I. MICHIGAN’S DRUNK DRIVING CRIMINAL LAWS
A. The Criminal Offenses
There are three distinct drunk driving offenses in Michigan: 1) Operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor (OUIL), 2) driving with an unlawful bodily alcohol level/content (UBAL/UBAC), and 3) operating while impaired (OWI). Of these three, OWI is the least serious offense. These are criminal offenses; therefore, to successfully prosecute an OUIL case, the Prosecuting Attorney or City Attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the drunk driver was a) operating a motor vehicle, b) while under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances or both, and c) alcohol materially or substantially affected operating the motor vehicle.
To prove UBAC, the Prosecutor or City Attorney must prove, again beyond a reasonable doubt, that a) a drunk driver’s bodily alcohol content (BAC) was greater than .08%, b) while he was operating his motor vehicle. UBAC is generally easier to prove, so the prosecutor usually includes it with OUIL to gain a conviction.
OWI is the easiest of the three to prove. Here, the Prosecutor or City Attorney must prove, again beyond a reasonable doubt, that the drunk driver was a) operating a vehicle, b) while alcohol visibly weakened or reduced his ability to operate his motor vehicle.
These criminal offenses can apply to adults or minors. In Michigan, although we become adults at age 18, the liquor control laws define an adult as someone 21 years of age or older. So, Michigan enacted the “Zero Tolerance” law for people under the age of 21. Minors may not operate a motor vehicle with any bodily alcohol content. I have emphasized in each of the criminal offenses above that the burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Burden of proof refers to the duty of a litigant to produce the necessary quality of evidence to succeed. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the highest such duty in all law suits, because criminal cases involve the deprivation of liberty. That burden is necessary to ensure as much as possible that the criminally accused are not convicted and incarcerated wrongly. It is said that it is better for 100 men go free than 1 man be wrongly convicted.
In any event, a conviction or plea of guilty of OUIL or UBAC, means a maximum sentence of up to $500.00 in fines plus the costs of prosecution, up to 93 days in jail and up to 45 days of community service. A second DUI, OUIL or UBAC in Michigan increases the fines plus costs up to $1,000.00, and imprisonment up to 1 year in jail.
A conviction or guilty plea to OWI will result in a maximum sentence up to $300.00 in fines plus costs, up to 93 days in jail and up to 45 days of community service.
A third time conviction for drunk driving will result in a felony punishable by 1 to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000.00.
On top of the above, a convicted person’s license will be suspended or revoked for varying lengths of time depending on the circumstances. For a conviction of OUIL or UBAL/UBAC, a license will be suspended for not less than 6 months and not more than 2 years, without restriction for the first 30 days. If the drunk driver has a prior conviction, the license may be revoked if the convictions are within a certain duration of each other. However, for a conviction of OWI, the license may be suspended for not less than 93 days or more than one year, but a restricted license is available immediately. A restricted license will allow the convicted person to drive to, from and during work, to alcohol treatment, school, community service or probation. He or she must carry proof of destination and hours to show law enforcement.
One of the toughest sanctions next to time in jail is when the sentencing judge confiscates the vehicle the drunk driver operated. The vehicle does not have to belong to the operator-it can be anyone else’s vehicle. It doesn’t matter if the vehicle is necessary for the other members of the drunk driver’s family.
In addition to the above financial sanctions, drunk driving is an expensive ordeal, which you think would deter hard-core, repeat offenders, but does not. For a first offense drunk driving, insurance will probably be voided or not renewed, forcing the driver into the high-risk pool of insurance companies. The high-risk insurance companies generally charge three times the normal insurance and for less coverage.
And that is not all!
The judge must order the drunk driver in all alcohol related motor vehicle convictions to go through screening for alcohol and substance abuse. The judge must order rehabilitation as part of the sentence for a second offense. Both will be done at the drunk defendant’s expense.
Anyone driving with his or her license suspended or revoked is also subject to license suspension or revocation for a similar period of the original suspension or revocation.