.185(5).  “Serious impairment of a body function” includes, but is not limited to, 1 or more of the following:
    • Loss of a limb or use of a limb.
    • Loss of a hand, foot, finger, or thumb or use of a hand, foot, finger, or thumb.
    • Loss of an eye or ear or use of an eye or ear.
    • Loss or substantial impairment of a bodily function.
    • Serious visible disfigurement.
    • A comatose state that lasts for more than 3 days.
    • Measurable brain damage or mental impairment.
    • A skull fracture or other serious bone fracture.
    • Subdural hemorrhage or subdural hematoma.
  • If a violation of these statutes resulted in the death of another person, a felony conviction punishable by a fine between $2,500.00 and $10,000.00, or up to 15 years in prison, or both. MCL 259.185(4). 

In addition, “[t]he owner of an aircraft or the person in charge or in control of an aircraft shall not knowingly permit the aircraft to be operated over or upon the lands or waters of this state by a person who is under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a controlled substance, or any drug or combination of drugs that renders a person incapable of safely operating an aircraft or acting as a crew member of an aircraft, or a combination of intoxicating liquor and a controlled substance or any drug or combination of drugs that renders a person incapable of safely operating an aircraft or acting as a crew member of an aircraft, or who consumed an intoxicating liquor or a controlled substance, or any drug or combination of drugs that renders a person incapable of safely operating an aircraft or acting as a crew member of an aircraft, within 8 hours before operating the aircraft or acting or attempting to act as a crew member of an aircraft.”   MCL 259.186.  A person who violates this law is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine between $100.00 and $500.00, or up to 93 days in jail, or both, together with costs of the prosecution.

If the person is arrested for operating an aircraft under the influence, the police officer can require that person to submit to a formal chemical test of that person’s blood, urine or breath (e.g. blood draw or using the DMT Datamaster breathalyzer test).  MCL 259.187(1).  Under Michigan’s implied consent law, a person is deemed to have given consent to formal chemical testing by virtue of exercising the privilege of operating an aircraft in this state.  MCL 259.188(1).  The person may elect whether the testing is completed by blood, urine or breath, but the results are admissible in a court of law to determine the person’s guilt or innocence.  MCL 259.187(3).  Implied consent does not apply to a person who is afflicted with hemophilia, diabetes, or a condition requiring the use of an anticoagulant under the direction of a physician.  MCL 259.188(2).  The police officer cannot compel the person to take a formal chemical test without a court order.  MCL 259.187(6)(a).  A person who refuses to submit to this formal chemical test after arrest will be subjection to sanctions under federal law which can include revocation of any piloting certifications.

If a person is found guilty, pleads guilty or pleads no contest to operating an aircraft under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then the court will order the person to undergo screening and assessment to determine if the person could benefit from rehabilitative services, education or treatment programs.  In addition to the statutory penalties, the court can order that person to participate in and complete a rehabilitative program as a condition of probation or parole at that person’s expense.  MCL 259.185(10).  Failure to complete rehabilitative programs as ordered can result in a violation of probation or parole which subjects the person to additional incarceration.

If a person is convicted of operating an aircraft while intoxicated or impaired, then the court is required to forward the conviction to the federal aviation commission and the Michigan aeronautics commission where further action may be taken on that person’s piloting license and certification.

Michigan has enacted tough penalties for operating an aircraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but that is no reason to accepting defeat in a criminal prosecution. As always, remember that prosecutors have the burden of proving your guilt beyond reasonable doubt.  A knowledgeable and skilled criminal defense lawyer will hold the prosecutors to that standard.  You may have a valid defense to the alleged crime available to assert.  For example, the evidence against you may be suppressed if the peace officer wrongfully seized evidence without a warrant or extracted a confession without notifying you of your Miranda rights.  You may be found not guilty of the offense if you were not actually operating the aircraft, the chemical testing was erroneous or that 8 hours has actually lapsed since your last alcoholic drink.  The stakes are too high to leave your defense to chance.

If you or a loved one is accused of any DUI offense, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.

 

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