Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) in Michigan
While Michigan enforces strict laws for repeat drunk driving offenses, nearly two-thirds of all drunk drivers apprehended annually are first-time offenders. Depending on the circumstances of an individual’s case, a conviction can result in license and vehicle sanctions, mandatory imprisonment, community service, hefty fines, and alcohol assessment programs. In all OWI cases, a Michigan lawyer should be retained to assist an individual in their defense.
Legal Limit for Alcohol Consumption
In the state of Michigan, blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent is the drunk driving standard. Non-commercial drivers age 21 and over whose BAC is .08 and higher are considered legally drunk. This is, however, not a bright-line rule and if the driver has a visible impairment with as little as a 0.2 of BAC, he/she could still get a lesser conviction.
Drivers holding a Commercial Driver’s License in Michigan, including school bus drivers, are considered legally drunk when their BAC is .04 percent or higher, even when driving a non-commercial vehicle.
Drunk Driving Penalties
Michigan’s drunk driving laws are severe, as are the potential penalties that accompany the offenses. Individuals arrested for OWI in Michigan who get an attorney to handle their case for them stand a better chance of presenting a solid case to the court and ultimately reducing their sentence.
First-time offenders convicted of drunk driving can face up to 93 days in jail, a $500 fine, 360 hours of community service, six points on their driver’s license, and a 180-day suspended license with a restricted license possible after 30 days.
Individuals convicted of a second OWI within seven years of the first offense must pay a minimum $200 fine, maximum $1,000. These offenders face up to one year of prison time, 30 to 90 days of community service, or both. Individuals who commit a subsequent offense within 10 years of two or more prior OWI convictions must pay a fine of $500 to $5,000. They are also subject to one to five years in prison or probation with imprisonment for 30 to 365 days and community service of 60 to 180 days. These punishments also apply when an individual is convicted of driving drunk while having a passenger under the age of 16 in the car.
In all DUI offenses beyond the first conviction, the offender’s driver’s license will be revoked and, depending on the circumstances surrounding the violation, a new license may or may not be issued for one to five years.
OWI Penalties for Commercial Drivers
In addition to Michigan’s regular OWI penalties, a commercial driver convicted of an OWI for the first time, regardless of whether they are driving a non-commercial or commercial vehicle at the time, will have their commercial driver’s license suspended for one year.
If the commercial driver receives a second conviction for a DWI while driving any vehicle, their commercial driver’s license will be suspended for life and may or may not be reduced to a period of 10 years.
OWI Penalties for Drivers Under 21
Michigan has a Zero Tolerance law for underage drunk drivers leaving them nearly defenseless in a court of law. DUI cases involving drivers under the age of 21 most certainly require the assistance of a Michigan defense lawyer.
As it is, drivers under the age of 21 who receive a first-time conviction for OWI are subject to up to 360 hours of community service, a $500 fine, or both. Second or subsequent offenses are punishable by up to 93 days in prison, a fine of $500, and 60 days of community service. These same consequences apply in a first offense if the under-21 driver has a passenger in the vehicle under 16 years of age. A second or subsequent DUI offense for an under-21 driver that includes an under-16 passenger is subject to a fine of $200 to $1,000, as well as a prison term of up to one year and 30 to 90 days of community service, or both.
Misdemeanor OWI vs. Felony OWI
In Michigan, the first and second OWI/DUI conviction are often treated as a misdemeanor while the third and on are considered a Felony. A first-degree misdemeanor is accompanied by the highest fines and penalties while a second-degree misdemeanor is considered less serious, and so on.
Felony OWIs come with much harsher sentences and are usually the conviction in the case of an OWI that causes serious bodily injury or death. An OWI which leads to serious impairment of another person is subject to a prison term of up to five years, a fine of $1,000 to $5,000, or both. An individual who drives while intoxicated and causes the death of another person is subject to up to a 15-year prison term as well as a fine of $2,500 to $10,000, or both.
The Breath Test
The breathalyzer is a portable breath alcohol tester that law enforcement officers administer to drivers who are pulled over under the suspicion of drunk driving. The machine measures the BAC of the driver in question.
Drivers can refuse a breath test, but at their own risk. This is not an option that anyone should exercise as it will result in a civil infraction and a fine. Any first-time offender who refuses a breath test but is ultimately convicted of an OWI will be given a one-year driver’s license suspension. A second refusal of the test within seven years will result in a two-year suspension of the license.
Commercial drivers who refuse a preliminary breath test should know that this is a misdemeanor that is punishable by a prison sentence of not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $100. It will also result in a 24-hour out-of-service order.
To support the administration of a breathalyzer test, law enforcement officers may also administer standardized Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) adhering to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s protocol. When the FSTs are administered independently of a breathalyzer test, they are often considered unreliable and susceptible to a large margin of error.
For drivers who are arrested under suspicion of OWI in Michigan and who refuse a blood test, it is almost a certainty that the arresting officer will obtain a warrant to have blood drawn. Instead of submitting to the original request of the law enforcement official to take a breath test, the individual will be faced with the consequences of a blood test results – more accurate than a breathalyzer test – and the automatic sanctioning of their license should their results prove to be above the legal limit.
Probable Cause for Pulling Someone Over
Virtually all drivers, even experienced ones, are substantially impaired at Michigan’s .08 percent BAC limit and less likely to be able to handle several tasks at the same time. A high BAC impairs eye movement control, standing, steadiness, coordination, information processing, judgment, concentrated attention, and speed control. This leads to an inability to simultaneously change lanes, check mirrors, steer, brake, and show sound judgment on the road – all which are evident to law enforcement officers.
A law enforcement officer must witness a driver doing something wrong in order to have probable cause to pull them over. Police often cite basic traffic violations as probable cause – these can include speeding, erratic driving, failure to obey traffic lights, expired plates, or broken lights.
Probable Cause to suspect a driver is impaired and/or intoxicated
After approaching the vehicle, the officer will look for signs of intoxication such as strange behavior from the driver, the smell of alcohol in the car, or alcohol containers in the vehicle. If an officer has probable cause to believe the driver is intoxicated, they will begin their OWI investigation and may request that the driver submit to a breathalyzer test or FSTs. Failure of these tests can lead to an arrest for DUI.
Revocation of License
Revocation of a license refers to the permanent loss of a driver’s license, as well as the privilege to operate a motor vehicle. The minimum periods of revocation after an OWI in Michigan are one year or five years and, after that time, drivers may reapply for their license and attempt to prove that they will be a safe driver and not a hindrance on the road. This reapplication for a license may be denied or granted with restrictions.
Driver’s license sanctions are not discretionary – meaning, there is no variation on the sentence from case to case or individual to individual – and they are imposed by Michigan’s secretary of state, not by the court. The only fact that is taken into consideration in the case of a license sanction in Michigan is the number of prior convictions in the past seven and 10 years. Individuals with two convictions within seven years will have their license revoked for one year. Two or more convictions within 10 years will result in a license revocation of five years.
Individuals who want to keep their driver’s license after an OWI/DUI conviction must file for a driver’s license appeal and DLAD hearing. They are wise to hire a Michigan lawyer to plead their case during the hearing.
To regain their license, an individual must present clear, convincing evidence that their alcohol problems are and will remain under control and that there is a low risk of them ever again operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol.
Evidence may be required to support any claims of current sobriety. These may include letters from independent sources documenting sobriety as well as proof of involvement in a treatment program and attendance at support group meetings.
Other potential sanctions might include additional mandatory Driving Tests, attending AA meetings, counseling and classes.