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Repeat Offense Drunk Driving

By Daniel T. Geherin

When It Comes To Multiple OWI Convictions, Does Michigan Have A “Look-Back Period?”

The most crucial “look-back period” in Michigan is a seven-year period of time between offenses. Drivers who suffer an arrest for an OWI (drugs or alcohol) within seven years of a prior OWI conviction face elevated charges and consequences. Note that the OWI 2nd Offense statute measures from prior conviction to new arrest, not arrest date to arrest date.  So, attorneys must carefully scrutinize a client’s driving record to ascertain prior offense dates, and not simply rely on the prosecutor’s charging documents.  In contrast, license sanctions are typically measured from prior conviction to subsequent conviction (not arrest).  As such, sometimes it is important to delay a second case as far as possible to get beyond the seven-year license measuring period.

OWI 2nd Offense carries with it a possibility of up to 365 days in jail (contrast that with OWI/OWVI 1st Offense, with a maximum penalty of 93 days).   Generally speaking, most Michigan judges impose jail on 2nd offenses.  And, there are many statutorily required sanctions as well—including mandatory vehicle immobilization.  Finally, and most seriously as it relates to this Handbook, a conviction for a 2nd Offense OWI typically results in license revocation, with application eligibility 1 year or more. 

Another period of time to keep in mind is a 10-year period for offenders with three OWI (drug or alcohol) convictions. Although a felony can be charged if a person has priors outside of that 10-year window (see discussion about Heidi’s Law, below), three OWI convictions within a 10-year period almost always results in enhanced driver’s license suspensions or revocations, and most typically results in a felony charge/conviction. 

What Is Considered OWI Second Offense In Michigan And What Do I Need To Know?

As previously mentioned, two 625 arrests/convictions within a seven-year period often amounts to an OWI Second Offense charge in Michigan. That is a misdemeanor offense, although one with increased sanctions to a person’s freedom and ability to retain their driver’s license. The most important thing to keep in mind is that a person who has committed a second OWI offense within the seven-year period will face much graver consequences and thus needs an expert attorney to represent him.  By doing so, he will ideally increase the chances of avoiding lengthy jail and mandatory license revocation.

What Is Considered An OWI Third Offense In Michigan And What Is Important To Understand About These Charges?

In Michigan, an OWI Third Offense is defined as a driver being arrested for OWI (drugs or alcohol) when he/she has two or more prior 625 convictions in his/her lifetime.   Because this is a lifetime “look-back” statute, the dates of conviction versus arrest are largely irrelevant for charging purposes, and only important as it relates to driver’s license sanctions (which again, measure from conviction(s) to conviction(s)).  OWI 3rd Offense is a Felony Offense, punishable by 1-5 years in State Prison, or by probation with up to 365 days in jail.  There are many mandatory minimum collateral sanctions as well, including:  vehicle immobilization; plate/registration restrictions; community service work; fines/costs/assessments, etc.  And, of course, a felony conviction by itself has secondary collateral consequences (i.e., restrictions to travel, voting rights, weapon possession; immigration sanctions, including deportation and denial of access; student loan funding, etc.) that are extremely impactful for anyone, regardless of age.   

As for licensing, persons convicted of OWI Third Offense typically face long-term revocation or suspension of their privileges by the Michigan Secretary of State.  And, many prosecutors, judges and probation agents impose additional prohibition to driving, including the possibility of a sentence enhancement called a, “Motor Vehicle Advisory,” which further restricts a person from operating a vehicle upon conviction, even if the Secretary of State grants privileges. 

Clearly, a person charged with a felony OWI does not want an “amateur” attorney or one who merely “dabbles” in OWI defense.  When charged with a felony OWI, clients should look for the combination of an experienced and specialized OWI defender—one ideally with a verifiable track record of success in litigating OWI 3rd Offense cases-and Driver’s License Specialist.   

What Is Heidi’s Law?

While the old laws in Michigan used to allow a felony only upon three OWI convictions within a 10-year period of time, the legislature changed the law in 2007 to reflect many other states’ practices of penalizing a person for a felony offense if he or she has two priors in a lifetime.  This shift was commonly referred to as, “Heidi’s Law,” so-named for a Michigan teenager who was killed by a drunk driver in 1991. 

So, the OWI 3rd Offense Statute in Michigan now considers a third arrest for OWI (drugs or alcohol) as a felony if the operator has two or more 625 offenses in his lifetime.  As a result, we often see older people who are charged with felony offenses and sent off to prison or long-term jail despite having decades of crime-free behavior. 

Of note, a person convicted under the parameters of “Heidi’s Law” might not face mandatory long-term revocation or even suspension of their license.  As mentioned above, license sanctions are typically calculated from conviction to conviction and are often enforced irrespective of the name of the underlying charge of which a person is convicted.  Thus, a driver with old prior convictions might be convicted of OWI 3rd Offense, yet only suffer a short license suspension or restriction.  Once again, consulting with a License Specialist who will carefully review a client’s driving record is of utmost importance and might be the difference between driving lawfully and long-term revocation. 

If There Are Previous OWI Convictions, Can Those Be Challenged?

Under Michigan law, collateral attacks to a prior conviction are largely prohibited, unless the person did not have an attorney for the prior offense and there exists some procedural irregularity that might have occurred. If a driver can show that a conviction is not proper, there can be a challenge to “strike” the prior conviction.

Defendants who have old prior 625 convictions should consult with an OWI/Licensing Specialist to see how a challenge might be mounted, perhaps to the underlying offense via a pre-trial suppression motion or trial, or perhaps to the validity of the prior convictions (i.e., collateral attacking the prior conviction, seeing if any procedural or substantive errors were made at that time; or scrutinizing whether the prior conviction indeed meets the definition of a 625 offense in another state). 

Barring any litigation possibilities, an experienced, specialized drunk driving attorney in Ann Arbor might be able to pursue favorable plea negotiations (i.e., reduction to misdemeanor(s)) and/or sentence negotiations (i.e., reduction or elimination of long-term incarceration).

For more information on Repeat Offense Drunk Driving In Michigan, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (734) 263-2780 today.