Last updated on October 20, 2023

What Is the Difference Between DUI, OWI, OWPD, and OWVI Charges in Michigan?

What Is the Difference Between DUI, OWI, OWPD, and OWVI Charges in Michigan?

Throughout the country, some common acronyms are used to denote drunk driving. The most common are DUI or driving under the influence, or DWI, driving while intoxicated. And while these are more well-known throughout the country and often commonly used here in Michigan as well, the actual legal terms are more focused.  If you’ve been arrested, call to speak with a Michigan DUI lawyer today at (248) 451-2200.

In Michigan, we have various levels of impaired driving offenses. What you are charged with will depend on many factors, including your blood alcohol content (BAC), your age, whether you were visibly impaired by law enforcement, or whether the presence of drugs was detected in your system. Commonly referred to as DUI charges, in Michigan, our charges are legally specified as OWI, OWPD, and OWVI. What are the differences in these offenses and how can they affect you if you have been charged with one?

OWI Meaning

OWI, short for operating while intoxicated, is a term utilized within Michigan’s legal framework to delineate specific conditions concerning the operation of vehicles:

These conditions encompass driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) that equals or surpasses 0.08%, having any measure of a controlled substance within the body, operating the vehicle under the influence of intoxicating alcohol, or being influenced by controlled or intoxicating substances.

The term OWI was formally adopted in 1999 by the legislative body of the state of Michigan to supplant the prior designations of OUIL and UBAL. This change was implemented to streamline legal terminology and facilitate convictions. In the present context, establishing an OWI offense requires proving beyond reasonable doubt that an individual was engaged in driving a vehicle while affected by alcohol (OUIL) or with a prohibited bodily alcohol level (UBAL).

Before the year 2003, Michigan’s legal threshold for blood alcohol concentration stood at 0.10 BAC. During that interval, a BAC ranging from 0.07 to 0.10 indicated impairment, whereas a BAC of 0.10 or higher denoted intoxication. A BAC below 0.07 was assumed to signify neither impairment nor intoxication under Michigan’s statutes related to driving under the influence.

However, in 2003, Michigan enacted revisions to its laws, lowering the permissible BAC limit to 0.08 and eliminating the presumption of sobriety. As a result, it became feasible for an individual to face charges of drunk driving even if the results of a breath test were below 0.07.

In such instances, prosecutors must ascertain that the person’s capacity to drive was markedly impaired due to alcohol consumption.

Interestingly, the revised legislation in Michigan also allows for OWI allegations in cases unrelated to alcohol consumption. Charges can ensue from being under the influence of substances like Ambien or Xanax. The prerequisite of proving significant impairment in an individual’s ability to drive due to alcohol remains steadfast.

What is Illegal in Michigan 

Under Michigan law, it is unlawful to drive

While intoxicated or impaired by alcohol or a controlled substance

  • With a BAC of 0.08% or more
  • With a BAC of 0.17%, considered a high BAC
  • With any amount of cocaine or schedule 1 controlled substance in your system.

In addition, if you are under the age of 21, you may not

  • Drive with a BAC of 0.02% or more, or with any presence of alcohol in your system except for that which is commonly consumed at a religious ceremony. 
  • Buy, possess, or consume any alcoholic beverages, or transport them unaccompanied by someone over the age of 21. 

BAC is determined through chemical testing, which can include breath, blood, or urine tests.

OWI, or Operating While Intoxicated

OWI, or operating while intoxicated, is basically used interchangeably with the common term driving under the influence or DUI. You can be charged with an OWI if you are driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or over. Furthermore, for those under the age of 21, under our Zero Tolerance laws, you may be charged with an OWI with only a trace amount of alcohol in your system. 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 of 93 days in jail, plus a fine of $100-500 and driver’s license suspension of 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.

If you are facing charges of OWI in Michigan, it is important to seek the legal representation of an experienced OWI attorney. There are many reasons why retaining a lawyer for an OWI case is very important. One of these reasons is that a skilled attorney may be able to protect your rights and your freedom. Contact Michigan Defense Law today to schedule a free consultation. 

OWVI, or Operating While Visibly Impaired

An OWVI, or operating while visibly impaired, can be charged regardless of BAC level since it is based on visible criteria. If a law enforcement officer feels that you are impaired and cannot operate your vehicle safely, you can be charged with an OWVI regardless of how much or little alcohol you have consumed. An OWVI can also be charged when an officer believes you are under the influence of drugs that were legally prescribed or taken. In other words, if you took too much medication or it affected you in a bad way you could be charged.  

Consequently, you can be arrested for this offense based on the opinion of a law enforcement officer.  They would then seek a blood draw to test the levels of the drugs in your system.  Sometimes, people are charged under the OWVI statute based upon a “combination” of drugs such as alcohol combined with marijuana or Xanax.  The theory is that the combination of drugs and alcohol has impaired the driver’s ability to operate the vehicle safely.  Basically, OWVI can be charged for any number of reasons if the police believe they can prove your ability to drive is impaired by substances. 

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.

There are many misconceptions about OWI and OWVI charges in Michigan. This is why it is important to seek skilled legal advice right away when facing charges of this nature. A skilled lawyer may be able to help you protect your best interests and help you receive a favorable outcome. To schedule a free consultation, contact us today. 

OWPD, or Operating With the Presence of Drugs

OWPD, or operating with the presence of drugs, can be charged if you have been found under the influence of a Schedule 1 drug or cocaine. This can be charged regardless of how much of the drug you have used. These are most of the known, illegal, street drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and meth as well as prescription medications that you don’t have a valid prescription for.  In these cases, any trace amount can violate the statute.  

