Last updated on February 15, 2022

Types of Drunk Driving Offenses Under Michigan Law

No one gets behind the wheel of a car expecting to be charged with drunk driving in Michigan, but even a slight lapse in judgment can lead to serious implications. Depending on your history of prior convictions and whether your conduct caused an accident, you could be facing misdemeanor or felony offenses. In addition to fines and potential jail time, a conviction can lead to a driver’s license suspension, sky-high insurance rates, a permanent criminal record, and other consequences. Knowing that prosecutors are cracking down on drunk driving, it’s important to retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer to assist with your case. An overview of Michigan’s laws on driving while drunk or drugged should help you understand how these cases work.

Operating While Intoxicated (OWI)

Michigan uses the term “operating” in the context of drunk driving cases, but the charges are similar to DUI. If you’re 21 years or older, you can be arrested for OWI if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08 percent or higher. The penalties are harsh if you’re convicted:

  • First OWI: You may be sentenced to a maximum 93 days in jail, plus a fine of $100-500 and driver’s license suspension up to six months.
  • Subsequent OWIs: You may have to pay a fine ranging from $200-$1,000, and your driving privileges are revoked for a minimum of one year. For a Second OWI, you face five days to one year in jail; a Third OWI conviction is a Felony with a minimum of 30 days in jail, and up to five years in prison.

Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI)

You can be charged with OWVI or Impaired Driving as it is often called, even with a BAC under the legal limit, if the prosecuting attorney can prove that alcohol impaired your ability to operate a vehicle. Results of field sobriety tests, such as the Walk-and-Turn or One-Leg Stand, can be used as evidence. Plus, you may face additional criminal penalties if you cause an accident that leads to property damage, personal injury, or death to another person.  Cases involving injury and death are felonies and carry maximum penalties involving prison time.

Ignition Interlock Devices (IID)

In some First OWI cases, a judge may require you to install an IID on your vehicle, which prevents your engine from starting if it detects alcohol when you breathe into it. For Second and Third OWIs, the IID is much more common and used for longer periods of time. In Drivers License Restoration cases the Interlock Device is mandatory and the results of the testing are strictly monitored for long periods of time.

Lookback Period

For purposes of determining whether a subsequent drunk driving offense is counted as a Second Offense or a First Offense, the “lookback” period is seven years. A court will review your history for prior offenses when making a decision on sentencing.  Even if you were charged with a First Offense OWI because the prior was more than seven years ago the sentencing judge will consider the prior offense.  They will hold it against you to varying degrees depending on who the Judge is, how old the conviction is and the unique facts and circumstances of your situation.  You may be charged with a Third Offense OWI (felony) if you are arrested for your third offense anytime during your lifetime.  For example, if your first offense was in 1990, the second in 2000 and the third in 2010 that third can be charged as a felony.  If you have a third or subsequent offense and it’s been charged as a first you should contact an experienced OWI attorney immediately as you may have been presented with a bit of luck.

Discuss Your Case with a Michigan Criminal Defense Lawyer Right Away

Michigan’s drunk driving laws are tough, but you do have options for fighting the charges. There are various defenses available, and you may qualify for one of the  programs established by state statute. However, you’ll need a skilled attorney to represent your interests in court, so your best strategy is to consult with a lawyer right away. If you’re facing drunk driving charges, please call (248) 451-2200 to reach a criminal defense attorney at the law firm of Michigan Defense Law You can also visit us online to schedule a consultation at our Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, or Western Wayne County locations.

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