Daniels for the defense

Forensics course helps attorney challenge experts

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Criminal defense attorney Colin Daniels attended a hands-on scientific forensics course held by the American Chemical Society in Chicago in January, where he learned about blood-testing instruments and the science behind gas chromatography to reveal the presence of drugs or alcohol. Daniels is now certified to test blood from a lab and can verify or challenge court experts. 
“I’ve never really been a very scientific person. However, when a large part of your legal practice involves drunk driving and drugged driving cases, there’s simply no way to avoid the science,” says Daniels, an attorney with Southfield-based Rockind Law and one of only about 250 attorneys in the U.S. to have completed this coursework. “Neil Rockind attended the seminar before I did and came back raving about how eye-opening it was to actually see how the state tests for blood alcohol content.

“The course was amazing. It was probably the single most informative and eye-opening legal course I’ve ever attended. I learned more about blood testing procedures in those four days than I ever thought possible. Knowing that I now know more about gas chromatograph machines and blood testing procedures than even those that run the tests themselves, is really remarkable.”

Daniels’ interest in the law was sparked at a young age from intense political discussions around the family dining table.

“My grandmother told me I would make a very good lawyer,” he says. “Ever since then, I never wanted to do anything else.”

But Daniels didn’t rush into his law studies. After earning his undergrad degree in political science from Albion College, he spent a year with Americorps, working with Habitat for Humanity in Myrtle Beach and New Orleans; conducting controlled burns in Georgia swamps; tutoring children in Alabama; and removing invasive plant species in the Florida Keys.

“My year in Americorps was easily the single most fulfilling year of my life,” he says. “I got to help so many people, and I met both my wife and best friend. If I could go back and do it all over again, I’d do so in a heartbeat.”

He then headed to the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, where he participated in moot court, was in the top of his class in Advanced Legal Writing, and enjoyed the small class sizes.

“It allowed me to get to know all of my professors personally, and it was nice becoming friends with almost every single person in my class,” he says. “We would all work together in order to help everyone achieve better grades – it was a very nice atmosphere in which to learn.”

Daniels quickly realized criminal law was his passion. “It’s always interesting – every case is different, every client is different, and in every case I have the opportunity to really have an impact – even if that impact only affects our client,” he says.

While at UDM Law, he interned with the Washtenaw County Public Defender’s Office for two years, and a year with a small criminal defense law  firm in Ann Arbor.

“Being a public defender is an incredibly tough job,” he notes. “The pay isn’t great. The hours are terrible. The clients are not appreciative. And the caseload is backbreaking. You have to be a very unique person to enjoy being a public defender.

“That said, I enjoyed the hands-on experience, and working with those unique people. The Washtenaw Public Defender’s office is one of only two state-run public defense offices in the entire state—and working there really solidified that my passion lay in criminal defense.”

Daniels has truly found his niche in the field of criminal defense.

“I find brief writing to be very cathartic and really enjoy it. I enjoy working with people and I like that I can help people through some of the most difficult times of their lives,” he says. “I pride myself on being very detail oriented and I think clients really appreciate that when it comes to their own case, because every client wants to feel like they are your only client.    

“I also enjoy being in court, where I can have face-to-face conversations with prosecutors and judges—and attempt to make them see things from my point of view. Getting to argue is just a bonus.”
Daniels was disturbed by December’s ruling in Heien v. North Carolina, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor that an officer’s “reasonable” mistake of law during a traffic stop can create cause for a search under the Fourth Amendment. “Most of the legal profession probably believed the court would side with the defense, but the court went the other way, and essentially ruled that if an officer makes a ‘reasonable mistake of law,’ a search will still be valid,” Daniels explains. “In my mind this is a horrible outcome, because it basically gives police officers the ability to claim everything they did that was wrong, was simply a mistake. This case further weakens the Fourth Amendment.”

Daniels was also intrigued by the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling. “Just like in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court extended protections that should only be applicable to individuals to corporations,” Daniels says. “In the long run, this case will have a significant impact on society—in that it essentially permits faith-based discrimination. I’m a firm believer that corporations are not people and therefore should not receive the same protections. The Supreme Court apparently disagrees.”

Away from the courthouse and office, Daniels enjoys playing lacrosse, a sport he played at Lincoln High School in Ypsilanti, at Albion College, and with traveling club teams including Great Lakes Lacrosse, and Motor City Lacrosse. Currently he plays in a men’s recreational league; and he and his father enjoy attending the annual Lacrosse National Championships down east over Memorial Day Weekend.

A certified advanced scuba diver, Daniels has enjoyed diving in Florida, Hawaii, California, Mexico, the Great Lakes, Australia, and the Galapagos Islands; and as a certified white water canoeist has canoed on the Allagash River in Maine, the Wabakimi River in northern Canada, The Boundary Waters and Quetico Provincial Park in Minnesota and Canada, and the Kickapoo River in Wisconsin.
Backpacking hikes have taken him to Glacier National Park, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Isle Royal National Park, Zion National Park, Paria Canyon, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

His roots run deep in Ann Arbor –“where I grew up and where my heart lies,” he says. His father runs the IT department for the Emergency Physicians Medical Group, his mother works in human resources at Washtenaw Community College, and his sister works in the field of childcare.

Despite his love of Ann Arbor, Daniels and his wife Caroline picked Canton for their home, well situated for his commute to Southfield, her commute as an Occupational Therapist at the University of Michigan Hospital.

Avid fans of craft beer, Daniels and his wife have attended craft beer festivals around the country – and might even have found a second career. “We’re home brewers who keep our own beers on tap at our home,” he says. “It’s a dream of ours to one day open up our own brewery.”

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