Interviewer: You mentioned Super Drunk. What other factors can make an OWI charge aggravated or enhanced? You discussed that blood alcohol levels determine an enhancement. What are the tiers, if there are more than one tier, of blood alcohol levels will affect the person’s case?
Attorney Tafelski: In Michigan, the basic cutoff is 0.08. If your blood alcohol level is 0.08 or higher, then you’re operating a vehicle illegally. Even if you are driving in a safe manner or you feel perfectly fine and can pass the field sobriety test, if they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your blood alcohol level was a 0.08 or above, then you’re guilty of operating while intoxicated.
A Driver Is Guilty of Operating While Impaired with a Blood Alcohol Level of below the Legal Limit
Now, in Michigan there’s another tier called operating while impaired. To be guilty of that, you could be guilty at any level, meaning you could have a 0.06 or a 0.05 and be found guilty of that. If they can prove that your ability to operate a vehicle is impaired by alcohol or even drugs, for that matter, then you could be convicted of operating while impaired. It’s rare that they do charge people under 0.08, but in theory it can happen.
Then the highest tier is the recently enacted Super Drunk law. That is a 0.17 or above, and you can be charged with that. Sometimes people will still be above a 0.17 and the police might not charge them with Super Drunk, but it just depends on the individual officer and his own decision on what to charge you with in this case.
Having a Minor Child Passenger Will Result in a Charge of Child Endangerment
Interviewer: Is having a minor child passenger another other factor that will aggravate the charge?
Attorney Tafelski: Yes. That charge is known as what’s called child endangerment. It carries some of the same penalties as a drunk driving, but it has the added effect of the child being in the car. It certainly has a different stigma to it as well.
The Penalties Escalate for Enhanced OWI Charges
Interviewer: Will either of those factors raise the charge from a misdemeanor to a felony, or will they just increase the length of jail time?
Attorney Tafelski: Well, if we’re talking about first offenses, it does not increase it to felony. They’re all still misdemeanors. The main effect, though, is with the Super Drunk because it does have a higher maximum jail sentence of 180 days and it has a much more significant driver’s license penalty.
With both the Super Drunk and the child endangerment, they both can become an aggravating issue in the eyes of the judge, where they look at it as more serious of a charge as opposed to somebody who’s just pulled over in a run of the mill stop and has a breath test result of a 0.10. If you’re pulled over and you have a breath test result of a 0.20 while you have a minor in the car, they do look at you severely and therefore you’re in more jeopardy for more serious punishments.
Accidents with Injury or Death and OWI/OWVI Charges
Interviewer: What about being in an accident and causing bodily injury to someone or killing someone?
Attorney Tafelski: I think the kind of things that really get the attention of the court is when there is an accident or a near accident; or the person has drugs in the car; or the person has a significant amount of prior history involving alcohol or drugs; or the court sees their prior record and sees that it’s gradually getting worse and worse; or they’re only 28, 29 years old and they’ve got four or five priors on the record.
The Judges Are Most Concerned with Public Safety; Is This Driver a Menace to Society?
These will get the attention of the judge. They’re always looking for what they call red flags or warning signs that this is the kind of person who doesn’t learn their lesson or who is heading towards bigger trouble.
The biggest concern with the judges’ lies in is this somebody who’s going to be a danger to society? Are they going to kill a family of four on the next go around if they’re not taught a harsh lesson here? That’s an important factor. Those are the important factors.