OWI in Michigan - The Court and the Driver's License

August 27, 2010

In almost every Drunk Driving case I handle as part of my DUI Practice, the Client will ask about the consequences to their Driver's License. The purpose of this article is to clarify that whatever the consequences in any given DUI case, it is the Michigan Secretary of State, and ONLY the Michigan Secretary of State, that imposes them. In other words, the Court has NOTHING to do with a person's License in a DUI case.

Often, in a DUI case, I am asked if the Judge will "at least" give the Client "some kind of restricted License." I then go on to explain that the Judge cannot Suspend, Revoke, Restrict or otherwise take any action against a person's License in a Drunk Driving case. Many people easily understand that all Licensing actions in a DUI case are exclusively handled by the Secretary of State.

Judgeflag2.jpgSome people, however, don't quite get it, and very often, that's for a good reason. Prior to the "Habitual Offender" Drunk Driving legislation of 1999, Courts did have jurisdiction over a DUI Driver's License. Thus, a person facing a 1st Offense OUIL (the technical name for a DUI back then), would have their Driver's License Suspended, Restricted of Revoked by the Court in which the DUI charge was pending. The Habitual Offender legislation, which went into effect October 1, 1999, transferred ALL Licensing actions and authority from the Court to the Secretary of State.

Before the Habitual Offender Legislation took effect, when all Licensing consequences in a DUI case were imposed by the Courts, there were still certain, specific Mandatory minimum and maximum Driver's License penalties. Thus, the Law gave the Courts the power to Suspend, Revoke, and/or Restrict a person's License only within a specific, specified range. Even so, the results were all over the board.

In one local Macomb County Court, a certain Judge used to grant a Restricted License in a 1st Offense Impaired (OWVI) case for 6 days per week, 12 hours per day. It didn't matter whether the person worked 14 hours per day, or was on call. Most other Courts would ask a person to specify the earliest time they left in the morning, and the latest they would return home, and grant a Restricted License for that period. A few Courts, noting that someone worked on an "on call basis," would allow them to drive at any time, 24 hours per day, as long as such driving was work-related.

The Habitual Offender legislation of 1999 got rid of all that, and made things simple and uniform. The Law spells out certain specific consequences for each DUI offense. This eliminated any difference in results between two people facing the same charge, no matter which Court or Courts were involved.

Now, a 1st offense OWI which has been negotiated "down" to the less severe charge of Impaired Driving carries a Mandatory 90 day Restriction of the Driver's License which is imposed directly by the Secretary of State, and NOT the Court. During that period, the person may drive to, from, and during the course of work, to and from school, to and from any necessary medical appointments, and in order to do anything the Court orders as part of the case. There are no "hours" or restrictions regarding the time. This means a Plumber on call can make a run at 3:30 in the morning, as long as he can prove his driving is either to, from, or during the course of his work. The time frame for the duration of these Restrictions cannot be shortened, nor can it be enlarged. The Judge has zero authority to take any action regarding the person's License.

The Mandatory nature of these specified License penalties, and the fact that they cannot be Appealed or Modified in any way, becomes far more important in 2nd Offense Drunk Driving cases. Under Michigan Law, if a person gets a 2nd Alcohol-Related conviction within 7 years of any prior, their License is Revoked for at least one full year.

It's at this point that many people begin asking about a Restricted License of some sort, at least to get back and forth to work, or school. And it's here that I really have to clarify that the Judge cannot do anything about or to their License, even if he or she wanted to. Moreover, I have to explain that this action is required and specified by the Law (meaning it is Mandatory), and that there is no way to change that.

In the real world, many people respond by kind of asking or saying "so I'm screwed then?"

And the answer is, well, yes.

There are still situations in which the Court can make a Licensing determination, and we'll cover some of those in future articles. As a direct result of a DUI, however, know that, if it occurred after October 1, 1999, the Court cannot and does not take any action, or have anything to do with Driver's License consequences. Those penalties are required and specified by Law, cannot be modified in any way, and are imposed exclusively by the Michigan Secretary of State.