What Happens to your Driver’s License for a 1st Offense DUI in Michigan?

As Michigan DUI lawyers, one of the most common questions we are asked is “what’s going to happen to my license?” We’re going to keep this article simple and confine our examination only to 1st offense cases. The whole subject of OWI license sanctions for the various offenses can get rather deep. Since the majority of drunk driving charges are for 1st offenses, anyway, this overview will apply to the largest potential audience.

LCD-3-300x171We’ll start by clarifying one important point – “1st offense” means that a person has not been convicted of any other prior alcohol-related traffic offense within 7 years. DUI driver’s license penalties are imposed by the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS), and under its rules, a conviction can ONLY count as a 1st offense if a person has not had any other alcohol-related driving convictions within 7 years from the date of arrest for the current charge.

In the real world, almost every first offender arrested for drinking and driving will be charged with one of two DUI offenses: Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), or OWI with a BAC of .17 or more (often called “High BAC”). Most of the time, a 1st offense DUI is simply charged as “OWI.” Nowadays, the more serious “High BAC” offense is charged about 1/3 of the time. It’s critical to understand that what happens to your license is a result of the charge to which you wind up pleading guilty, meaning your conviction charge, and NOT the charge that’s first made against you. In fact, most of the time, we can negotiate the original charge down to something less serious.

This is huge, because if you’re currently facing a High BAC charge and you’re looking at the penalties for that offense, you’re probably freaking out that you won’t be able to drive at all for the first 45 days of your suspension, and then you’ll only be allowed to drive with an ignition interlock device and on restrictions for the next 10 and a half months.

Except it doesn’t have to play out that way, and, most of the time, it won’t.

In the majority of High BAC cases that we handle, for example, we are able plea-bargain the charge down, meaning that the client will never have to deal with an ignition interlock device or go 45 days without any driving privileges. The key benefit of a plea bargain is avoiding the penalties of the original charge in exchange for those of a lesser offense.

Similarly, we are almost always able to negotiate a plea bargain down from an OWI charge, as well. The step down from an OWI charge is a reduction to the least serious DUI charge of Impaired Driving (OWVI), and when that happens, the client will never lose the ability to drive at all, and will, instead, only have to deal with restrictions for 90 days.

The point here is that the charge you face at first is not necessarily (and is usually not) the charge that will ultimately be worked out on your behalf. When a plea bargain is negotiated, you will only get the penalties, including license sanctions, of the lesser, reduced offense.

It is important, however, to understand that driver’s license penalties are not negotiable. They are set in stone, so to speak, and the court has nothing to do with them. Thus, if a person is convicted of a 1st offense Impaired Driving, his or her license will be restricted by the Michigan Secretary of State for 90 days, and he or she will only be able to drive for the purposes specified in the law.

I will get into the specific penalties for each 1st offense charge next, but the key thing to understand is that the list of penalties is fixed, and cannot be modified in anyway, for any reason, by anyone, including the Judge.

1st offense DUI charges do not result in the revocation (meaning the complete loss) of driving privileges. Amongst the various 1st offense penalties is a combination of license suspensions followed by restrictions. In other words, a 1st offender won’t have his or her license taken away permanently, but will rather be placed on, or eventually wind up with, a restricted license.

First, we need to define what a “restricted” license means. In Michigan, “restricted” allows you to drive for the following reasons, and ONLY the reasons listed below:

  • In the course of the person’s employment or occupation. This enables you to drive during work, if that’s part of your job.
  • To and from any combination of the following:
    • The person’s residence.
    • The person’s work location.
    • Any alcohol or drug education or treatment program that is court-ordered.
    • The court’s 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 necessary.

This is the sum total of all reasons for which you can drive.

What about taking the kids to school? No. As to those “what about…?” and “what if…? questions? The answer is simple: if you don’t see a reason specifically listed above, you cannot drive for it while on a restricted license. The state wants this to hurt and be inconvenient.

Obviously, these restrictions may not be so bad for some people, while they can be a huge burden to others. There is no mechanism for anyone in the system to “care” about that. Thus, when someone asks something like, “how do they expect me to get my kids to school?”, the answer is a cold that’s your problem.

Now, for all of that, 1st offense DUI license penalties are short-lived inconveniences. Remember, 2nd and subsequent offender have their licenses revoked altogether, so anyone facing a simple suspension is a million times better off.

Here are the specific license penalties, beginning with those for Impaired Driving (OWVI), followed by Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), and then Operating While Intoxicated with a BAC of .17 or Greater (High BAC):

(OWVI) Operating While Impaired: License restricted for 90 days. There is no “hard”suspension (meaning no period of time where you cannot drive), and the license is eligible to be reinstated to “full” after the 90 days’ restriction.

(OWI) Operating While Intoxicated: License suspended completely (hard suspension, meaning no driving allowed at all) for the first 30 days, followed by 150 days on a restricted license. The license can be reinstated to “full” after 180 days.

(High BAC) OWI with BAC of .17 or Greater: License suspended completely (hard suspension, meaning no driving allowed at all) for the first 45 days, and a restricted license is allowed for the remaining 320 days, but only after a person has an ignition interlock unit installed. The person can only drive with the interlock and under the restrictions until his or her “full” license is reinstated, which can be done the end of the 1-year license sanction.

Again, it bears repeating that the charge initially brought against you may NOT (and probably won’t) be the charge that ultimately goes on your record, so looking at the license consequences for that initial offense is a worst-case scenario. Remember, most High BAC and OWI charges can be plea-bargained down, and this means you will never have to deal with those more serious license penalties.

If you are facing a DUI charge here in the Metro-Detroit area (meaning anywhere in Oakland, Macomb or Wayne County) and are looking to hire a lawyer, do your homework and read around. Then, check around. All of my consultations are confidential and done over the phone, right when you call. We’re really friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and assess your situation if you give us a ring. You can reach us Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 586-465-1980. We’re here to help.