An Overview of Michigan OWI Laws, Penalties and Fines

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In the state of Michigan, driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol can be dangerous and is often deadly. Despite it usually being a misdemeanor, an Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) charge is serious and carries with it severe penalties, including jail time, fines, probation, license suspension or revocation, and vehicle immobilization or forfeiture, among others. Depending on the circumstances of the traffic stop, the change may become a felony, even if it is a first-time offense.

According to Drager Interlock, OWI is essentially the same charge as DUI but more encompassing. DUI is driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two; OWI describes a driver as having control of a vehicle while intoxicated, visibly impaired or with a Schedule 1 drug in their system.

OWI Charges in Michigan

According to Michigan Vehicle Code Section 257.625/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=mcl-257-625), driving is illegal when a vehicle operator:

  • Shows intoxication or impairment by alcohol, drugs or a combination of both.
  • Has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater (low-level OWI) or 0.17 percent or greater (high-level OWI).
  • Shows impairment in their ability to operate a vehicle due to alcohol, drugs or both, known as Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI).
  • Has any Schedule 1 drug or cocaine in their system, defined as Operating With the Presence of Drugs (OWPD), including impairment by Schedule 1 drugs or cocaine.

It is also illegal for a person under 21 years of age to have any amount of drugs in their system or to have a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher while operating a vehicle unless consumed for religious purposes. A minor cannot purchase, possess or drink alcohol, but can transport it when accompanied by someone 21 years of age or older. If stopped without an adult present, a minor driver can face OWI, even if the car is not in motion.

First OWI Offense Penalties

According to the Michigan Secretary of State, a first offense OWI is usually a misdemeanor. A driver with a low-level OWI (a BAC of 0.08 percent or greater) will face a fine of $100 to $500, a 30-day license suspension followed by 150 days of driving restrictions and six points on their driving record. Additionally, the driver may face a maximum of 93 days in jail or 360 hours of community service, the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) or vehicle immobilization.

Drivers facing high-level OWI (a BAC of 0.17 percent or greater) will receive a fine between $200 and $700, a maximum of 180 days in jail or 360 hours of community service, a year of license suspension (with eligibility for license restriction after 45 days of IID installation) and six points on their driving record. There is also the possibility of license plate confiscation or vehicle immobilization.

An offender charged with OWVI faces a minimum $300 fine, a maximum of 93 days in jail or 360 hours of community service, a 90-day license suspension (or a 180-day suspension) for driving while impaired by a controlled substance and four points on their driving record.

Second OWI Offense Penalties

If a driver has a second OWI conviction within seven years of the last, they face a fine of $200 to $1,000; between five days to a year in jail; a maximum of 90 days community service; and revocation and denial of their license for at least a year. This can increase to five years if a prior revocation exists. The confiscation of their license plates, 90 to 180 days of vehicle immobilization or forfeiture are also possible penalties. A second offense OWI adds six points to the driver's record.

An OWVI offender faces a fine of $200 to $1,000; up to a year in jail; at least 90 days of community service; and revocation or denial of their license for at least a year. The confiscation of their license plates and vehicle immobilization or forfeiture is also possible. A second OWVI adds four points to a driver's record.

Third OWI Offense Penalties

In Michigan, a third OWI offense is a felony no matter how many years it is from a previous driving offense. This driving charge can carry the following penalties:

  • A fine of $500 to $5,000.
  • Maximum of five years in prison or probation with up to a year in jail.
  • Two to six months of community service.
  • Revocation and denial of the driver's license for at least a year with two convictions within the past seven years. For three convictions within the past decade, this penalty increases to five years.
  • The confiscation of a driver's license plates.
  • Vehicle immobilization for up to three years.
  • Vehicle forfeiture.
  • Denial of vehicle registration.
  • Six points on a driver's record.

Drivers who face their third OWVI criminal charge face a fine of $500 to $5,000; up to five years in prison or probation with 30 days to a year in jail; and the revocation and denial of the driver's license for a year minimum with two prior convictions within the past seven years. If there were three prior convictions within the past decade, this penalty increases to five years. The confiscation of license plates, vehicle immobilization or forfeiture. and registration denial is also possible. A third OWVI adds four points to a driver's record.

