“What happens to my driver’s license, and when?” These are about the most frequently asked questions in DUI cases. Explaining what happens, and when, is easy; fully comprehending the answer is more difficult because the way it actually works is somewhat counter-intuitive, and often inconvenient. In this article, I’m going to spell it all out. And to be perfectly clear, I am a Michigan DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyer. I work with these issues – and almost exclusively with these kinds of issues –every single day. Accordingly, what I’m about to explain is the 100% completely accurate truth. Anything you read to the contrary is just dead wrong.
Before we get to the nitty-gritty, and will all due respect, in today’s world, many (if not most) Judges do NOT understand how license sanctions work because they don’t impose them. In fact, that’s an important reason this article is necessary, and part of that whole “counter-intuitive” idea I mentioned in the preceding paragraph. In every single DUI case, the Judge has nothing to do with what happens to your driver’s license. The Michigan Secretary of State, and only the Michigan Secretary of State, can take action against your driver’s license. Moreover, the particular action taken in each case is required and specified by law. There are no exceptions whatsoever, and no special allowances for anyone’s circumstances.
1. The Judge (also meaning the court) in your DUI case has nothing to do with what happens to your driver’s license;
2. The Secretary of State has exclusive jurisdiction (meaning total authority and control) over the action taken against your license; and
3. The specific action take against your driver’ license by the Secretary of State is mandated by law.
The upshot of this puts a dead end to any notion of asking the Judge for some kind of restricted license not otherwise granted by the Secretary of State. The Judge CANNOT do anything whatsoever about your driving privileges. We’ll come back to what actually happens to your license later. In the meantime, let’s talk about timing, because another critical factor in this discussion is WHEN action is taken against your license in a DUI case. This is perhaps the hardest thing for people to understand, so let’s clear it up…
The clerk of the court where your DUI case is pending is legally obligated to send what’s called an “abstract” (essentially meaning a copy) of your conviction for a drunk driving offense to the Secretary of State. In almost all cases, this happens right after a plea deal has been worked out. Obviously, in any DUI case that is beaten, or “knocked out,” there will be no license sanctions or consequences of any kind. It is receipt of this abstract by the Secretary of State that starts the action against your driving privileges.
This means that however many times you go to court, it is not until after you actually plead guilty to (or are found guilty of) some charge, usually as part of a plea bargain that has been worked out, and a copy of the official document from that proceeding, called an “abstract of conviction,” is sent by the court’s clerk to the Secretary of State. This means that it is the plea, and nothing else, that gets sets in motion the sanctions against your license. You can go to court 10 times in a row, but until you actually stand in front of the Judge and plead guilty to (or wind up getting found guilty of) some charge, nothing can or will happen to your license. Based upon your exact conviction information, the Secretary of State must and will impose a specific license sanction.
The biggest misconception people have is that action will be taken against their license when they show up in court. Most people think this is part of the sentencing, while others think it happens when they enter their plea. Neither is correct. In almost every case, the license action occurs between court dates. Let’s untangle this a bit:
It is the plea itself that causes a specific license penalty to be imposed, and it is the notice of that plea (the abstract of conviction) sent by the clerk of the court to the Secretary of State that causes the Secretary of State to take its specific action. The court clerk will send the abstract of your conviction to the Secretary of State within a day or so of your plea. The Secretary of State will take a few days to process it. In turn, the SOS will send you a notice advising that it has received the abstract of your conviction, and that, by law, it is required to impose certain specific penalties upon your license. It will next tell you WHEN those penalties take effect, usually within about a week or so, and also exactly what those penalties are.
This means that you get a little advance warning, in the mail, from the Secretary of State, before anything happens to your license.
Let’s restate this: Nothing happens to your driver’s license until you receive a notice from the Secretary of State detailing what is going happen and exactly when it is going to happen. None of this happens in court. Of course, I tell my clients, on the day we take the plea, that they can expect a notice from the Secretary of State in the next 2 weeks, exactly what that notice will say, and then I remind them that the notice itself will give some lead time before the license penalties actually kick in. Today, in fact, the day I edited this article (I usually publish ahead), I spoke with a Client who told me that on January 3, 2015, he received a notice from the SOS dated January 2, 2015, and he was given a 1-day notice that his revocation would begin on January 4, 2015. Most of the time there is a little more lead time than this, but the point is that there is always some advance warning.
