No contest: Dani Michaels answers charge

(Updated 12:30 p.m. Wednesday with information from Michaels' attorney) A Grand Haven High School student has pleaded no contest to a charge related to a crash that seriously injured four of her friends - all 11th-graders at the time - on their way to a basketball game in March.
Becky Vargo
Oct 17, 2012


Dani Michaels, 17, was charged July 31 with committing a moving violation causing a serious impairment of body function.

Michaels quietly answered questions from attorney referee Barbara Forman Monday afternoon before formally making the plea in Ottawa County Juvenile Court.

Pleading no contest to a criminal charge is not an admission of guilt, but is treated as such at sentencing. The major benefit of pleading no contest is that it allows you to deny the crime at a later civil trial.

The no contest plea entered by Michaels was not to escape civil liability, said her attorney, R.J. Winter, on Wednesday. He said it was more of a practical means to keep Michaels from having to relive what happened that day.

“A guilty plea requires that Dani say specifically and graphically what happened,” he said. “She was emotionally unable to do that.”

The charge is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 93 days in jail if the defendant is charged as an adult. Michaels will not face jail time because she was charged as a juvenile.

The case is in juvenile court because Michaels was 16 at the time of the crash.

The case was moved from Kent County to Ottawa County because of Michaels lives here.

A dispositional hearing was set for Nov. 15 in front of Judge Mark Feyen. The disposition in juvenile court is like a sentence in adult court.

In the meantime, Michaels’ caseworker will prepare a dispositional recommendation report, said Paul Lindemuth, assistant juvenile services director for Ottawa County. The report will be used to make a recommendation for consequences – which could vary from probation to placement in a foster home or the county’s detention center.

Conditions of probation would likely be a combination of community service, restitution, fees and fines, and drug testing, Lindemuth said.

There is a standard list of conditions that can be pulled from if Michaels is put on probation, Winter said. But he didn’t expect it to be anything as extreme as putting her in a foster home or the juvenile detention facility.

“The goal of juvenile court is more a rehabilitative approach, rather than a punitive approach,” he said. “I anticipate some probation — specifically centered on trauma counseling." 

Community service is possible, as well as a court-ordered letter of apology. Winter said the apology had already been done informally and the families remained close.

Michael’s license will also automatically be suspended for a year or more by the Secretary of State, Winter said. That is separate from the case being handled in the juvenile court.

On top of the $125 reinstatement fee, “there will be a significant amount of money she will owe the Secretary of State” for driver responsibility, he said.

More details on this case were published in Tuesday's print edition and e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.




We have opinions just like you. We also have to drive on the roads with young drivers. We have concerns for our safety and others. If a driver in a case like this takes out another car anf causes injury or death how would you feel? We are not trying to be parents of the year we are just trying to prevent future accidents such as this. So you see this is our problem, this is what responsible Citizens do to help prevent future problems.


You prevent future accidents by taking care of your own kids, not being an armchair critic.


You prevent future accidents by wearing a condom! :-) You take care of your kids by teaching them personal responsibility, giving them critical thinking skills and nurturing their goals and dreams....after that you flip a quarter, say a prayer, or two and hope for the best.


You make those decisions for yourself and not for others.


When kids are on the roads and making bad decisions they become all of our concerns. My life and yours is as precious as theirs. Giving them a lessor penalty because they are 16 sets the wrong example for other kids. One more reason, (law) other than nearly killing your friends, gives kids something more to think about. I was always more worried about facing my parents, the law and the consequences, in that order if I made a bad choice growing up. When parents allow their kids more freedom than the law allows (16 and drive with a car full of kids), they are the communities and the laws problem. So if being an arm chair critic makes one parent think about allowing their child freedom that jeopardizes me or others in the community, I'll take that criticism. Its not easy raising kids and it certainly is harder when you are surrounded by parents that allow their kids to run to freely without exercising parental controls.


You cannot prevent all future accidents simply by taking care of your own kids; and as hard as it is to hear, some of these critical statements need to be heard.


Glad to see someone else without a lynch mob point of view! I'm sure all of these parents of the year will be spilling their chip dip over your comment!


Ha! My problems are all grown up now and I've got time and the experience to give some advice! I've never been nominated for "parent of the year", but I did the best I could. Being a parent is a tough gig, certainly not for everyone and there's always someone around to tell you you're not doing it right. Those are usually the folks who don't have kids of their own. Once you get out of school and start a family of your own (assuming you do) some of these comments will make more sense to you.


Has this child ever admitted as to who actually brought the vodka? If not, why not? Have the parents of all of the girls involved demanded accontability for this and insist she be HONEST with those investigating the accident? Crash and almost kill people and not want 'to tell". Unreal. And we wonder why kids feel entitled to so much more than they earn. Another life lesson lost. This kid should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.



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