Tips for a Safe Halloween – Attorney Steven R. Simkins  @simkinslaw

Halloween can be a fun holiday for kids, but a worrisome one for parents. Concerns about children’s safety–whether they are out in the neighborhood or back home with bags of goodies–can darken the day more quickly than a black cat. But not to worry! To make Halloween a treat, follow these safety tips.


  • Welcome trick-or-treaters with your porch lights and any exterior lights on.
  • Patrol your street occasionally to discourage speeding motorists, acts of malicious mischief and crimes against children.
  • Report any suspicious or criminal activity to your police department immediately.  Just call 9-1-1.
  • Do not give homemade or unwrapped treats to children.


Exercise extreme caution when driving a vehicle.  Be on the alert for excited youngsters, whose vision may be obscured by masks, darting out into traffic.


Make sure your kids dress up safely

  • Make sure costumes are flame retardant so children aren’t in danger near burning jack-o-lanterns.
  • Keep costumes short to prevent trips, falls, and other bumps in the night.
  • Try make-up instead of a mask. Masks can be hot and uncomfortable, and they can obstruct a child’s vision, a dangerous thing when kids are crossing streets and going up and down steps.
  • Make sure kids wear light colors or put reflective tape on their costumes.

Make trick-or-treating trouble free

  • Create a map of a safe trick-or treating route and set a time limit for your children to “trick-or-treat”.
  • Trick-or-treaters should always be in groups so they aren’t a tempting target for real-life goblins. Parents should accompany young children.
  • Make sure older kids trick-or-treat with friends. Together, map out a safe route so you will know where they are going. Tell them to stop only at familiar homes where the outside lights are on.
  • Try to get your kids to trick-or-treat while it’s still light out. If it’s dark, make sure someone has a flashlight and pick well-lighted streets.
  • Do not go inside anyone’s home. Remain on the porch at all times.
  • Do not accept rides from strangers.
  • Remind kids to keep a safe distance from moving cars.
  • Cross only at street corners, never between parked cars, and never diagonally across an intersection.
  • Look in all directions before crossing the street, and obey all traffic signals. Walk, never run, across the street, and use sidewalks, not the street, for walking.
  • Do not take shortcuts through back yards, alleys or parks.
  • Do not eat any treats until parents have inspected them.
  • Discard any homemade or unwrapped treats.

Check all treats before eating

  • It’s hard for kids to hold back from eating their treats until they get home. One way to keep trick-or-treaters from digging in while they’re still out is to feed them a meal or a snack beforehand.
  • Check out all candy in a well-lighted place when your trick-or-treater gets home.
  • What to eat? Only unopened candies and other treats that are in original wrappers. Don’t forget to inspect fruit and homemade goodies for anything suspicious.
  • Halloween can be a lot of fun for parents and kids alike–if everybody remembers the tricks and treats of playing it safe.


A note to parents:

  • Make sure your children’s costumes are not flammable.
  • Do not permit your children to wear cumbersome, floor length or vision-impairing costumes.
  • Reflectorized stripes make your costume more visible.
  • Wear comfortable, safe shoes.
  • Call 9-1-1 if you suspect any tainted candy.



Grand Rapids Community Outreach Court

May 7, 2014 – Attorney Steven R. Simkins

I was fortunate to be a part of the first session of Community Outreach Court in Grand Rapids, MI.  What is Community Outreach Court?  It’s the brainchild of the Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project and Judge Donald Passenger of the 61st District Court (as well as his outstanding staff and other leaders of the GR community) wherein a courtroom is set up at Mel Trotter Ministries, staffed by actual court personnel, probation officers. volunteer workers from various local agencies and volunteer attorneys.  Neighbors with legal issues are paired with advocates from these agencies to come up with a plan to tackle whatever legal quandary they are facing.  If they work the plan, positive results can happen, like reduced or eliminated fines and court costs, records cleared, warrants waived, etc.  At the first session of Community Outreach Court on March 19, 2014, the wonderful Mary Alice Walker, Advocacy Coordinator, presented the first and only candidate with a plan in place which had already had a positive impact for this individual .  After listening closely, Judge Passenger said, “People think we get our thrills putting people in prison.  We don’t.  We consider that a failure.  It’s our goal that interactions with the court will help people become more whole and productive members of society.  We believe this program will help that.” 

Many thanks to the Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project for bringing everyone in the community together to make this happen!


The Law and Penalties for “Drunk Boating”

April 30, 2014 – Simkins Law.

As warmer weather approaches, Michigan residents are likely gearing up for the summer boating season.  As an attorney, I am often asked about the law and penalties associated with boating and alcohol; i.e., what is and isn’t allowed.

While it is lawful to have open containers of alcohol and drink from them on a boat, it should be no surprise that it is unlawful to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol. Essentially, it is illegal to operate a vessel while intoxicated or while visibly impaired. A “vessel” is defined to include basically any manner of watercraft capable of being used for transportation. The term “operate” means to be in control of a boat while it is underway. Thus, if your boat is secured to a dock or is at anchor, you are not “operating” the boat.

The legal limit for drunk boating is .10 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood (i.e., BAC). This is higher than the .08 BAC legal limit for drunk driving in Michigan. Additionally, similar to the Michigan drunk driving laws, a Michigan boater gives his or her “implied consent” to submit to a chemical test upon the lawful request of an officer. The purpose of the test is to determine the boater’s BAC. If you are arrested for a drunk-boating, you must be advised of the right to refuse the test, and that a refusal carries with it an automatic suspension of your right to operate a vessel in Michigan for six months.

A first conviction for drunk boating (boating while intoxicated) is a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to 93 days in jail, 45 days of community service, or a fine of up to $500, or any combination of these penalties. A subsequent offense within seven years is also a misdemeanor, and may lead to a sentence of up to one year in jail, with a minimum 48 hours of consecutive jail time, a fine of $200 to $1,000 and up to 90 days of community service. If a person has two prior drunk boating convictions within the previous 10 year period, the new offense may be charged as a felony that is punishable by not less than one year and up to five years in jail or a fine of $500 to $5,000, or both.

A boating while visibly impaired charge is different than a boating while intoxicated charge—instead of showing that your BAC was over the legal limit, the prosecution only has to prove that your ability to operate the water craft was visibly impaired due to the consumption of alcohol

Causing a death while operating a boat under the influence of alcohol may result in a homicide charge. Michigan also classifies causing serious injury as a felony offense. If you are convicted of a felony homicide or serious injury charge, you could face prison time in addition to large fines.

The one question I get asked the most about drunk boating laws is, “how will the conviction affect my driver’s license?” Obviously, drunk driving convictions carry with them mandatory sanctions imposed on a driver’s license by the Secretary of State. However, if a person is convicted of drunk boating, the Secretary of State imposes no driver’s license sanctions on that person’s license. Instead, the court has discretion to order a person convicted with drunk boating to not operate a vessel for a certain period of time. This may be as little as 6 months to one year for a first conviction of boating while impaired, or as much as one to two years for a first conviction of boating while intoxicated.

Have a safe and fun summer!