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What's the Difference Between OWI and a DUI in Michigan? What's an OWVI?

By Daniel T. Geherin

Most states call a drunk driving case a “DUI.”  Some call it “DWI.”  Michigan, on the other hand, uses a complicated acronym designation for alcohol (and drug) driving offenses.  For starters, Michigan uses “O” for “Operation” instead of “D” for driving.  Why?  Because Michigan laws punish more conduct than simply driving.  For example, a person parked in a car might be charged and convicted of OWI in Michigan even if the police did not see him move the car one inch! Likewise, a person might be charged with OWI for operating a riding lawn mower or moped---as the law contemplates most “motor vehicles” and not just cars.  So, even the term “Operating” has tricky legal meaning under Michigan law. 

Then, Michigan uses “I” for “Intoxicated” (instead of “UI” for “Under the Influence”) to cover most substance abuse driving offenses.  For example, a person would be charged with the same OWI offense if her blood alcohol level was over the limit of .08 OR if she had used an unlawful controlled substance before driving.  To further complicate things, Michigan changed these acronyms in 2003 from “OUIL” (“Operating Under the Influence of Liquor”) and “OWPD” (“Operating with the Presence of Drugs”), to the combined umbrella charge of “OWI.” 

Lastly, Michigan uses “VI” for “Visibly Impaired” to cover all substance abuse driving offenses (drug and alcohol) where there might not be an unlawful blood alcohol level or controlled substance used, but rather the person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle is visibly impaired by the use of alcohol, controlled substances, or both.  Often times, people who are involved in accidents while using their prescribed medications face OWVI charges---even if their levels were within normal, therapeutic levels. 

When a person is pulled over and arrested for OWI, he often has a million questions and concerns, and many of those begin with utter confusion over the acronyms Michigan uses:

“Why am I charged with OWI when I was asleep at the wheel?”

“Why am I being charged with a crime, OWVI, when my blood alcohol level was below .08?”

“How can Michigan charge me a misdemeanor when all I had in my system were my prescribed medications?”

“Why does my driving record still have an “OUIL” on it from years ago?”

The Geherin Law Group, PLLC (GLGMichigan) is a Criminal Justice law firm based in Ann Arbor that defends hundreds of OWI cases each year throughout Southeastern Michigan.  Dan Geherin, the firm’s principal owner, is a former prosecutor and board-certified criminal trial attorney with over 25+ years’ experience defending and winning OWI/DUI/OWVI cases in Washtenaw and surrounding counties.  He hears these and other questions every day from clients who have been arrested yet don’t even know what they are being charged with. 

At GLG Michigan, we start each OWI/OWVI consultation with an explanation of the laws and how they might apply to each individual’s circumstances.  We talk about these tricky acronyms, and we use plain simple terms to best describe each offense.  Finally, we devise a game plan for each client on how best to defend or negotiate an OWI/OWVI charge to best protect a client’s freedom, reputation and license. 

If you or a loved one has been arrested for any substance-related driving offense (alcohol, controlled substances, prescription medications) and are confused over the laws, consequences and possible defenses, please contact Dan Geherin, a DUI attorney in Ann Arbor at GLG Michigan.  We’re available 24/7, and we will help put you at ease, form a plan to handle your case, and fight aggressively to achieve personal justice.  Schedule online at GLGMichigan, or call (734) 263-2780 anytime 24/7.   

GLG Michigan:  Defending drivers throughout Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and Southeastern Michigan.