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DUI/OWI Overview

In the state of Michigan, a driver who is arrested for driving while under the influence of drugs, alcohol or both will be charged with OWI, or operating while intoxicated. Sometimes, this charge is referred to as DUI, or driving under the influence, but OWI is the more common name in our state.

There are various types of OWI charges a person can face, depending on the events that occurred leading up to the investigation and arrest and the evidence that police gather at the scene.

This is a standard charge that covers any arrest that is made for a person who is driving with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit of 0.08. OWI is punishable by license suspension and even time in jail.

If you have been charged with OWI, you can also be charged with UBAL in Michigan. UBAL simply means that your blood alcohol content was at or above the legal limit at the time you were behind the wheel.

You can be charged with OWVI if law enforcement officers observe that your ability to safely operate a vehicle was impaired because you were intoxicated.

This charge can be filed if there is evidence to indicate that you had any amount of a Schedule I drug or cocaine in your system while you were driving. Schedule I drugs include those with a high potential for abuse or addiction, such as heroin, marijuana or ecstasy. It is important to note that the prosecution does not have to prove that you were intoxicated by the substance at the time of your arrest. Penalties for OWPD can include community service, jail, fees and a suspension of your drivers license.

A person can be charged under Michigan’s Super Drunk law if his or her blood alcohol content is at or above .17—which is over twice the standard legal limit of 0.08. Penalties include a loss of driving privileges for 45 days with restricted privileges for 320 days, installation of an ignition interlock device, a maximum fine of $700 and mandatory alcohol treatment.


FAQs

A: It depends. If you have more than one OWI conviction on your record, it is likely that you may have to serve some time behind bars. However, if this is your first offense, your sentence may not include any jail time. No matter how many offenses are on your record, it is essential that you work with an experienced OWI defense attorney who can maximize your chances of getting a favorable result in your case.

A: The answer to this question depends on your employer and the type of work you do. If you are a professional driver or if your job requires that you operate a motor vehicle, losing your license after an OWI conviction will make it impossible to work. Even if driving is not a function of your job, if your employer has a policy against hiring or employing individuals with any misdemeanor or felony convictions, you could be terminated.

A: Standard first and second OWIs are typically charged as misdemeanors in Michigan. These offenses are punishable by jail, fines and license-related penalties. However, if you receive a third OWI conviction within 10 years of the first, the third OWI would be charged as a felony offense. Under Michigan law, a felony OWI is punishable by prison sentence, a revocation of your license, a maximum fine of $5,000, as well as community service and a forfeiture of your vehicle. It is important to understand that both misdemeanor and felony OWI/DUI charges are very serious offenses in Michigan. If you have been charged, you need to aggressively fight to protect your record.

A: If your license was suspended or revoked after an OWI arrest or conviction, you will want to fight to have it reinstated as soon as possible. If the DMV took your license after you refused to submit to the state breath test, you have 14 days from the date of your arrest to file a request an administrative hearing with the DMV. The timeline and the way the request should be filed can be best handled by an experienced OWI defense attorney.

A: Yes. Certain jurisdictions in Michigan offer Sobriety Court programs, which are open to certain repeat OWI offenders. The program is designed to aid repeat offenders who need treatment for alcohol or drug abuse issues. Participants must plead guilty to the OWI charge and meet other eligibility requirements before being accepted into the program, which includes mandatory alcohol and drug testing, review hearings before a judge and attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Those who are successful in meeting program benchmarks eligible for a restricted drivers license. Participants are also responsible for the cost of the program, which is usually more than $2,000.


Eight Effective DUI/OWI Defenses

Remember: just because you have been charged with a DUI/OWI in Michigan does not mean that you will be convicted of this very serious offense. In fact, there are many potential defenses that an experienced OWI attorney can build, depending on the circumstances of your case. Some common—and often effective—defenses are listed below:

The police cannot stop any vehicle at will; the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution mandates that they establish probable cause that the driver and/or passengers are engaging or have recently engaged in illegal activity. If the officer did not observe you speeding or breaking any other traffic laws, your attorney can challenge the initial stop that lead to your OWI arrest.

In order to be arrested for OWI in Michigan, you must first be legally stopped (see above) and you must have been driving on a public roadway. The officer must also have evidence that you were intoxicated at the time you were driving, which may come from field sobriety tests or a preliminary breath test. If any of these elements were not present at the time of your arrest, your attorney may be able to successfully challenge the validity of your arrest.

After an arrest for OWI, you may have been asked or required to submit to a chemical breath or blood test of your blood alcohol content or BAC. If these tests show that your BAC was at or above the legal limit of 0.08%, this evidence will be used against you in your OWI case. Your attorney should investigate all of the details of these chemical blood tests, including the way the machinery and equipment was maintained and the way the tests were conducted. It is not uncommon for procedural or mechanical errors to result in false chemical test results.

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are used by law enforcement to measure a person’s level of intoxication. FSTs are often controversial as research indicates that they are unreliable. If the police allege that you “failed” FSTs during an OWI investigation, your attorney should examine this evidence closely. Often, the results of FSTs are subjective and inaccurate.

When you are arrested for OWI, you will receive a citation or a ticket. It is essential to examine this citation carefully to ensure that all of the information is completely accurate. Even something as seemingly small as a misspelled name or incorrect address could open the door to questioning the officer’s competence and reliability.

If you made statements that incriminated you before you were read your Miranda rights, it may be possible for your attorney to argue to have these statements suppressed. For example, statements made during the OWI investigation or during field sobriety tests may not be admissible statements under the law if you have not been read your rights. Telling your attorney the details of exactly what occurred after your stop is very important.

This defense is rooted in science. It is well documented that our bodies gradually absorb alcohol and that a person’s peak BAC is reached well after he or she stops drinking. If you were pulled over shortly after you stopped drinking and then did not receive a breath or blood test of your BAC until some time later, there will likely be a disparity between your BAC at the time you were behind the wheel and your BAC when you were tested. You and your attorney should work together to create an accurate timeline of your drinking behavior—including anything else you ate and/or drank at that time—in order to determine if rising BAC could be a viable defense in your case.

One of the key elements of an OWI charge is that a person must be operating a vehicle. If you were approached by police and investigated for OWI after an accident if your vehicle was stopped in a parking lot or even parked in your driveway, your attorney may explore the defense of not driving in your case.


OWI is a serious offense. If you or a loved one has been charged with OWI/DUI in Michigan, contact an experienced OWI defense attorney as soon as possible to learn how to fight to protect your license, record and freedom.

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