As Michigan DUI lawyers, we spend a major part of every workday closely involved with people going through drunk driving charges. Over the years, we have been asked every question imaginable, and walked our clients through every step of the DUI process a million times over. Because we handle OWI cases all day, every day, we have, quite literally, seen it all. This article will be about the 3 biggest ways a 1st offense DUI case will impact your life.
Let me begin by making clear that this is not any kind of scare-tactic piece. The reality is that jail can be avoided in almost every 1st offense DUI case here in the Greater-Detroit area of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and surrounding counties. Moreover, no matter how things may look right now, they aren’t nearly as bad as you probably fear. In truth, a 1st offense DUI can is far more of an expense and inconvenience rather than the end of your world, and this even applies to those who hold some kind of professional license.
The intention behind Michigan’s DUI laws, especially as it relates to 1st offense cases, is not to ruin a person’s life or career, but rather to make a the whole experience so unpleasant that he or she will take the steps necessary to make sure it never happens again. There are numerous potential consequences that go with an OWI charge, but we’re going to focus on the 3 that are all but certain, unless a case gets completely tossed out of court.
In any DUI case that isn’t somehow dismissed, there will always be some ramifications. The whole point of hiring a DUI lawyer is to avoid as many of them as possible, and to minimize those that can’t be avoided altogether.
Of course, a DUI lawyer should always try to “beat” the charge, and my team and I will do nothing less in every case we take. A careful and thorough analysis of the evidence must be undertaken with a mindset that there IS something wrong with it, and that it’s our job to find it, rather than just “looking it over” and waiting for something to jump out.
DUI cases don’t dismiss themselves, and the only way to “beat” a case is to start out with an intention of doing so.
Nevertheless, all the hoping and wishing in the world can’t change facts. Whatever the facts of anyone’s drunk driving charge may be, the lawyer has to discover them, and then determine the best way to either work with them, or work around them.
That said, we must also acknowledge the reality that most DUI cases do not get tossed out of court. In Michigan, less that one-quarter of one percent (less than 1/4 of 1%) of all DUI arrests result in a “not guilty” verdict after a trial.
This is important information, and the fact that it’s basically skipped over on most other legal websites is somewhat troubling. It’s great for business to tell people what they want to hear, but it’s also an ethical and moral obligation to tell them what they need to hear, and this is one thing the reader needs to hear.
Specifically, here’s what I mean: the Michigan State Police are required, by law, to keep a record of every OWI arrest in the state, from start to finish: it’s called the annual drunk driving audit. Every case is tracked from the moment of arrest through final court outcome.
In 2018, the last year for which records are available as of this writing, there were nearly 32,000 people arrested for a DUI or DUI-related offenses in Michigan.
Out of all of them, only 49 people fought their case at trial and won; that’s .15 (zero point one five) percent. Those results are consistent from year to year.
The point I’m driving at is that while it’s understandable that everyone wants to get out of a DUI charge, and every lawyer should work his or her a$$ off to try and make that happen, statistically speaking, that’s not the likely outcome in any given case. Although this may not be what the reader wants to hear, it is what you need to hear.
With that as a starting point, let’s look at the first of the the 3 main ways a 1st offense Michigan DUI will affect your life, assuming the case is not “knocked out” somehow..
First, and no matter who you are, there will be at least some restrictions to your driver’s license. I have written rather extensively about the license consequences of a 1st offense DUI, but the short version for our purposes is that what happens to your license depends upon the exact charge that finally goes on your record.
To better understand this, we first need to clarify a common misunderstanding: technically speaking, there is no “DUI” in Michigan. Under our law, the offense is called “OWI,” which stands for “Operating While Intoxicated.” There are essentially 3 kinds of 1st offense OWI charges:
1. OWI (Operating While Intoxicated). This means a person operated a vehicle with a bodily alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher.
If a person is convicted of this offense, his or her license will be suspended for 6 months, but he or she will be have restricted driving privileges after the first 30 days. In essence, this means a person will have a “hard suspension” (no driving at all) for 1st month, and then have a restricted license for the next 6 months.
2. High BAC (Operating While Intoxicated with a BAC of greater than .17). Sometimes called “super drunk,” this is a more serious offense than regular OWI, and essentially means exactly what it says: that a person had a very high BAC of .17 or more.
A conviction for this offense requires a 1-year suspension of the person’s driver’s license, with no driving at all for the 1st 45 days, and then restricted privileges for the remaining 10 and 1/2 months, but ONLY with an ignition interlock installed on the vehicle.
3. OWVI (Operating While Visibly Impaired). This is the least serious of all Michigan DUI offenses. Although it’s still a drunk driving offense, the use of the word “impaired” implies that a person wasn’t outright drunk while driving, but rather just “impaired.”
This offense carries the most lenient license penalty: a person will have his or her license restricted for 90 days, and will be allowed restricted driving privileges for all of them. The technical term “suspension” confuses how most people understand this. Instead of getting caught up in all that, it’s easer just to think of having one’s license restricted for 90 days as the result of an Impaired Driving charge.
The goal in any case that can’t be beaten outright is to try and negotiate a plea bargain. In the DUI world, that means trying to reduce an OWI or High BAC charge down to OWVI, or Impaired Driving. The less serious the final charge that goes on a person’s record, the better.
The law sets forth the specific and limited reasons that a person can drive while on a restricted license. And before anyone asks “what about?” or “what if?”, under Michigan’s DUI laws, there are no exceptions to any of this, and no court can modify the terms of a restricted license in any way whatsoever. Here is the driving allowed by a restricted license:
1. In the course of the person’s employment or occupation.
2. To and from any combination of the following:
- The person’s residence.
- The person’s work location.
- An alcohol or drug education or treatment program as ordered by the court.
- The court probation department.
- A court-ordered community service program.
- An educational institution at which the person is enrolled as a student.
- A place of regularly occurring medical treatment for a serious condition for the person or a member of the person’s household or immediate family.
- An ignition interlock service provider as required.
3. While driving with a restricted license, the person shall carry proof of his or her destination and the hours of any employment, class, or other reason for traveling and shall display that proof upon a peace officer’s request.
As I noted above, those are the ONLY legal reasons a person can drive while on a restricted license. Most people can get by with these, although it’s neither easy nor fun. Remember, the goal of the law is to impose penalties to create enough of a disincentive to stop a person from ever getting another DUI, so it’s supposed to be inconvenient.
We’ll stop here for now, and come back, in part 2, to look at the 2nd way a first offense DUI will affect your life.