In Michigan, a drunk driving conviction can have life-altering effects on a person’s freedom, job, and future. There are many direct and indirect consequences following an arrest for alcohol or drug-related driving offenses—including the potential loss of driving privileges. It is imperative for a citizen (or an attorney) who is facing DUI charges to anticipate all of these consequences, protect against them, and if necessary, learn how to restore a suspended or revoked Michigan driver’s license.
What Is “OWI” Under Michigan State Law?
Many states use the acronym “DUI” when referring to drunk driving offenses. In contrast, Michigan uses the acronym “OWI”, which stands for “Operating While Intoxicated.” The term “operating” is more wide-reaching than simply “driving,” and includes any “actual or physical control of a vehicle.” As such, even persons not “driving” a vehicle in the classic sense can be prosecuted for OWI in Michigan, including people who might be sitting or sleeping in a stationary vehicle. The term “Intoxicated” has various meanings under Michigan law, from having an unlawful blood alcohol level to being under the influence of alcohol and/or a controlled substance, to having an unlawful controlled substance in the body.
For purpose of this Handbook, OWI is the main “umbrella” acronym that includes most drug, alcohol or combination offenses found in the Michigan Vehicle Code, Section 257.625 et al. In some parlance, these offenses are therefore considered “625 Offenses.”
OWVI is the acronym for Operating While Visibly Impaired, a “lesser” offense of OWI that punishes a driver for operating a vehicle while visibly impaired by alcohol, controlled substances, or a combination of both. Like its more serious counterpart, OWVI is a misdemeanor and has serious consequences for a person’s criminal record, potential freedom, and driving rights. Most alarmingly, under Michigan law, neither OWI nor OWVI may be expunged or diverted off a person’s record, as these offenses fall in the Motor Vehicle Code and are thus exempt from such programs. Therefore, unfortunately, convictions for OWI or OWVI generally remain on a person’s criminal and driving records for the rest of his/her lifetime.
Difference Between OWI and OWVI
OWI and OWVI differ in two primary respects: One, in the method or elements of proof; and Two, in the ultimate driver’s license consequences. OWI requires a higher standard in which the prosecutor must show actual intoxication or a driver being under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances, or a combination. In contrast, for an OWVI, the prosecutor must only show that a person’s ability to drive has been lessened to the point it has been noticed by another driver or person.
In terms of licensing consequences, a conviction for OWI has more severe consequences than OWVI. Generally stated, a first-offense OWI conviction carries a 30-day license suspension and 150-day restriction along with 6 points, while an OWVI carries a 90-day restriction (no suspension) along with 4 points. Both carry fines/costs, although OWVI is approximately $300 less in totality.
Michigan’s Super Drunk Law
Like many states, Michigan enacted a law carrying aggravated consequences/penalties for a person who operates a motor vehicle while greater than two times the legal blood alcohol limit. So, if a person operates at a 0.17 or greater blood alcohol level (measured by breath, blood or urine), this is considered operating with a high blood alcohol content (BAC), truncated to OWI/High BAC, and commonly referred to as “Super Drunk” driving.
Persons convicted of OWI/High BAC face up to 180 days in jail (contrasted with OWI/OWVI first offense, which carry maximum sentences of 93 days in jail). The license consequences are severe: 1-year suspension, with no driving for the first 45 days and restricted driving for 320 days if and only if the person installs a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device in any vehicle he/she operates, along with 6 points.
Laws For Persons Under Age 21 Operating Vehicles With Any Level Of Alcohol Or Drug In Their System
Michigan has a “zero tolerance” statute for minors who drink and drive. If a person under the age of 21 has any measurable amount of alcohol or controlled substance in his system while operating a motor vehicle, he is in violation of MCL 257.625a(6). While the statute uses the term “any” amount, the jury instruction elements require the prosecutor to prove BAC of .02 or greater.
This offense, commonly referred to as, “Minor with a BAC” or “Zero Tolerance OWI,” is still a misdemeanor, but does not carry the threat of incarceration. A person convicted of this offense for the first time faces 30-days license restriction (no suspension) and 4 points.
Regrettably, like OWI and OWVI and all other motor vehicle offenses, Zero Tolerance/OWI cannot be expunged or diverted, and technically remains on an offender’s record for life. So, a 17-year-old who makes the mistake of having a couple beers and operating a car may find that her future is greatly impacted by a misdemeanor conviction (consider school/employment denials, insurance hikes, license suspensions etc.).
Accordingly, finding an attorney who specializes in defense of OWI cases in general—and license appeals specifically---is of paramount importance to minors and their parents who face this life-changing situation. Because the blood alcohol thresholds are so low, and because minors are often treated more aggressively by police, there are often fertile pre-trial litigation opportunities in these cases. Specialized attorneys might seek to challenge the arrest, the detention and the chemical test rights, thus weakening the government’s case and giving a minor a chance at charge reduction or even dismissal/acquittal.
For more information on Michigan Drunk Driving Consequences, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (734) 263-2780 today.