Michigan DUI Driver's License Penalties

December 14, 2012

As a Michigan DUI Lawyer, just about everyday I am asked, "What will happen to my License?" This article will detail what happens in the most common DUI situations. There will always be someone whose circumstance is bizarrely complicated and involves unusual facts, but this article isn't for them. Those people will have to sort things out with their Lawyer. For the most part, however, most questions about what happens to a License in a DUI case will be answered in the following paragraphs.

Before we can even begin to know what will happen to your License, we must first establish if you're being charged as a 1st, 2nd or 3rd Offender. Obviously, if you've never had a prior Drunk Driving conviction before, then you're a first Offender. However, if you have had a DUI in the past, then when it (or they, if you've had more than 1) occurred matters a lot. What makes a case a First, Second or Third Offense is the number or prior convictions a person has within a certain number of years. Let's look at each:

SOS seal 1.2.pngFirst Offenses

"First Offense" means a person does not have a prior DUI conviction within 7 years of the Arrest for the new charge. To be clear, the time period for a "prior" starts running from the date a person was convicted of their last DUI (meaning the date from which they took a plea or were found guilty, and not the date of their last Arrest or anything like that) and covers the date of the Arrest for the new case.

There are 3 kinds of First Offense charges:

1. "OWI," or Operating While Intoxicated. This is the most common DUI charge. If you are ultimately convicted of First Offense OWI, your Driver's License will be Suspended for 180 days (6 months) and you will not be allowed to drive at all for the first 30 days, and will then have a Restricted License for the remaining 150 days (5 months). I will explain exactly what a "Restricted License" means later in this article.

2. "High BAC," sometimes called "Superdrunk" or "Enhanced" OWI. This is the "Big Daddy" of all First Offenses, and can be made when your BAC (Bodily Alcohol Content as measured from a breath or blood test is .17 or above). You cannot be charged with "High BAC" except in a First Offense case. If you are convicted of a "High BAC" charge, your License will be Suspended for 365 days (12 months) and you will not be allowed to drive at all for the first 45 days, an then may be allowed a Restricted License for the next 320 days (10 and ½ months) with, and only with an ignition interlock (a kind of breathalyzer unit) installed in your car.

3. "Impaired Driving," or OWVI. This is the "Lesser Offense" that's the least serious of all. If you are convicted of "Impaired Driving," you will be give a Restricted License for 90 days, after which you may then get your Full License back.

Second Offenses

"Second Offense" means a person has 1 prior conviction for an alcohol-related traffic offense (meaning any DUI-related charge: OWI, OWVI or Minor with BAC .02 to .07) within 7 years from the date of their Arrest for the new charge.

A Second Offense requires that your License be Revoked for a minimum of one year. Here, we must observe the distinction between "Suspended" and "Revoked." A Suspended License is taken away for a specific time period, and will be automatically returned on a specific date, or upon the happening of a specific event, like the payment of monies owed. A Revoked License is taken away forever, and a person must apply to even be considered to get it back. A Revoked License is only returned after a formal License Appeal has been filed, and decision is made to give it back. For information on how the whole License Restoration process works, you can read around the Driver's License Restoration section of my Website or this Blog.

To understand the distinction between a "Suspended" and "Revoked" License, I've always used a school analogy to highlight the difference:

If a Student is Suspended from school, he or she is given a certain time period (2 days, 1 week, etc.) and/or told that they must complete something, like a 5 page essay. Once that event occurs, they can come back automatically.

A Student who is Expelled, however, can't get back into school until they file a formal appeal with the Board of Education, and a favorable decision is reached. If the Student never applies, no matter how long they wait, they cannot just "come back," they have to go through the entire reapplication or readmission process.

Revoked License works the same way. If a person's License is Revoked (as opposed to Suspended), it does not matter how long they wait (20, 30, or even 60 years); they'll have to file a License Appeal before the Michigan Secretary of State's Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) to even be considered to get it back. This is why we say a person's License will be Revoked for a "minimum" of one year. A whole year must pass before the Driver can even file a License Appeal.