Injuries, Deaths and OWIs

If a driver causes death or grave injury while operating a vehicle, OWI charges automatically become a felony, even if it is only their first or second offense. An offender can expect revocation and denial of their driver's license for at least one year. This penalty would increase to five years if the driver had a prior revocation within seven years. The driver will also see confiscation of their license plates and 180 days of vehicle immobilization or possible forfeiture. This charge adds six points to their record.

Incarceration and fines vary, depending on the circumstances of the charge:

  • Injury: Maximum of five years in prison, a $1,000 to $5,000 fine or both.
  • Death: Maximum of 15 years in prison, a $2,500 to $10,000 fine or both.
  • Death of an emergency responder: Maximum of 20 years in prison, a $2,500 to $10,000 fine or both.

Open Container Law and Penalties

OWI offenders may also receive open container charges. An open container describes a bottle or a can containing alcohol with a broken seal, or a container that is otherwise open or uncapped. Michigan law requires the storage of open containers in the trunk or in an area not accessible to anyone in the vehicle anytime it is in a public area. This includes roadways, interstates or parking lots with public access, according to Michigan Vehicle Code Section 257.624a.

Drivers who fail to comply with open container laws face a maximum $100 fine, possible alcohol screening and receive two points on their driver's record. In some instances, they may also face license suspension:

  • First offense: No driver's license suspension.
  • Second offense: A 30-day license suspension followed by 60 days of license restrictions.
  • Third offense: A 60-day license suspension followed by 305 days of license restrictions.

Zero Tolerance Law and Penalties

Those under 21 years of age who purchase, possess or drink alcohol in a motor vehicle also face stiff penalties: $100 fine, possible alcohol screening, community service and two points on their driver's record, as well as these license sanctions:

  • First offense: No driver's license suspension for a first offense.
  • Second offense: Fine of $200 with a 30-day license suspension followed by 60 days of restrictions.
  • Third offense: Fine of $500 with a 60-day license suspension and 305 days of restrictions.

Minors who purchase, possess or drink alcohol also face stiff penalties even if they're not driving. They include possible alcohol screening and community service, as well as fines and license sanctions:

  • First offense: Fine of $100. No driver's license suspension for a first offense.
  • Second offense: Fine of $200 with a 30-day license suspension followed by 60 days of restrictions.
  • Third offense: Fine of $500 with a 60-day license suspension and 305 days of restrictions.

Michigan's Implied Consent Law

Anytime a driver gets behind the wheel on Michigan's roads, they automatically consent to chemical testing in the event of a traffic stop. Those arrested for impaired driving must submit to testing when a police officer requests it, according to Michigan DUI law. If a driver refuses a test, or if test results show that their BAC is at or above the legal limit, law enforcement confiscates and destroys their license. The police officer then issues a permit to the driver that allows them to drive with restrictions until the resolution of their criminal OWI case.

Penalties for refusing a chemical test are in addition to those of the separate OWI charge. The offender can request a hearing during which law enforcement presents its case against the driver. If guilty, the offender will face these penalties:

  • Six points on their record and a driver's license suspension of one year for their first chemical test refusal.
  • A license suspension of two years for one or more chemical test refusals in the past seven years.
  • The court will not grant an offender hardship appeals for a restricted license.

OWI Penalties for CDL Drivers

A person with a commercial driver's license (CDL) can see their job affected as the result of an impairment charge. Law enforcement will place a driver out of service for 24 hours if they refuse a preliminary breath test, drink within four hours of vehicle operation, drink while operating a vehicle or have a BAC of 0.015 percent or greater. Both CDL and noncommercial drivers can also face additional drunk driving charges, according to the Michigan Secretary of State's office:

  • Unlawful bodily alcohol level (UBAL): A driver with a BAC of 0.10 percent or higher.
  • Operating under the influence of liquor (OUIL).
  • OWI with a BAC of more than 0.07 percent, but less than 0.10 percent.
  • OWI with a BAC of 0.04 percent to 0.07 percent.
  • Operating under the influence of drugs (OUID).

A CDL driver who faces these charges can see a one-year driver's license suspension on their first offense, a minimum of 10 years for the second or third offenses, or a three-year suspension if committing the crime while transporting hazardous materials. They may also face revocation or suspension of their operator or chauffeur license and six points on their driving record.