How much does a DUI Cost?

The cost of a DUI can certainly add up. A few years back, there was an ad campaign in Michigan that warned, “A DUI will cost you $10,000.” Given inflation and the rising cost of everything, that figure still isn’t far off from the mark. In this article, I want to take a current look at some of the real expenses involved for an OWI or High BAC charge in the Detroit-area (meaning the various courts of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne County). Make no mistake, a DUI is very expensive, and every year it gets more expensive; we’ll get to actual numbers as we go. As a DUI lawyer, I’d be lying if I pretended that I’m not somehow in the line to get paid like everyone else, but at least I am trying to minimize all the other damage and payments you’ll be making. DUI’s are big business, and as much talk as there is about cracking down on them, lots of entities stand to make lots of money from them. We can debate the inherent hypocrisy of this some other time, but here I want to rough out an idea of what a Michigan DUI will actually take out of your pocket.

cash_register_ap_img 1.2.jpgAn important consideration right out of the gate is whether your case is a 1st, High BAC, 2nd or 3rd (felony) offense. While this may seem rather straightforward, in the real world, a 1st offense or High BAC drinking and driving charge often costs a lot more out of pocket than a 2nd offense, in large because of the increased car insurance premiums you’ll pay. With the exception of those who go through sobriety court, a 2nd offender will lose his or her driver’s license; as inconvenient as that may be, at least he or she won’t be paying car insurance, so there is no issue about any increases to it. As we’ll see, who brings the charge (either a particular municipality or the state) can also affect how much it will cost you.

Most 1st offense cases are “local,” meaning that the attorney for the city or township where the arrest took place will handle the prosecution. For example, if you are arrested in Warren, Romeo, Richmond, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Roseville, Troy, Ferndale, New Baltimore, Shelby Township, St. Clair Shores, Sterling Heights, Utica, Macomb Township, Clinton Township, Dearborn, Detroit, any of the Grosse Pointes, Westland or any of about a million other cities, it will not be the state that brings charges against you. The upshot of this is where the money goes: If the case is brought by the “state” (the county prosecutor handles these matters) then the municipality does not get all of the money. When the locals bring the case, they keep the money. In practice, local Judges care a lot more about money that they get to keep than that which they handle – and then hand over – to the state. This helps, in part, to explain the high price of most 1st offense OWI cases…

A High BAC charge is more often than not a “state” case, although more and more municipalities are taking the burdensome legal steps necessary to be able to handle these cases on their own. The reasons for this are rather involved, and go beyond the scope of this article, except to point out that the reason any municipality will go through the hoops of being able to prosecute High BAC charges is monetary. Here we must note the key difference between a DUI “charge” and a “conviction.” I handle these charges all the time, but the vast majority of those cases are worked out so that my client avoids a High BAC conviction, so he or she doesn’t wind up paying the extra costs or suffering the increased consequences associated with that more serious offense.

Whether it’s a 1st, High BAC, 2nd or 3rd offense drunk driving case, the legal system has done a pretty good job of making the “out the door” cost hard to determine. The law provides for fines and costs, crime victim rights fees, judgment fees, probation screening fees and probation oversight fees. I’ve never met anyone who cares about the breakdown nearly as much as the grand total. In the Detroit area, there are some courts that are notoriously expensive, others that seem like comparative bargains, and everything in-between. Using a rough average most Metro-Detroit area courts will charge the following fines and costs:

1st offense DUI: $700 to $1200
High BAC: $1200 to $1500
2nd offense DUI: $1600 to $2000

This is just the start. If you’re put on probation, you’ll pay a monthly oversight fee. This amount is typically not included in the total amount you’ll pay up front in fines and costs. Oversight fees average about $40 to $45 per month, and probationary terms are usually 12 to 18 months in 1st offense cases, and 18 to 24 months in High BAC and 2nd offense cases, so you have to do some simple multiplication here, but this adds anywhere from another $480 to $1080 to your “out the door” costs. In some courts, it’s still possible to avoid probation altogether in a 1st offense case if things are done strategically. This, however, is the exception and not the rule. In those cases, the monthly oversight fees are not imposed, but often a $100 to $200 “non-reporting probation” fee is assessed, instead.