Third Offenses

"Third Offense" has 2 different meanings. For purposes of the Driver's License Sanctions, a DUI charge is considered a "Third Offense" if a person has two prior DUI convictions within the preceding 10 years. By contrast, and for purposes of the Criminal charge rather than the Licensing action, a person can be charged with a "Third Offense" at ANY point in their entire lives if they have 2 prior DUI convictions, no matter when (or where) they occurred. Thus, if a person has a DUI from 1982 and another from 1990, and is Arrested again in 2013, they can (and likely will) face a "Third Offense" Felony DUI charge. This is an important distinction. If Dan the Driver had a DUI back in 1996, and another in 2004, and is Arrested in 2013, while he will likely be charged with a "Third Offense" in Court, the Michigan Secretary of State can only sanction his License for a "First Offense" because he has no prior within 7 years, and does not have 2 priors within 10 years.

A Third Offense charge in a person's entire lifetime can result in a conviction for the Felony Third Offense DUI. Independent of that, however, if a person picks up 3 DUI's within 10 years, they will absolutely and automatically be subject to "Third Offense" License Sanctions. This means that if a person accumulates 2 DUI convictions and a 3rd Arrest (for which there is later a conviction) within a 10-year period, their License will be Revoked for a minimum of 5 years. To put it another way, 3 within 10 means Revoked for at least 5.

As we noted above, what does actually happen to your License is a direct result of the charge of which you are convicted, meaning the charge to which you plead guilty (or, if you go to Trial, the charge of which you're found Guilty). Very often, a person is charged with one thing, and convicted of another. This tends to happen most in First Offense cases. Most First Offenses, for example, are initially charged as OWI, yet most of those wind up being reduced to Impaired Driving, and result in less serious License consequences, as well. Likewise, a lot of people at first charged with High BAC" will, through the Plea-Bargaining process, work out a deal to a reduced charge like OWI or Impaired Driving, which allows them to keep a Restricted License. This distinction tends to disappear in Second and Third Offense cases.

While most people have heard the term "Restricted License," it has a very specific meaning when applies to DUI cases, and it ONLY applies in First Offense cases. Let's examine the scope of a Restricted License:

A Restricted License allows a person to do the following, and NOTHING else:

  1. Drive to, from and in the course of work "In the course of" means driving you have to do for work.

  2. Drive to, from and in the course of school. This means if you have an internship, or Clinicals, or something like that, you can drive for it.

  3. Drive to and from any necessary medical treatment.

  4. Drive to and from any support groups (like AA).

  5. Drive to and from Probation, or anything the Court may Order, including Community Service.
This means there is no provision to take the kids to school, go grocery shopping, take someone else to the Doctor or anything like that. Without exception of any kind, a person may only drive for the exact purposes stated above.

There are no exceptions to any of this. Almost every day, though, someone asks me if there is anything that can be done to override this. The Law, as it stands, is absolute. IN 1998, exclusive jurisdiction over DUI License Sanctions was transferred to the Secretary of State, and the specific Sanctions spelled out in the Law. There is no way to go to Court and "ask the Judge" for any kind of License. No Judge anywhere can do anything about a DUI License Sanction. Not Ever.

Let's repeat this again: There is absolutely, 100% no way around the License Sanctions imposed by the Secretary of State. It could not matter less how inconvenient the loss of License is to you. Nor does the state car, or have an answer to the inevitable question "How am I supposed to ---- (fill in the blank: Get to work, keep a job, support my family, go to school, make enough money to pay the Court fines, etc)?" It doesn't matter how bad a person "needs" a License. What's outlined above is the sum total of the Law. There is no way to "go to Court and get some kind of a License."

For all of this, if not today, then tomorrow some Client or other will ask me "What will happen to my License?" While I may not have the news they want to hear, at least I can give them an exact answer.