State Highway Safety Showcase
Genesee County Fatal Alcohol Crash Team (F.A.C.T.)
The Genesee County F.A.C.T. program, the first of its kind in the State of Michigan and one of only a handful nationwide, aggressively fights drunk driving through comprehensive and detailed crash scene investigations and prosecutions.
The program was implemented to combat the high number of drunk driving crashes that occur each year in Genesee County, which consistently has one of the highest rates of fatal and serious injury crashes in the State of Michigan.
The F.A.C.T. program is comprised of a team of officers from different agencies around the County who are highly trained and use the latest equipment available in the field of crash scene investigations. Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton has assigned two assistant prosecutors to work with the F.A.C.T. teams on an on-call basis 24/7. The goal of the program is to put together a rock-solid prosecution case in order to hold impaired drivers responsible when they kill or seriously injure others in alcohol and/or drug-related crashes.
Traditionally, fatal and serious injury crashes are investigated by officers from the local jurisdiction in which the crash takes place. There are a multitude of problems with that approach when it comes to those incidents that should be prosecuted. For example, some departments do not have the resources to properly train their officers and purchase the necessary reconstruction equipment. Those departments that do have the proper equipment and training may not experience enough crashes to give their officers adequate "real-life" field training to fully develop their skills. Additionally, each police agency has its own set of policies and procedures when investigating crashes; each case comes in for prosecution with a different reporting format and techique.
The F.A.C.T. program addresses these issues by ensuring the proper equipment is being used at every crash scene and every officer involved has received the proper classroom and field training to ensure the best crash reconstruction report possible. Uniform protocol is in place to ensure that the prosecutor has all the information needed in every case. Additionally, having assistant prosecutors present at the scene allows the investigating officers to get search warrants in a timely fashion and allows them to get legal advice on the investigation immediately. This also lets the assisant prosecutor get a firsthand view of the crash scene, which will assist in the prosecution in court. All this helps both at the trial phase and in the warrant writing phase. There are times when the F.A.C.T. investigation shows that a case should not be prosecuted or it impacts what charges are brought forth. It is better for the prosecutor to make an informed decision at the outset rather than try to clean up the pieces on the eve of a trial.
This program involved a memorandum of understanding between 26 different police agencies in Genesee County that would allow for the F.A.C.T. teams to be dispatched to crash scenes in any of the participating agencies jurisdictions when alcohol or drugs were suspected to be involved and where the crash involved a fatality or serious injury.
The Genesee County F.A.C.T. program is funded by a three-year grant of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP). OHSP provided federal funds to be used for training, overtime and equipment.
In 2008, the F.A.C.T. teams investigated 38 crashes which resulted in 17 deaths and 31 serious injury victims. F.A.C.T.-investigated cases have a 100% conviction rate and in at least one sentencing the Judge exceeded sentencing guideline due, in part, to the specific details obtained from the crash investigation which amplified the criminal acts of the defendant to the Court.
The State of Michigan's Office of Highway Safety Planning has promoted this program at several statwide law enforcement and prosecutor conferences. Plans are to replicate this program in other counties and regions around the State in the years ahead. The overall goal is to hold those responsible for serious injury and fatal alcohol-related crashes accountable through prosecution, thereby taking them off the roads and to raise public awareness that law enforcement takes this issue very seriously.
- John Potbury
Genesee County Special Assitant Prosecuting Attorney