Type Description
OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) Charged when driving with a BAC of 0.08% or over (0.02% for those under 21). Penalties for first OWI: Up to 93 days in jail, $100-500 fine, up to 6 months driver’s license suspension. Subsequent OWIs: Fines of $200-$1,000, minimum 1-year license revocation, and varying jail terms for subsequent convictions.
OWVI (Operating While Visibly Impaired) Can be charged regardless of BAC, based on visible impairment criteria. Can also be charged when under the influence of legally prescribed drugs. Arrest can be based on law enforcement officer’s opinion. Blood tests may be conducted to determine drug levels.
OWPD (Operating With the Presence of Drugs) Charged when found under the influence of Schedule 1 drugs or cocaine, regardless of quantity. Applies to illegal street drugs and certain prescription medications without a valid prescription.

What is OWI Charge

OWI, short for Operating While Intoxicated, is a legal designation used within Michigan’s legal system to describe certain conditions related to the operation of motor vehicles. These conditions include driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or more, having any amount of a controlled substance in the body, or operating the vehicle under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances.

The term OWI was officially adopted in 1999 by Michigan’s legislature, replacing the older terms of OUIL (Operating Under the Influence of Liquor) and UBAL (Unlawful Bodily Alcohol Level). This change was designed to simplify legal terminology and facilitate the conviction process. Today, to establish an OWI offense, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that a person was driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or with a prohibited BAC.

In 2003, the state enacted revisions to its laws, lowering the permissible BAC limit to 0.08% and abolishing the presumption of sobriety. This meant that an individual could potentially face drunk driving charges even if their breath test results were below 0.07, as long as the prosecutors could prove that their ability to drive was significantly impaired due to alcohol.

Interestingly, Michigan’s revised laws also allow for OWI charges in situations not involving alcohol. For example, charges can be brought against someone under the influence of substances like Ambien or Xanax. The requirement to prove significant impairment in the driver’s abilities due to alcohol, however, remains in place.

Under Michigan law, it’s illegal to drive while intoxicated or impaired by alcohol or a controlled substance, with a BAC of 0.08% or more, or with any amount of cocaine or a Schedule 1 controlled substance in the system. Therefore, if one faces an OWI charge in Michigan, it’s crucial to seek representation from an experienced OWI attorney, as the penalties can be severe, including jail time, fines, and driver’s license suspension.

A Drunk Driving Conviction Can Affect All Areas of Your Life

If you have been charged with a drunk driving offense in Michigan, your potential penalties will depend on many different factors. Your criminal history will also have an impact on the fines and any sentence you may face. Drunk driving charges are serious, and a criminal conviction can affect all areas of your life. 

But the prosecution has the burden of proof when it comes to drunk driving charges, which often leaves several avenues for a defense strategy. These include challenging the reason for the stop of your vehicle, the legal authority to arrest you, any search of the vehicle, and the administration of blood or alcohol tests.  In some cases, your defense team can negotiate a plea deal to potentially reduce the charges and penalties. Consequently, it is critical to have the assistance of an experienced Michigan drunk driving attorney on your side when facing the criminal justice system.  You only get one chance to get it right.  

DUI Manslaughter 

There is a fine line between driving recklessly and causing death. Michigan’s Vehicle Code details illegal driving habits and the possible penalties for perpetrators if they are convicted. Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes you may think you have enough time, but then find yourself in an intersection seconds after the light turns yellow. A “No Right on Red” sign could be misinterpreted and you may turn right instead, hitting a pedestrian. These mistakes in judgment rarely lead to manslaughter cases.

However, most vehicular manslaughter cases are triggered by driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is not a normal error of judgment and falls squarely into the category of negligence.

Driving while impaired could result in injury or death. Drivers should understand that operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol is one of the most common reasons for DUI manslaughter. These cases are subject to much harsher penalties. If a driver is negligent or speeds above the limit because they are intoxicated, they could face manslaughter charges. 

If you or a loved one is facing DUI manslaughter charges, seeking the help of an experienced DUI attorney is very important. A skilled DUI lawyer may be able to help you protect your rights and your freedom. Contact Michigan Defense Law today to schedule a free consultation. 

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 at any time 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.

DWI lawyer in Michigan

Do I Have to Face Jail Time for a DUI in Michigan?

Generally, first-time offenses for DUI in  Michigan are not penalized with jail time. There may be exemptions but most judges in Michigan do not impose jail time for first-time DUI offenses. These exemptions come if there are other aggravating factors involved in the DUI. For example, if the driver charged with DUI has caused a minor accident and caused injury to someone else, then it is possible for them to face jail time for their actions. 

If you are convicted of a second DUI offense, jail time is likely to be imposed. Usually, the duration of jail time will take between one week and a whole month. For a third or higher DUI offense, Michigan law requires that you are sentenced to 30 days imprisonment. However, most judges may allow you longer sentences. Prison time comes into play for a third DUI offense or higher because it is considered a felony. 

If you are facing DUI charges in Michigan, even if it is your first time, it is important to seek the help of an experienced DUI attorney. A skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to help you protect your rights and your freedom.

Paul Tafelski and the legal defense team at Michigan Defense Law have the experience and skill it takes to provide you with the best criminal defense possible after a drunk driving charge. We offer aggressive defense when your future is on the line. Call us at (248) 451-2200 or contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case and your options.

Posted in: Criminal Defense
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