Defense attorney cites ‘zealous’ prosecution in trooper’s impaired driving case.

February 12, 2016
Attorney Mike Nichols, front, along with Seymour, left, and attorney Gary Springstead, during the May 2015 trial.

Attorney Mike Nichols, front, along with Seymour, left, and attorney Gary Springstead, during the May 2015 trial.

By Allison Scarbrough. Contributing Editor.

LUDINGTON — Criminal defense attorney Mike Nichols said Michigan State Police Trooper Sammy Seymour, who was found guilty of driving an off road vehicle (ORV) while impaired earlier this week, was prosecuted much harder by Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola than the average citizen and that Seymour’s breath test at the jail was improperly administered. 

Seymour was pulled over about 2 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2015 by Ludington Police Department Sgt. Stephen Wietrzkowski on Delia Street south of Loomis Street. The off duty trooper was charged with a misdemeanor offense of operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI), which requires driver’s license sanctions. The case went to trial in 79th District Court in May 2015 but the six-person jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. As a result, Judge Peter Wadel declared a mistrial. 

Recently, Seymour and the prosecutor’s office reached a plea agreement, dismissing the original OWI charge and adding an additional offense of ORV – operating while impaired. Seymour’s sentence for operating an ORV while impaired does not include any driver’s license sanctions. 

Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola.

Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola.

Nichols, who specializes in drunk driving cases at his East Lansing firm, said Seymour was “belching and burping” which “contaminated” his video-recorded breath test at the jail. He said the officer “never came close” to properly administering the test, according to Michigan State Police Rule 5.  

Wadel ruled during the trial that the breath test was improperly administered, and Mason County Probate Judge Jeffrey Nellis affirmed that ruling in a written opinion issued last December.

Although Spaniola was “zealous” with his efforts to convict Seymour with a drunk driving, the “insufficiencies” of the breath test administration overtook the case, Nichols said. “It was a crappy case.”

When asked how Seymour could be convicted of operating an off-road vehicle on the streets of Ludington (which was illegal at the time he was arrested last January — since that time Ludington City Council has passed an ORV ordinance allowing certain ORV use in the city limits; additionally Seymour was driving a Volkswagen Jetta), Nichols said the charge could be made “due to ‘legal fiction.'” A provision of Michigan Court Rules allows a person to plead guilty to the facts of the crime for which they are charged or for which they are convicted, Nichols said, adding it was a negotiated conviction.

“Sammy was prosecuted more partially than the average citizen,” he said. The attorney, who has been in practice for 17 years, said he has tried cases with similar circumstances all over Michigan and most of them end up with a traffic ticket.

“The end result is no (driving) sanctions,” he said of Seymour’s conviction on the reduced charge. “It’s not reportable to the Secretary of State.” Also, Seymour’s record can be expunged after five years. That was a key component to the reduced charge in the plea agreement.

“Drunk drivings can never be expunged,” Nichols said. “DUIs ruin people’s lives.”

However, with the end result “nobody walked away happy,” he said. Nichols said Seymour spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on his defense, and the case has caused him “hours and hours of stress and anxiety.”

Seymour is currently working road patrol for the Cadillac MSP post, according to MSP spokesperson Sierra Medrano. There is an internal investigation regarding his criminal conviction, Medrano said.

Nichols said he focuses on “exposing some of the fallacies in drunk driving cases in Michigan.”

MCP has been unsuccessful in reaching Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola for comment, because he is out of  the office.

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