What specifically happens to your license depends on exactly what you plead to (as opposed to the original charge made against you) and what prior drinking and driving convictions you have, if any. This is another huge, important, yet simple factor. If you have any prior DUI convictions within the previous 7 or 10 years, the following sanctions, and ONLY the following sanctions, apply, regardless of your current DUI charge or plea:
If you have 1 prior drinking and driving conviction (OWI, OWVI, Zero Tolerance (Minor with BAC .02 to .07) UBAL, UBAC or OUID) that occurred within 7 years from the arrest date of the current offense, your license will be revoked for at least 1 year. There is no restricted license, no date of return for you license or anything of that sort until you file and win a driver’s license restoration appeal, and that cannot even begin until your 1-year revocation period has passed. In the real world, you’ll have to wait longer than that.
If you have 2 prior drinking and driving convictions (OWI, OWVI, Zero Tolerance (Minor with BAC .02 to .07) UBAL, UBAC or OUID) within 10 years of the date of your arrest for the current charge, then your license will be revoked for 5 years. The “catch” here is that only 1 zero tolerance (minor with BAC .02 to .07) can count as a “prior” drinking and driving conviction. Otherwise, if this is your 3rd offense within 10 years, you will have to wait 5 years before you can begin the process of trying to get your license back.
If you DO NOT have any priors within 7 years, and this is not your 3rd offense within 10 years (it is possible, for example, to not have had a DUI within 7 years, but to have had one 8 years ago, and another 9 years ago), then you are treated as a “first offender” by the Secretary of State. Here is another huge point: The Secretary of State DOES NOT take into account how your case is handled in court in the sense that it matters whether you are charged with a 1st, 2nd or 3rd offense, nor does it matter whether your ultimate conviction is for a 1st, 2nd or 3rd offense. The ONLY thing that matters to the Secretary of State is that the current drinking and driving case is, or is not, your 2nd within 7 years, or your 3rd within 10. Put another way, the SOS just looks at your record and counts.
Now, let’s look at what happens to someone who has no prior convictions…
For a 1st offender (as defined above), the following sanctions are imposed. To be clear, the sanction (penalty) imposed is for your conviction offense, meaning the charge to which you ultimately plead guilty, not necessarily the offense originally charged against you:
OWVI (Operating While Visibly Impaired, or just “impaired”) – Restricted license for 90 days.
OWI, OUID, UBAC and UBAL (Operating While Intoxicated, Operating While Under the Influence of Drugs, Unlawful Bodily Alcohol Content and Unlawful Blood Alcohol Level) – License suspended for 30 days with NO driving, followed by a restricted license for the remaining 5 months (150) days thereafter.
High BAC (applies only to 1st offense cases) – License suspended for the first 45 days with NO driving, and a restricted license with an ignition interlock unit for the remaining 11 and ½ months (320 days).
That’s it. There are no exceptions and no adjustments or modifications allowed.
The next question, of course, is what is meant by a “restricted license?”
The answer is simple, but the reality of how it affects someone’s life can be complex. A restricted license allows you to drive to, from and in the course of employment, (meaning for work purposes), to and from any necessary medical treatment for yourself only, to and from your school, to and from anything the court requires you to do, as well as any support group meetings, like AA, that you attend.
Here is where it gets complex: The restricted license allows you to drive for your job only; you cannot take anyone to or pick anyone else up from work; you can take yourself to the doctor, but not anyone else. This means if you are a parent, you CANNOT take your own kids to the doctor. You can drive yourself to school, if you go, but you cannot take anyone else, including your own kids. You may go anywhere the court orders you to go, like an alcohol education class or an impact panel or to counseling and the like, but only if the court specifically requires you to go.
There is no pleasure driving allowed during the period of restriction. You cannot drive to church; you can’t pick up the dry cleaning; you can’t drive to lunch during work, unless the boss has told you to go pick it up for him or her. Moreover, there are no exceptions to any of this, and there is no procedure by which any of this can be modified in any way. It doesn’t matter if you were scheduled to drive the Pope to life-saving surgery; the restricted license is valid only for the purposes stated above, and nothing else.
This becomes complicated because life is complicated. This hardly “fits” for most people, but that’s part of the punishment. The “law” wants it to hurt. It’s not meant to be convenient, and the fact that this won’t work at all, or is otherwise more inconvenient for some people over others is just part and parcel of the package. There is nothing that can be done about it, and that’s intentional.
If you still have any questions about what happens to your license because of a DUI, read this article again. It contains the entirety of DUI license sanctions in regular (meaning DUI cases that don’t involve causing injury or death) drinking and driving situations. If you are looking for a DUI lawyer in the Metro-Detroit area and have questions about anything, including license sanctions, call my office anytime, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm at (586) 465-1980, or drop me a line via email.