Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
A DUI (Driving Under the Influence) is typically referred to as an OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) in Michigan. Being charged with an OWI is a serious criminal offense. An OWI is a misdemeanor or in some cases, a felony. Depending on the circumstances, an OWI can have major effects on your life, and you can face a number of legal consequences such as jail time, fines, community service, and license suspension. If you are charged with an OWI you should consult and/or hire an attorney to guide you through the legal process.
If a police officer has a reasonable suspicion to believe you are operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then the police officer may have you perform Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) and/or a preliminary breath test (PBT). The SFSTs include the walk-and-turn test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, and the one-leg stand test. If there are indications of intoxication from the SFSTs and/or the PBT yields a 0.08 or above and you are at least 21 years old, then the officer has probable cause to place you under arrest. If you are under 21 years old and the preliminary test yields a 0.02 or above, then the officer also has probable cause to arrest you.
*Please note, that refusing a preliminary breath test does not alleviate any consequences and will only add to your list of offenses. If you refuse to take the PBT, you will be issued a civil infraction and you will most likely still be arrested for suspicion of OWI. You will be transported to the police station and the officer will request that you submit to an evidential breath test on a DataMaster DMT instrument.
After you have been arrested, you will be transported to the police station where you will be requested to submit to an Evidential Breath Test on a DataMaster DMT instrument or you may be requested to submit to a blood or urine test. These tests can be admitted in court as evidence by the prosecutor to find you guilty of an OWI charge. If you refuse to take the test offered by the police, the police will obtain a search warrant for the blood test to be administered. Michigan has an “Implied Consent Law” which means that you automatically give consent to an officer to administer these tests when you obtain your driver’s license. If you refuse an officer’s requested test, your driver’s license could also be suspended for up to one year and six points could be issued on your record.
Depending on your level of intoxication, among other factors, you could stay in jail overnight or possibly even longer. Michigan currently does not have any laws indicating how long a suspect must be detained so the length of your detainment will depend on the local jurisdiction and your level of intoxication.
Once you are issued a ticket or a warrant has been authorized for an OWI, you will receive a court date for an arraignment. You have the constitutional right to an attorney. If you do not wish to be represented by an attorney, you have the right to represent yourself. However, an attorney is highly encouraged, especially for the arraignment because charges are formally filed against you. In the event you have any questions or do not understand the charges brought against you, it is important to have an attorney there to assist with any questions or concerns you may have. During the arraignment, the judge will read the maximum penalties if you are found guilty of an OWI.
In Michigan, you could see the following penalties for a first offense OWI if your blood alcohol level is over 0.08 but below a 0.17:
- Up to a $500 fine;
- Up to 93 days in jail;
- Up to 360 hours of community service;
- Up to 180 days of license suspension; and/or;
- 6 points on your driver’s license.
If you are charged with a first offense OWI and your blood alcohol level is above 0.17, you could see more severe penalties such as:
- Up to a $700 fine;
- Up to 180 days in jail;
- Up to 360 hours of community service;
- Up to one year license suspension;
- 6 points on a driver’s license;
- Mandatory completion of an alcohol treatment program; and/or,
- Ignition interlock use and compliance after 45 days license suspension is required to receive a restricted license.
Penalties become more severe the more OWI charges you have on your record. If there are children in the car, or if driving while intoxicated results in injury or death of another person, the charges will also be more severe.
A first or second OWI charge is considered a misdemeanor. If you have two prior OWI convictions and receive a third in your lifetime, you will be charged with a felony and you will face the following penalties:
- One to five years in jail;
- Minimum of 30 days spent in jail;
- Fines of up to $5,000;
- Driver’s license revoked for five years;
- 60-180 days of community service;
- 6 points on a driver’s license; and/or,
- Vehicle forfeiture.
The next step in the court system is a pre-trial conference. The pre-trial conference is when your attorney and the prosecutor meet in court to discuss the case in an informal setting. During this time, the prosecutor may offer a plea deal depending on your record and/or the circumstances of the OWI. It is important to note a pre-trial conference may be a one-time court appearance although it is likely to be extended over a period of months. This happens when your attorney and/or the prosecutor request an adjournment of the pre-trial conference to further discuss a potential plea negotiation. There is not a set amount of times that a pre-trial can be adjourned. The judge has the power to grant or deny the adjournment request if he or she believes there is good cause. During the pre-trial, you may also hear motions or evidence that could be presented at a trial. If you do not accept the plea deal or if you are not offered one, the parties proceed to trial.
At trial, the prosecution will need to prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for operating a vehicle while intoxicated and/or operated with a breath or blood alcohol level of above a 0.08. If you are found guilty, then you will be sentenced. Sentencing penalties depend on the charges that are brought against you.
There are two types of trials: a bench trial and a jury trial. In a bench trial, a judge is the sole individual who determines if a defendant is guilty or not guilty whereas in a jury trial, the verdict is determined by a jury of your peers. Your attorney will request the type of trial you prefer. If you proceed with a bench trial, you and your attorney will appear before the judge along with the prosecutor for what is essentially a “mini-trial.” If you proceed with a jury trial, a jury will be selected. If this is a misdemeanor charge, the jury will consist of six members. However, if this is a felony charge, a jury will consist of twelve members. After the jury is selected, the trial will begin.
If you are arrested and charged with OWI, you could not only face the penalties listed above, but your employment or future employment could be affected as well as facing negative consequences in your relationships, social life, and mental health. Your finances could also be affected, including an increase in your car insurance or changes in ability to acquire future loans or scholarships. Being prepared with a strong legal team to walk you through this entire process is highly recommended.
According to the State of Michigan, tens of thousands of people are arrested annually for alcohol related offenses. If you decide to consume alcohol, please designate a sober driver before drinking or find a ride from a friend or Uber. If you happen to be at a friend’s house, you could also stay the night. There are many safe alternatives to getting behind the wheel with alcohol or drugs in your system. Please utilize them to keep yourself safe and those around you!
Written by Monika Koleci