Driving after consuming alcohol is legal in the United States. That freedom, however, depends on how much alcohol is in the driver’s body at the time of a police stop.
In Michigan, being pulled-over while operating a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol carries the potential for a range of charges and penalties, depending on the quantity of alcohol contained in your blood at the time you are tested. If your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) equals .08, or above, you could be subject to both criminal and administrative sanctions. Any person under 21 with a BAC between .02 and .08 is considered to be “driving under the influence” and subject to separate criminal and administrative sanctions.
For drivers over the age of 21, the charges for impaired driving range from Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI), Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), and “Super Drunk” driving [BAC over .17], each with its own set of governing laws and punishments. Each of these potential penalties are augmented by any prior alcohol-related driving convictions within seven years of the current infraction.
A first offense for a driver with a BAC between .08 and .17 carries the potential criminal misdemeanor sanctions of up to $500 in fines, 93 days in jail, and 360 hours of community service. Administrative sanctions from the state, in addition to the criminal penalties, include up to 180 days license suspension, up to 6 points on your driving record, and a $1000 annual Drivers Responsibility Fee payable to the State, for two years. A convicted driver will likely receive a term of probation and drug and alcohol testing which bring along their own costs of supervision and administration.
Any driver convicted of the “Super Drunk” misdemeanor is subject to a fine up to $700, 180-days in jail, 360-hours of community service, mandatory completion of an alcohol treatment program, and ignition interlock use and compliance for 45-days once driving privileges have been reinstated. Administratively, the conviction will carry up to one year suspension of driving privileges, 6-points on the driver’s record and $1000 annually for two years for driver-responsibility fees.
Any second offense within 7-years of a prior offense is subject to sentence enhancement or “stacking”. A second conviction of OWI subjects a person to one year in jail with 5-days mandatory minimum jail term, increased fines and a mandatory license revocation of one year, with no guarantee of reinstatement, in addition to the penalties outlined above. A second conviction will also trigger the Interstate Compact, which may prevent you from moving out of the state while on probation.
A third OWI is charged as a felony. Years ago, a third arrest and conviction outside of ten years from the last alcohol-related driving offense was treated as a misdemeanor. This is no longer the case. Now, a third conviction for OWI within your lifetime is a felony.
A third or subsequent OWI carries extremely harsh penalties including up to $5,000 in fines, a five-year license suspension, vehicle immobilization for up to 3 years, and a mandatory minimum of 30-days in jail with a possible maximum of five years in prison, in addition to the penalties outlined above.
Further aggravating factors can also enhance a sentence for an OWI conviction including: having a person in the vehicle under the age of 16 at the time of the citation, causing serious bodily injury, or causing death. A conviction featuring any of the aggravating factors above will result in a mandatory jail term ranging from a minimum of 5-days for child endangerment, to life in prison for second degree murder.
Additional sanctions can result from an alcohol related traffic stop that can impair your ability drive, or result in additional fines. Refusing the Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) conducted by the officer on the scene is a civil infraction, punishable by a fine, unless the PBT is refused by the operator of a commercial motor vehicle, whereby the punishment is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 93-days in jail, $100 fine and a 24-hour out-of-service order. Refusing to take the Datamaster test after arrest can result in more serious sanctions including license confiscation and possible suspension for up to two years. Refusing the breath test after arrest will result in the police department seeking a warrant for a blood draw based on their suspicion of OWI and will result in additional costs associated with administering the test, to the driver.
Finally, along with the criminal and administrative penalties that come with an OWI conviction, a convicted driver faces the additional burden of increased motor vehicle insurance, the possible loss of employment due to incarceration, additional financial and relationship strain, and ongoing costs for probation and drug and alcohol testing.
If you or a family member are confronted with an alcohol related driving offense, it is best to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable and respected attorney who can navigate the choppy waters associated with the criminal justice process.