DUI and OWI in Michigan – The Big Deal About and Meaning of “Impaired”

As a DUI Lawyer, I have written extensively about this subject, and have frequently talked about “Impaired Driving,” or “Impaired.” In most articles I have seen, both my own and those written by others, the subject of Impaired arises in a discussion of DUI in general. This article will focus specifically on Impaired Driving, and attempt to explain why it’s such a big deal, in so many ways.

If you have been searching for information about a Michigan DUI, or have spoken with anyone who works in the Court, Law Enforcement or Legal System, then you have no doubt heard the term “Impaired.”

A few drinks.jpgIn Michigan, Drunk Driving, or DUI, is technically called Operating While Intoxicated, or OWI. Not that many years ago, the technical name for Drunk Driving was “Operating Under the Influence of Liquor,” or OUIL. When Michigan adopted the national standard setting Bodily Alcohol Content for Drunk Driving at .08, it likewise change the name of the Offense from OUIL to OWI. Under the old OUIL Laws, Drunk Driving in Michigan was defined as having a Bodily Alcohol Content (BAC) of above .10.

Also, under the old OUIL Laws, a person with a BAC of between .10 and .07, was guilty of a less severe form of Drunk Driving, known as Impaired Driving. In essence, Impaired sort of meant driving with a “buzz,” while OUIL meant driving while Drunk.

When OWI with it’s .08 became Michigan Law, Impaired Driving was NOT abolished. Instead, the old .07 standard was dumped, leaving Impaired with no defined BAC.

This amounted to a HUGE break for anyone who makes a mistake by driving after having had a little too much to drink, especially for those who have had no prior DUI cases for more than 7 years from the date of any new charge. Just to be clear, any 3rd Offense in a person’s LIFETIME is a Felony, so we’re only talking about 1 prior, here.

The break and benefit of an Impaired is that it carries less severe penalties than does an OWI. Both the old OUIL and its successor, OWI, carry the same penalties. Let’s compare the penalties of Impaired to those of OWI, so we can see why Impaired can be considered such a huge break:

A person who “Plea Bargains” an OWI charge down to an Impaired will face the following consequences:

1. Their Driver’s License will be RESTRICTED for 90 days. This means they an driver to and from and for work, school, any necessary medical treatment, and anything else the Court orders them to do as part of their case. There is no loss of License beyond being restricted to ONLY the above things. This does mean that a person CANNOT take the kids to school, go grocery shopping, or do anything other than what I outlined above, period.

2. They will receive 4 Points on their Driving Record.

3. They will face a fine of up to $300, plus Court Costs and other expenses. Usually this ranges from between about $600 to $1200 total, depending on which Court is hearing the case.

4. They will get hit with a $500 Driver Responsibility Fee for 2 consecutive years, imposed by the Secretary of State for a total of $1000.

5. They face up to 93 days in Jail. Relax, no one hires a Lawyer and goes to Jail. The only possible exception to that in the Metro-Detroit area is the 48th District Court in Bloomfield Hills.

6. They face a term of Probation. It is possible, in some Courts, to either avoid Probation, or to at least get Non-Reporting Probation for an Impaired. That’s usually limited to certain Courts in Macomb and Wayne County.

The Penalties a person faces for an OWI (not reduced to an Impaired) are:

1. Their Driver’s License will be SUSPENDED for 6 months. For the 1st 30 days, they CANNOT drive at all, and will be given a Restricted License for the remaining 5 months, with the same limitations as outlined above in the section about Impaired charges.

2. They will receive 6 Points on their Driving Record.

3. They will face a fine of up to $500 plus Court Costs and other expenses. This can total from between $800 to $1500, depending on which Court is hearing the case.

4. They will get hit with a $1000 Driver Responsibility Fee for 2 consecutive years, imposed by the Secretary of State, for a total of $2000.

5. They face up to 93 days in Jail. The likelihood of that is pretty much the same for an impaired. However, an OWI charge that is not reduced to an Impaired is usually more serious, and often involves a significantly high BAC, so there are risks here.

6. They face a term of Probation. Beyond being potentially longer, and more restrictive than any Probation imposed for an Impaired, the chances of either avoiding Probation altogether, or getting Non-Reporting Probation for an OWI is extraordinarily slim. I think “slim to none” more adequately describes the chances of that.

An OWI is more expensive, and is more of a headache than an Impaired. That much should be obvious from a comparison of the potential consequences associated with each.

What’s not so obvious is the way the 2 Offenses are generally regarded by those in the Legal system. Not that an impaired is laughing matter, but, standing alone, it is often seen as an instance of poor Judgment more than anything else. I know when I review a Driver’s Record, whether for Driver’s License Restorations, or for any other reason, and I see a 1st Offense that WAS NOT reduced to an Impaired, I generally conclude the person either didn’t have an Attorney (which is kind of ridiculous, because the savings an Impaired has over a straight-up OWI more than covers that expense), or their case was really a “cluster-[bleep].” Whatever else, that lack of a Plea Bargain doens’t signal anything good.

Of Course, everyone hopes their case can be thrown out. The reality is, however, that the vast, vast majority of these cases will not go away, no matter how much money and legal maneuvering a person throws at it. If just spending a ton of money was the way out, no celebrity with lots of dough would ever be convicted of a DUI, yet every week someone famous is either getting arrested, or being put on Probation for just this reason.

While it is important to make sure the case against you is sound, and cannot be beaten for any reason, recognizing reality, and not just funding a dream (and someone else’s luxury car payment) also means looking at how to resolve a pending DUI. That’s why the term “Impaired” is so important. It can be that tolerable bridge between a straight up OWI and a simple instance of poor judgment.