Defense attorney has concern over pending bill to extend bar hours

 As House Bill 247 continues to gain momentum in allowing bars and restaurants to stay open until 4 a.m., Neil Rockind, founder of Southfield-based criminal defense law firm, Neil Rockind, P.C., says alcohol consumption and related incidents are likely to increase if the bill becomes law.

 House Bill 247 would allow select bars and restaurants the ability to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. for a $10,000 annual fee. In addition to the fee, bars and restaurants would have to be located in a downtown area and be granted approval by that municipality to extend liquor sales for the additional two hours to be eligible for the 4 a.m. closing time.

 “When you allow individuals more time to consume alcohol, the opportunity for alcohol related incidents increases,” Rockind said. “With a heightened potential for risks, many of which are criminal in nature, I suspect the police will likely respond by ramping up pretext stops.”

 According to Rockind, pretext stops can range from a driver being pulled over because of failure to use a turn signal, to a burnt out headlight; the goal of the traffic stop is ultimately to see if the driver is drunk.

 “With the current Liquor Control Code of 1998 closing bars and restaurants at 2 a.m., people are typically off the roads by 2:30 a.m.,” Rockind said. “However, the 4 a.m. closing time will mean drivers will be on the roads until 4:30 a.m. allowing more time for stops and arrests by police to be made.”

 Even though there is a large portion of the proposed bill’s $10,000 fee set aside for public safety, Rockind says the fee’s sole purpose is to make the bill more attractive to the general public and will not cover the cost of additional policing. Further, he sees a threat to civil liberties.

 “Even with the current 2 a.m. closing time, police sit in parking lots near bar hot-spots to watch individuals leave and get into their cars,” Rockind said. “The assumption is if bar patrons are leaving an area where there is a high density of bars, the drivers are likely drunk. I see the potential for this approach to expand even further with extended bar hours, presenting a greater potential for an individual’s civil liberties to be violated.”  House Bill 247 was passed by the Michigan Senate in early December; the bill has to pass in the Michigan House of Representatives and be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder to become law.