People charged with drunk driving face harsher penalties than simply paying a fine and covering court costs. The fact is, these are criminal charges, and it’s important to take these charges seriously. Michigan has some of the most strict DUI laws and penalties in the entire United States. In certain cases, these penalties may even include jail time.
As with any other criminal charge, if you are charged with DUI or OWI, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. If guilt is established (usually through your own plea or after a jury trial), the penalty in Michigan depends on the exact charge, as well as on any aggravating circumstances (such as the presence of an open bottle of liquor in the car) and whether you cooperated with the police. You can refer to our Michigan DUI guide for more information.
This guide serves to educate individuals regarding what to expect from a drunk driving offense. However, this is not a substitute for professional legal advice. If you are facing DUI charges for the first time, it is absolutely essential that you reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney specializing in drunk driving charges. This can mean the difference between life altering legal consequences and being able to learn from your mistakes and carry on with your life with better choices.
Will You Serve Time in Jail?
In Michigan, first-offense DUI or OWI is classified as a misdemeanor, and punishable by up to 93 days in jail. That jail time may be increased under certain circumstances. For example, Michigan mandates more severe punishments for DUI or OWI offenders whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of arrest was at least 0.17%, which is more than twice the legal limit; i.e., level needed for an ordinary OWI (0.08%).
Michigan does not technically require mandatory jail sentences for your first offense, but some judges do impose a jail sentence to all first offenders, particularly those in Oakland County. Subsequent offenses often result in jail sentences of several months to a year or more, again depending on the circumstances surrounding your arrest and which judge is imposing the sentence.
For a first DUI or OWI to be classified as a felony in Michigan, the offense must have resulted in death or injury. Like any other felony offense, jail sentences begin at a minimum of a year and go up from there. Oftentimes these sentences are longer, although this will depend on the circumstances of the case and the discretion of the judge at trial.
How Large of a Fine Will You have to Pay?
In addition to jail sentences, courts can and do impose high fines for DUI or OWI. These range from as little as $500 to as much as $2,000. In Michigan, your combined fine and court costs are often over $1,000.
Driver’s License Problems
In Michigan, a DUI or OWI offender will nearly always have their license suspended for a substantial period of time (either by court order or mandate of the Secretary of States). For example, even if you’re a first-time offender, Michigan suspends your license for at least 90 days and maybe twice as long. If you’re a second offender, Michigan suspends your license for 1 year. If you’re a third-time offender, Michigan will suspend your license for up to 5 years.
What if You Refuse to take a Blood, Breath, or Urine test?
If you decline, for example, to take a preliminary breath test (PBT), the Michigan Secretary of State by default will automatically suspend your drivers license regardless of whether you are found guilty of drunk driving. It is possible, however, to obtain a “restricted license.” A restricted license enables you to drive to and from places like work, church, school, etc., while your license is suspended.
Depending on your circumstances, Michigan may also take additional steps to make sure that you (particularly if you’re a repeat offender) don’t get back on the road. One of the most common things that can occur is the state requiring a breath alcohol ignition interlock device (BAIID) to be installed to your vehicle. This device will require a breathalyzer test before the vehicle can be started, completed by blowing into a small handheld alcohol-sensor unit that is directly attached to the ignition system.
If your BAC is above a certain level (usually .02% to .04%), your car won’t start. Additionally, once a failed start is recorded, the violation will be reported to the Secretary of State by the BAIID vendor who installed the device. These reports can result in extensions upon license restrictions or even the revocation of a license, reversing the reinstatement process. Even if you follow the rules, you still must have regular inspections of the device and jump through multiple regulatory hoops. The State of Michigan does not make this process easy.
Alternative Forms of Punishment
During the sentencing process, Michigan courts may also include certain forms of alternative sentencing. For example, you may have to complete courses on alcohol awareness or driving improvement, as well as teaching and prevention programs. For more serious offenses, the sentencing may also include treatment for alcohol abuse, an assessment for possible alcohol or drug dependency or addiction, and even required community service or victim restitution.
The judge may recommend these steps in addition to jail time and paying fines, or perhaps instead of jail time and fines. Or the judge may combine them with other penalties. Some judges, for example, require minors convicted of drunk driving to perform community service, in addition to any other penalties.
Young Drunk Drivers
A juvenile or minor who is arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs won’t get any breaks from punishment. In fact, being young is likely to make matters worse. The legal drinking age is 21 in Michigan – if you’re younger, drinking is a separate crime. In addition, Michigan penalizes underage drivers for lower BAC levels – 0.02% — than the standard 0.08% for adults. Underage DUI offenders will also have their licenses suspended.
Other Consequences for Drunk Driving
In addition to the legal penalties that the State of Michigan will impose on you, there are other financial consequences for a drunk driving conviction. There is a very high probability that your auto insurance will cancel your policy, especially if your license is suspended by the state, making it illegal for you to operate your vehicle on public roadways. Not having insurance will cause issues with your lienholder if there is a loan on your vehicle or if it is leased, potentially resulting in vehicle repossession, depending on the terms of your loan or lease agreement.
If you are lucky enough to not have your insurance policy canceled, your rates will certainly go up, usually by a drastic amount because of the damage a DUI conviction has on your driving record. Since a drunk driving charge stays on your driving record for many years, this can have massive financial repercussions for years to come, costing you thousands of dollars in otherwise unnecessary insurance premium increases.
Certain jobs may be closed if you’ve been convicted of DUI or DWI, such as driving a school bus, delivery van, or any other vehicle as part of their employment. This also applies to certain types of professional jobs such as medical doctors, as well as other types of jobs that require certain government security clearances. To top it all off, if your DUI resulted in victims, from an accident for instance, there is a good chance you may face a separate civil lawsuit for property damages or bodily injuries.