With some of the toughest DUI laws in the country, Michigan has a well earned reputation for being the last place a person would want to be facing drunk driving charges. This is especially true when the accused is a minor or underage individual, with exceptionally harsh punishments. Michigan’s Zero Tolerance law allows for the arrest of underage drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.02-0.07%. When compared to the normal BAC limit of 0.08% for drivers 21 years or older, it becomes clear that the state does not mess around with underage drinking and driving. Convictions for underage DUI carry grievous and permanent consequences, with punishments often being stiffer than what would be incurred from a regular DUI conviction.
It is vital that those facing a Michigan OIW Zero Tolerance charge reach out to an expert attorney specializing in DUI defense. An attorney with experience handling these cases can help avoid jail or prison time, as well as excessive fines and ensure the best protection possible for a person’s permanent record.
Zero Tolerance in Michigan
As discussed earlier, the Zero Tolerance law in Michigan is one of the harshest drunk driving laws in the country. Even though first offense zero tolerance OWI convictions do not automatically result in jail time, there is the possibility that an underage offender can be sentenced to community service totaling up to 360 hours, in addition to a fine of up to $250. Second offense underage DUI offenses however do have the possibility of a jail sentence of up to 93 days on top of fines of up to $500, as well as 60 hours of community service.
Many individuals mistakenly believe that first offense underage OWI charges are not worth fighting because the punishments do not include jail or prison time. This error in judgement can cause individuals undue hardship going forward in their lives, since a conviction will stay on their record forever and be taken into consideration with any future DUI charges an individual may face. As an example, if a driver were convicted of an OWI Zero Tolerance charge and then be charged again at a later point with another OWI after they reached the age of 21, it would be treated as a second offense OWI.
There is one catch when it comes to using previous zero tolerance convictions to enhance any subsequent charges. Per state law, the prosecution is only allowed to use one prior underage conviction towards enhancing charges. Because of this, felony DUI for someone convicted of a zero tolerance OWI would require an additional prior OWI conviction after they turned 21, regardless of how many underage DUI convictions they received.
How Impairment is Determined
During the course of a traffic stop for a suspected OWI violation, law enforcement officers will use the same NHTSA field sobriety test that is employed for individuals age 21 years and older, since this test is accurate regardless of the age of the individual involved. These tests are performed regardless of the amount of alcohol in an individual’s system, in order for the police to establish probable cause, which gives them the legal ability to conduct a preliminary breathalyzer test. However it should be noted that in an investigation involving an underage individual who passes a field sobriety test, they can still be charged with a zero tolerance OWI if the breathalyzer test shows any alcohol in their system whatsoever.
Underage DUI – Consequences
The consequences of underage drunk driving convictions can sometimes be more serious than a normal DUI, especially in the short term. Judges in Michigan are given discretion to increase the severity of sentencing for underage zero tolerance convictions, which can sometimes result in a minor effectively being charged as an adult, carrying the same consequences. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense, a judge may be inclined to make an example of an underage offender due to them not only driving under the influence, but also because they aren’t even of legal drinking age in the first place.
This same discretion given to judges may also influence them to craft their sentencing in a manner that is intended to teach the offender a lesson and prevent future recidivism before they reach adulthood. Minors may be required to enroll in a substance abuse education program, write an essay about the topic, or be forced to complete an abnormally high number of community service hours. While it is uncommon for a judge to sentence a minor to jail time, it has been known to happen and this possibility should be kept in mind.
There are certain circumstances surrounding an offense in which a judge’s discretion is limited and instead the offender will face mandatory sentencing per Michigan statutes. If the BAC of the minor is at or above 0.08%, they will be charged as an adult and face the same legal consequences. This includes up to 93 days in jail, increased fine, longer community service hours, license suspension and even mandatory enrollment in an alcohol treatment program.
Long Term Underage DUI Consequences
Those convicted of an underage DUI offense not only face the immediate criminal consequences of their acts, but also experience the long term effects of a conviction on their record. This can have a significant impact on their quality of life, especially concerning employment opportunities. For those working in the transportation industry, as well as individuals who hold professional licenses such as doctors, this can potentially disqualify them from employment in their chosen career fields.
