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.
George Law has over a decade of experience in Michigan DUI cases and are certified experts in DUI defense. As a result our criminal defense lawyers bring a unique level of knowledge and experience to this topic. Continue reading to learn more about the likelihood of going to jail for a first DUI.
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 – it depends on your judge. 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 DUI or OWI that Michigan has classified as a felony—either because you killed or injured someone or because it’s your third or higher DUI—jail sentences of at least a year, and often longer, are not uncommon. Again, this depends the facts of your 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 is 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) (see our Implied Consent blog), the Michigan Secretary of State automatically suspends your driver 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. The state may require an ignition interlock device (IID) to be attached to your car. This means that you have to pass a breathalyzer test before you can start your car! It requires you to blow into a small handheld alcohol-sensor unit that is attached to your steering wheel or to the dashboard. If your BAC is above a certain level (usually .02% to .04%), your car won’t start.
Alternative Forms of Punishment
The Michigan courts may also include, when they sentences you, certain forms of alternative sentencing. For example, you may have to complete (i) courses on alcohol awareness or driving improvement, (ii) teaching and prevention programs, (iii) treatment for alcohol abuse, (iv) an assessment for possible alcohol or drug dependency or addiction, and (v) 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, your insurance company may cancel your insurance policy. Or they may drastically increase your rates because of the hit to your driving record. And a drunk driving charge stays on your driving record for many years. Plus, if your license is suspended, the insurance company is likely to cancel your insurance policy.
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. Finally, you may face a separate civil lawsuit if accident victims decide to sue for property damages or bodily injuries.
If you have any questions, please call the experienced attorneys at George Law, (248) 470-4300. We are available 24/7, so feel free to call any time.