Among the most common questions I’m asked by someone facing a 1st offense OWI charge is “What happens to my license?” In my role as a Michigan DUI lawyer, one of my primary functions is to protect my client’s ability to drive. In this article, I want to examine just that – a person’s ability to drive after a conviction for a 1st offense DUI. We’ll look all 1st offense cases, including regular OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) and High BAC (OWI with BAC of .17 or More) charges. To keep this article focused, we’ll skip getting into fees and points and anything other than how a 1st offense drunk driving arrest and a subsequent conviction for a drinking and driving offense impact a person’s driving privileges.
Important here, and as I noted in the previous article on this blog about plea bargains in DUI cases, most people charged with a 1st offense will ultimately NOT be convicted of the charge originally made against them, at least amongst my clients. This means that most of the men and women I represent who’ve been arrested for OWI or even High BAC will wind up getting some kind of a deal to lessen the offense, and thereby lessen the impact on their ability to drive. Perhaps the biggest mistake a person will make is to go look up the charge on their paperwork and then start freaking out over the corresponding driver’s license sanction. Since the outcome is very likely to change from that original charge, any actual restriction of your driving privileges won’t be nearly as bad as the penalties you first discover.
Another area of frequent misunderstanding is the status of a person’s ability to drive immediately after a DUI arrest. The police are supposed to confiscate and destroy a person’s physical driver’s license upon arrest for drunk driving. In return, they give a person a temporary, paper license. This can take 1 of 2 forms: A “Michigan Temporary Driving Permit,” or an “Officer’s Report of Refusal to Submit to Chemical Test.” While there is a difference between these 2 forms, both of them allow a person to drive without any additional restriction whatsoever. In other words, if you have one of these in your wallet, it allows you to drive in the exact same way you could before your arrest. The “refusal” form is given to any person who refuses a breath test at the police station, and means his or her license will suspended for a year, unless he or she wins what’s called an “Implied Consent” appeal. An implied consent suspension is completely independent of anything that happens to a person’s license as a result of the DUI case. Anyone given the “Officer’s Report of Refusal to Submit to Chemical Test” must appeal to the Michigan Secretary of State (as directed on the back of the form) within 14 days or the suspension will kick in automatically. This is a subject in its own right and falls outside the scope of this article, so we’ll leave it at that for now. The bottom line is that when you leave the police station, you have all the same rights and privileges to drive that you had before your arrest. What, if anything, will happen to those privileges comes later. Let’s turn to how that works…
Before we look at the DUI license sanctions, we should be clear that the penalties imposed for a conviction are automatic, non-negotiable, based entirely upon the conviction offense, and imposed by the Michigan Secretary of State, not the court. The court and the Judge have nothing to do with any of this, and cannot, in any way, for any reason, or under any conditions, extend, shorten, or otherwise modify any of these license penalties. Think of it this way; what will happen to your driver’s license is set in stone, and the trade-off for that lack of flexibility is the clarity and certainty of those sanctions.
In addition, we need to define 2 things here: A “hard” suspension means that you cannot drive at all. A “restricted license” means you can drive for the following reasons ONLY – there are no exceptions whatsoever. In case I wasn’t clear enough, “no exceptions whatsoever” means that you cannot drive, under any circumstances, for anything not explicitly and specifically covered below :
To, from and during the course of your work,
To and from your school (you cannot drive your kids to their school),
To and from any serious medical treatment for you (and only for you, not anyone else),
To and from anything the court orders you to do as part of your DUI case, and,
To and from any community support groups, like AA.
That’s it. Period. Thus, if a person has to endure a 30-day hard suspension before his or her restricted driving privileges begin, it means that he or she cannot drive at all (zip, zero, nada) for that first month, and then can drive only for the purposes state above thereafter, until the restrictions end.
Now, and without further delay (drumroll please…), here are the specific license sanctions for the various 1st offense DUI offenses in Michigan:
– OWVI (Operating While Visibly Impaired) “Impaired”: 90 day restricted license.
– OWI (Operating While Intoxicated): 30 day hard suspension, followed by 5 months restricted license.
– High BAC (Operating While Intoxicated with a BAC of .17 or More) “Super-drunk”: 45 day hard suspension, followed by 10 and 1/2 months restricted license REQUIRING an ignition interlock unit in the vehicle.
That’s it. There is nothing longer, nothing shorter, and no exceptions or modifications that can me made to what’s outlined above. If you have to ask about something not specifically included in the restrictions, then you can’t do it. Thus, if someone with a very sick child who needs blood transfusions to stay alive asks about taking him or her to the hospital, the answer, very clearly, is that it is not allowed. Nothing is allowed that isn’t specifically spelled out. Although that sounds harsh, here’s the good news; there are no time limitations on a restricted license. This means that if your boss orders you to drive from Michigan to San Diego to go find sea shells on the beach, you can legally do it, and you could decide to sleep all day and drive all night, and that’s okay. As long as you are driving for one of the stated reasons above, it doesn’t matter when. A restricted license is good for all 24 hours of the day, but only for the restricted purposes permitted by law.
This is where we can see that all that self-imposed stress is a waste. If you’ve been charged with High BAC or straight-up OWI, there is a good chance that I will be able to get the charge reduced. If either of those charges get dropped to Impaired Driving, then you will not lose the ability to drive, even for a single day.
Of course, there is more to the whole, larger subject of driver’s license and DUI cases, but for purposes of what happens after a 1st offense, this outline covers everything. If you’re facing a DUI anywhere in Macomb, Oakland or Wayne County and are looking to hire a lawyer, I can help. Do your homework and be a good consumer. Read articles (like this) and ask questions. You can reach my office Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 596-465-1980. We do all the consultation stuff over the phone, right when you call, so you can get answers to your concerns or compare notes with what some other lawyer said right when you call. We’re here to help.