What's the difference between a UBAC/UBAL charge, and an OWI charge – or is there no significant difference?
Michigan Vehicle Code section 257.625 specifies penalties for operating a vehicle “while under the influence of intoxicating or alcoholic liquor or a controlled substance, or a combination of intoxicating or alcoholic liquor and a controlled substance, or while visibly impaired, or with bodily alcohol content.” However, if one is not a lawyer, it can be difficult to figure out if all those criteria carry similar penalties, or if one is graver than the other.
The basic answer is that a UBAC/UBAL charge, and an OWI charge are simply two different ways that the prosecutor can convict you of driving while under the influence. Technically, an OWI is defined as when the consumption of an alcoholic beverage may affect one's ability to drive. UBAC/UBAL, is defined as when a person operates a vehicle, and had .08 BAC or higher, regardless of whether it appears to have lead to unsafe or reckless driving behavior.
Proof of the interchangeability of the two charges is that the penalties for both are identical. However, it is important to note that the nature of the two charges are different enough from one another that distinct defenses can be mounted to combat them. For instance, a UBAC/UBAL charge presumes that a .08 blood alcohol level indicates intoxication; however, there are various other elements to the equation (e.g., a person's unique internal body chemistry, medications) that can affect this figure. So, a defense attorney can look for evidence that a .08 BAC may be the mark of intoxication for some people, but not for a particular client. This type of defense would be less well-suited for an OWI charge.