OWI vs. OWVI: What’s the Difference?
At George Law, we meet with clients asking this same question on a daily basis. An OWI (Operating While Intoxicated), often referred to as a DUI in other jurisdictions, carries a heavier penalty than an OWVI (Operating While Visibly Impaired). If you’ve been charged with any kind of drinking and driving offense, you might face severe punishment, including a jail sentence, fine, loss of driving privileges, and other collateral consequences.
Usually, OWI in Michigan involves a complete loss of mental or physical faculties because of substance intoxication. This substance could be alcohol, prescription drugs, marijuana, or pretty much anything else.
Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI) is a little different. To obtain a conviction under Michigan law, prosecutors must only show that the defendant was “visibly impaired due to the consumption of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance.” The volume of alcohol consumed is usually the difference between intoxication and impairment. Most people are intoxicated after they have three or four drinks. But alcohol impairment begins at the first drink.
Because of this difference, an OWVI is more complicated than an OWI. If you face these charges, you need an experienced defense attorney in your corner. OWVI charges are serious, but there are several ways to resolve them successfully.
Why Do Prosecutors File OWVI Charges?
In general, OWVI is an alternative to OWI if the evidence is weak. For practical purposes, OWVI is usually a fallback offense or a statistical offense. Both kinds of cases are common during high traffic enforcement periods, like a STEP (Special Traffic Enforcement Program) campaign. These efforts usually have clever marketing nicknames, like “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.”
Typically, during STEP campaigns, supervisors pull officers off their regular shifts and beats, redeploy them to a certain area of town, and instruct them to write as many OWI or other targeted citations as possible. A federal government grant usually pays for officer overtime and other program expenses. In order to justify all this effort and money, officers could overreach during traffic stops and questioning. In other words, they detain and arrest motorists who are impaired but not intoxicated. That difference means OWVI charges instead of OWI charges. The evidence in an OWVI case is inherently weaker than the evidence in an OWI case, at least when it comes to intoxication.
The direct consequences of an OWVI and OWI are much the same. They are both misdemeanors. But the indirect consequences are different. For example, vehicle immobilization and an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) are mandatory in an OWI. But these things are discretionary in an OWVI.
George Law Has Your Back
A partnership with an experienced OWI attorney is the best way to successfully resolve drinking and driving charges in Michigan. At George Law, we’re devoted to getting the best possible outcome for your OWI and OWVI charges. We are on your side and will work tirelessly to protect your rights. If you have been charged with any kind of drinking and driving charges, get in touch with George Law for a free consultation by calling (248) 470-4300 or visit georgelaw.com to learn more.