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Michigan DUI lawyer Paul J. Tafelski understands how terrifying it can be to be stopped on the suspicion of driving under the influence, or DUI, in Michigan. Even if you do not think you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the process can be intimidating. Understanding what your rights are when you are stopped will not only make you more comfortable and secure during the stop, but could also go a long way toward assisting your defense if you are ultimately charged with Drunk driving Defense.

What is a DUI?

What is a DUI under Michigan law? Under MCL 257.625, operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated is defined as any of the following situations:

  • Person is under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, another intoxicating substance, or a combination of those substances;
  • Person has a blood alcohol content of 0.08 grams or more; or
  • Person has a blood alcohol content of 0.17 grams or more.

Under the law, it is illegal for the owner of a motor vehicle, or the person in charge of a motor vehicle, to “authorize or knowingly permit the vehicle to be operated upon a highway or other place open to the public or generally accessible to motor vehicles” if the driver is under the influence of alcohol or another illegal substance. This includes a situation in which the person does not clearly have a blood alcohol concentration at or above the legal limit, but rather the “person’s ability to operate the motor vehicle is visibly impaired” due to alcohol consumption or the consumption of another substance.

What is an OWI?

The question of penalties for an OWI conviction depends in part on the person’s blood alcohol content at the time of the arrest.

Michigan has what are known as "High BAC Offenses", which are OWI offenses that occur when the individual has a blood alcohol content of 0.17 grams or more. When the person’s blood alcohol content is below 0.17 grams (but still at 0.08 grams or higher), then that individual does not typically face charges for a High BAC Offense but still can be convicted of an OWI.

It is also important to remember that OWIs can involve driving under the influence of illegal drugs or other substances. As such, you can be convicted of an OWI without having a specific blood alcohol content.

Your Right to Remain Silent

We have all heard about the right to remain silent. Although you do have a constitutional right to remain silent, you should use that right with discretion. If a law enforcement officer stops you, it is usually in your best interest to give the officer basic identifying information such as your name and address. You may also be asked to provide identification such as your driver’s license. Although providing basic information to the officer is typically the best course of action, there is no legal requirement that calls for you to respond to additional questions.

On the contrary, you have a constitutional right to decline to answer questions, particularly if the answers may incriminate you. Offering any information that leads to the conclusion that you have been drinking alcohol is not in your best interest. For example, if asked whether you have been drinking, you may politely decline to answer. The same goes for any other questions that you do not wish to answer, such as where you were coming from or where you were headed.

Your Rights Regarding Roadside Testing

Typically, when a law enforcement officer stops you and suspects that you have been driving under the influence, you will be asked to submit to a preliminary breath test (PBT). You may also be asked to perform standard field sobriety tests that are designed to gauge whether you are intoxicated. You have the right to refuse either or both. If you refuse the PBT, you may be charged with a civil infraction and fined up to $150. If you are under the age of 21, you will likely be charged with the civil infraction and two points will be added to your driving record. Declining to submit to the field sobriety tests is fully within your rights and will not lead to additional charges, fines or points. While you have the right to refuse both the PBT and the field sobriety tests, you should do so in a calm and respectful manner.

Miranda Warnings

Named after the case that made them mandatory, your Miranda warnings are what most people hear police officers on television reading to people they arrest. Your Miranda warnings include things such as your right to remain silent, a warning that anything you say can be used against you, your right to have a lawyer present, your right to request a lawyer at any point in the investigation and your right to stop questioning at any time. These warnings are required only once the law enforcement officer has decided to arrest you. This means that during the preliminary stage of the investigation the warnings are not required. In addition, if an officer fails to provide you with your Miranda rights, that will impact your case only if you were questioned while in custody and you made incriminating statements as a result of the questioning.

Your Right to Know Your Charges

You have a right to be told what you are being charged with at the time the officer places you under arrest. The officer should tell you the charges at the time you are read your Miranda rights. You also have a right to a copy of the charges filed against you. The charging information may be provided when you arrive at the jail, upon your release, or at your first court date.