Also, to be clear in this article, “1st offense” means OWI (operating while intoxicated) or OWVI (operating while visibly impaired, usually just called “impaired”).

You’ll note that I left out 3rd offense DUI cases. 3rd offense charges are felonies, and are decided in the circuit court of the county where the case is brought. Since these are always resolved in the circuit court, fines and costs are usually payable over the term of probation (typically 2 or 3 years) and, somewhat ironically, aren’t much higher than those typically assessed in 2nd offense cases. When you’re facing a 3rd offense OWI charge, you have enough on your plate, so it’s good to know that at least the money part isn’t over the top.

Doing a little more math and adding the range of fines and costs, plus probation, we can sub-total, to this point, as follows:

1st offense case with probation: $1180 to $2010
1st offense case without probation: $800 to $1400
High BAC: $1920 to $2580
2nd offense: $2320 to $3080

If that was it, this would have been a short article, and I could have just published the sub-totals above. That’s the thing; as I noted, those figures are mere sub-totals. Some municipalities (not surprisingly, the number is growing) also have what are called “cost recovery” ordinances. This is another bill you get, separately, from either the city or the police department, charging you for everything from the police officer’s actual hourly time in arresting and processing you to cleaning out your jail cell. I’m not making this up; one bill I recently saw contained a fee for rental of the jail uniform. These bills range from about $250 to $400.

Not to lose out either, the Michigan Secretary of State has its “driver responsibility fee,” also known as the “bad driver tax.” An impaired driving conviction will cost $500 a year for 2 consecutive years, while any operating while intoxicated offense (OWI, High BAC, OWI 2nd or 3rd offense) will cost $1000 a year for 2 consecutive years. Therefore, add either $1000 or $2000 to our running total.

Legal fees are all over the map. The cut-rate, conveyor-belt law operations will charge as little as $1500 for a quick “bleed ’em and plead ’em” 1st offense DUI job. The better class of DUI lawyers will typically charge between $2500 and $4000 for their work (I charge $2800 in a 1st offense case). Fees in second offense cases range from about $3000 to $5000 (my fee is $3800), and felony fees range anywhere from $5000 to $15,000 (I charge about $5800 on average). Using my fees as a “middle ground,” we can add the following to our running DUI cost sub-totals:

1st offense: $2800
2nd offense: $3800
3rd offense: $5800

Now, let’s look at the total legal cost of a DUI from low to high:

1st offense (including High BAC): $5400 to $8580 (median – approximately $7000)

2nd offense: $9120 to $10,820 (median – approximately $10,000)

3rd offense: $12,080 to $14,020 (median – approximately $13,000)

That almost covers it for the legal costs, but we’re still not quite done…

Anyone 1st offender, or 2nd offender who goes through sobriety court and won’t lose his or her driver’s license will have his or her car insurance go up. Way up. A general “rule of thumb” is that your insurance will go up about 94% on average after a DUI, meaning that it will almost double, and you’ll pay for that for about 3 years. If you drive a “typical” car and pay normal rates, this means you’ll pay an additional $3000 to $5000 over those 3 years for insurance, giving us a median cost of $4000. Having kept up with inflation from the time the original “A DUI will cost you $10,000” ad campaign first aired, this punches that 1st offense case right up to about $11,000 for one instance of bad judgment. I can’t remember exactly when the ad campaign aired, but it was between 2 and 3 years ago. At this point, we’re talking about a 10% increase, which is about par for the way things we hate to pay for in the first place go up.

There is no real moral to this story, nor is there some witty way to end this article. As one of my favorite sayings goes, “It is what it is.” These are large amounts of money, but there is nothing here that will ruin a person who had the fortitude to move forward in a positive direction. As another saying goes, “It’s only money,” and if you choose to use a DUI as a learning moment, it can be something you look back on with a healthy mixture of humor and regret down the road.

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