While certain employers may give an individual a pass on their previous DUI convictions, the government may not be as forgiving. In certain circumstances, state and federal statutes may not only prohibit the issuance of operators licenses to those driving commercial vehicles, but also restrict or prohibit the issuance of private and commercial pilots licenses. This can even affect the ability of an individual to obtain or keep the licenses required to be a captain of an ocean going vessel.
On top of the restrictions a DUI conviction can place on an individual’s livelihood, it can also have significant effects on future educational and academic opportunities. During the admissions process many colleges, universities and other educational institutions will not accept individuals who have anything on their record that may reflect poorly on their character. This is especially true for those with prior criminal history, and even an OWI conviction can be a disqualifier for an applicant.
How Underage OWI is Processed in Courts
An Underage Zero Tolerance OWI is a serious charge, with convictions resulting in a minimum of a misdemeanor showing on an individual’s record. Because a conviction can count as a prior offense, it can magnify the consequences of any future OWI convictions, especially after the individual has reached legal drinking age. In addition to this, judges may sentence an individual to jail time if they are unable to meet certain conditions laid out by the court, such as community service, curfews or an alcohol treatment program. This can be applicable even for first time offenders.
Generally speaking, when a minor or underaged individual is charged with a Zero Tolerance OWI, their case will automatically go to the district court in the jurisdiction in which the offense occurred. The exception to this is when the charge is attached to a felony. When a felony charge is involved, the case will be brought directly to the circuit court for the hearing, skipping the district court system entirely. Because of this, defendants should take underage DUI charges seriously as if they were a regular drunk driving charge, since the courts will generally view and treat them in the same manner as normal DUI charges.
Underage OWI Prosecution
While it is not common for underage individuals to be charged as an adult for a Zero Tolerance OWI violation, it can and does happen occasionally. Because adult charges carry the possibility of jail time for first offenses in addition to increased fines, longer community service hours and mandatory alcohol treatment problems, this is something that should be taken seriously. For minors and underage individuals these increased penalties can be especially difficult to handle due to it interfering with the ability to participate in school activities and attending classes, in addition to possibly limited employment opportunities.
Working with a skilled attorney is important in order to avoid being charged as an adult. An attorney can discuss alternative sentencing options with a judge, including things such as rehabilitation and educational programs. Obviously, this will be dependent on what a judge deems to be the best course of action for preventing the offender from committing another DUI offense in the future. Convincing a judge that alternative sentencing is the best course of action may be difficult, regardless of their personal opinions about the accused. Certain judges will be inclined to teach an individual a harsh lesson at an early age, believing that this is the best way to discourage behavior of this type in the future.
That being said, other judges may be more inclined to give leniency to underage OWI offenders. This often occurs when the offender is just under the legal drinking age or if their BAC levels are under the standard limit of 0.08 applicable to those 21 years of age or older. In situations like this, the benefits of a skilled DUI attorney should not be underestimated, as they can convince a judge that the offender will not be of any trouble going forward and that a harsh punishment may actually be counterproductive for their future prospects.
Preemptive Legal Strategies
Something that should always be at the forefront of any underage OWI defense strategy are preemptive measures that should be employed prior to and during the course of the individual’s trial. The best of these include voluntary participation in substance abuse counseling, alcohol treatment programs, educational programs, therapy or even the use of medications that treat the underlying reasons behind the alcohol abuse, whether those be psychological or otherwise. A good OWI defense attorney will be able to decide on the correct strategy to employ for a particular defendant’s situation in order to ensure they are in the best position possible during their trial and court proceedings.
The most commonly seen preemptive strategy employed is education, due to most offenders not actually being alcoholics but instead simply lacking the knowledge about alcohol abuse. During the course of any of these treatments or educational programs, it is very important that an individual’s progress is well documented in order to prove to a court that the offender has been making a positive and meaningful effort to change their behavior for the better. The attorney handling the individual’s defense will include this as part of their strategy to present their client’s case in the best possible light to a judge and jury.
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