Your Rights Relating to a Search

The police have a right to search you and the immediate area under your control when you are actually arrested. If you were driving a vehicle when the arrest took place, the police can also conduct a basic search of the vehicle without first obtaining a warrant. Your vehicle may also be impounded if you are arrested, and the police may conduct what is called an “inventory search.” Items of value must be listed and returned to you when the car is released back to you. A more thorough search of your vehicle may be conducted only when the police believe they have reasonable grounds to believe contraband will be found in the vehicle. The police officer may ask you to sign a consent-to-search form for your vehicle. Do not sign this. You have a right to refuse to give consent to any search.

Your Right to Have an Attorney Present

This may be your most important right of all. You have the right to consult with an attorney before answering any questions or cooperating with an investigation. If you do decide to answer questions or cooperate, you have the right to have your attorney present at all times during the questioning and at all phases of the investigation. If you initially decline to seek the advice of an attorney and agree to answer questions, but later change your mind, you have the right to stop answering questions and ask for an attorney. Once you ask for an attorney, regardless of when that happens, questioning must stop.

Common Defenses for a Michigan DUI Charge

When you are facing DUI charges in Michigan, it is extremely important to build a strong defense for your case. We often think of drunk driving charges as they are known in other states—as the offense of driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol. Michigan law makes clear that driving while intoxicated is unlawful in the state, the statute uses different language to describe this offense. Rather than calling it a DUI, Michigan law defines this offense as “operating while intoxicated” or an OWI (MCL 257.625). In general, DUI and OWI are interchangeable terms.

When you are facing OWI charges, what do you need to prove in order to beat them? There are different ways in which a person can face OWI-related charges in Michigan, but it is useful to understand some of the most common defenses to drunk driving charges. It is unlawful to operate a vehicle in Michigan with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher.

Higher Penalties for High BAC Offenses

Most people refer to drunk driving cases as DUI. The truth is in Michigan the proper terminology is Operating While Intoxicated, known as OWI; Operating While Visibly Impaired, known as OWVI; Operating with the Presence of Controlled Substance and Operating with a High BAC, known as Superdrunk. Basically, all of these charges involving alcohol require the prosecutor to be able to prove that you operating a motor vehicle while your ability to drive was impaired by alcohol or that you were at or above the legal limit of .08. For Superdrunk the limit is .17. The controlled substance offense is a little different in that it does not involve alcohol and either checks for the mere presence of certain controlled substances that may be in your system without a prescription. Or, if prescribed, the prosecutor has to show your ability to drive was impaired by the controlled substance.

Some common defenses to these cases are as follows:

  1. The police did not have a legal reason to stop your vehicle. If we can prove the stop was illegal then the entire case is dismissed. We always check this issue.
  2. The police did not have probable cause to arrest you. This means that they failed to gather enough evidence to show that you were probably guilty of the offense.
  3. The police failed to follow the proper procedures in administering the breath or blood test. This may lead to the test results being thrown out.
  4. The police failed to properly maintain their breath test machine, known as the datamaster, at the police station. Or they failed to follow rules and procedures for drawing blood if that was the type of test chosen.

In each of these situations the defense can gain great leverage where one of these violations can be proven.

Contact Michigan Defense Law to learn more about how we can assist with your defense.

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My son was charged with two serious felonies for home invasion. Paul worked long and hard on the case and was able to negotiate a deal so that all of the charges were dismissed after my son completed probation. He is now in college without a criminal record. Mr. T.
I was arrested for drunk driving and possession of a controlled substance (Vicodin). Paul worked hard on the case and kept the felony off my record and got the drunk driving case reduced so that I kept my driver’s license and my job. He really cared about helping me. J.T.
When I recently had an issue at the airport, I decided to call Paul on the weekend. He called me back on a Sunday! He dealt with my issue without me having to fly back to Michigan and got it dismissed. Until you go through the court system especially for the first time, you don’t have a sense for how harrowing it can be. E.W.