Michigan DUI and what Happens to your Driver’s License – Part 1

In Michigan, there is always some kind of action taken against your driver’s license for a DUI conviction. If you’re facing a DUI, you probably want to know what will happen to your license. If your DUI case is over, particularly if it was a 2nd or 3rd offense, you may be wondering what can be done to get your license reinstated. As a Michigan DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyer, I deal with these issues all day long. It sometimes surprises me how many lawyers trying to handle a DUI case really don’t understand the full nuances of both the criminal (DUI) law and the law under which the Michigan Secretary of State must impose license consequences.

This goal of this article will be to clarify some of the more common issues regarding what will happen (or has happened) to your driver’s license after a Michigan DUI conviction, as well as an attempt to straighten out some misconceptions. I’ll divide it into 2 parts. In this first installment, I will outline a few general points about how DUI license consequences are meted out. We will also examine the 2 critical perquisites to understanding how and why Michigan DUI driver’s license sanctions work as they do. In the 2nd part, we will jump to an examination of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd DUI offenses and see what happens in each case. Beyond presenting a kind of matrix of what happens, the reader should be able, after this 1st part, to understand why.

CyberDriver 1.2.jpgWithin a few days before writing this article, I was speaking with a fellow facing a 3rd offense DUI who repeated what he had heard from his previous lawyer about the license sanction (penalty) for this case. That lawyer was dead wrong about what would happen to his driver’s license; I was able to assure the caller that despite being a “3rd offense,” because this was neither his 3rd DUI within 10 years, nor his 2nd within 7 years, he would only face the license sanctions for a 1st offense DUI. If this sounds strange, then you can understand why so many misunderstandings abound.

Some people don’t have the interest or patience to put in the time to figure all of this out. I’m not going to turn this into something complicated, but DUI license sanctions are kind of like a DVR or a new cellphone; you have to spend at least a few minutes to get a grip on things work. In order to get that “grip,” there are 2 simple concepts that we need to get straight:

First, in a 1st offense DUI case, despite whatever charge you are facing now, there is a pretty good chance that, if you have a quality DUI lawyer, you will be able to get the original charge knocked down to something less serious. If you have been arrested for “OWI,” which stands for “operating while intoxicated,” your lawyer will likely be able to negotiate the charge down to something not nearly as bad, like OWVI, which stands for “operating while visible impaired.” The same holds true if you have been charged with “High BAC.” Even in that situation, a reduction to “OWI,” or even “OWVI” is anywhere from reasonably possible to rather likely, depending on the circumstances of your case.

This is significant because if you come home and start looking stuff up on the internet, and you punch in the charge on your ticket or bond receipt, you will find about the license sanctions that apply only if you are convicted of the original charge. Of course, you probably cannot predict what kind of “deal” can be worked out in your case, but many people begin freaking out over all the scary sounding potential consequences they face without slowing down enough to realize those things are unlikely. This is a lot like prescription medications where the disclaimer for side effects sound so ominous – risk of stroke, heart attack or even death, just to name a few. Fortunately, in the real world that stuff rarely happens. Most DUI cases work out much better than you probably fear, at first.

Second, and this is a harder concept to fully understand (even for lawyers), the Secretary of State, and ONLY the Secretary of State, imposes the license sanctions in a DUI case, and those sanctions are predetermined. The court has nothing to do with what happens to your license, and no one, including the Judge or the Secretary of State, can modify those sanctions in any way. I always use my hands (perhaps that’s an ethnic thing) to show how the court (or criminal) part of a DUI and the Secretary of State (or driver’s license) part of a DUI generally run parallel, like a set of railroad tracks. However, unlike railroad tracks, even though the two things generally run parallel, they are separate and sometimes part ways and go off into very different directions.

Consider a common situation that illustrates this concept, while perhaps confusing most everyone who confronts it: If you rack up 2 DUI convictions within 7 years, the Secretary of State will revoke your driver’s license, because license penalties are determined only by counting the number of alcohol-related (DUI) convictions a person accumulates during a 7 or 10-year time frame.

Of course, there are different criminal penalties between a 1st and 2nd offense DUI; a 1st offense is punishable by up to 93 days in jail, while a 2nd offense is punishable by up to 1 year in jail. Sometimes, the prosecutor can be persuaded to plea bargain, or reduce a 2nd offense DUI down to a 1st offense. When that happens, the possibility of 1 year in jail is gone, and the person only faces a maximum of 93 days in jail. The 2nd offense charge is dismissed.

Even though the whole 2nd offense charge gets dismissed, however, the person’s driver’s license will still be revoked by the Secretary of State because even by pleading guilty to a bargained down, reduced 1st offense charge, the person has accumulated 2 alcohol-related (DUI) convictions within 7 years. The license sanctions of a 1st offense only apply when a person has had no prior alcohol-related convictions within 7 years. For purposes of imposing license sanctions, the Michigan Secretary of State simply counts the number of alcohol related driving convictions a person accumulates within the span of 7 or 10 years. The name (or number) of the charge (meaning 1st, 2nd or 3rd offense), as assigned in court, does not matter here.

Confused? That’s normal, but that’s also why you should hire a Michigan DUI lawyer (like me) who does this stuff all day and knows the ins and outs of DUI license sanctions like the back of his or her hand.

At this point, we’ve established the 2 prerequisite things you have to keep in mind as you examine driver’s license sanctions, meaning penalties, in DUI cases:

  1. The charge for which you are arrested may very likely not be the charge that goes on your record, and
  2. The charge that goes on your record may not make any difference to the Secretary of State, which only counts the number of alcohol-related convictions you have in a 7 and/or 10 year period.

We’ll stop here for now. In part 2, we’ll pick up by looking at what actually happens to your Michigan driver’s license in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd offense DUI cases.

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