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Drunk Driving (OWI) Laws in Michigan

If you are pulled over on suspicion of operating driving under the influence in Michigan, you can be arrested and charged with Operating While Intoxicated (“OWI”). An officer can develop their suspicion via field sobriety tests or the use of a breath test.

No matter how it happens, though, be sure that you know what legal rights you have and what options there are to defend yourself. You always have the right to be assumed innocent until you are proven to be guilty, and a strong defense can be crafted to help you escape charges or get lesser charges. It is best to contact a legal professional as soon as you can after the arrest.

That being said, the first step is to understand exactly how the laws work in Michigan, which is outlined below.

Zero Tolerance and BAC

The number used to legally determine if you are too drunk to drive is known as your BAC. This stands for Blood Alcohol Concentration. For any driver over or at 21 years of age, the max BAC is 0.08. Anything at or above this will result in an arrest. As in other states, commercial drivers can only have a BAC that is under 0.04.

Where Michigan is different than some states is in the fact that it is a zero-tolerance state for underage drivers. In some places, drivers who are under the legal drinking age have to exceed 0.02 BAC to be arrested. In Michigan, anything over 0.00 (even a sip of alcohol) can be grounds for an arrest.

Refusing the Test

You always have the right to refuse a breath test, but Michigan is also rather harsh on drivers who decide to do this. The first time you do it, you can be fined and you can lose your license for a year. The second time, you can lose your license for even longer -— two years. The third time, things can more drastic, with a license suspension lasting for five years.

Standard Penalties

If you do take the breath test and find yourself facing charges and an eventual conviction, you need to know what that conviction could mean in terms of fines and jail time. A judge will decide the specifics, which are not 100 percent identical in every case, but the tiered structure used in most places offers some insight into the process in Michigan.

A first offense could get you a maximum of 93 days -— roughly three months -— in jail. You may also face fines that start at $100 and go to $500. You could lose your license for as many as six months, and, if the judge decides you need one, you could be told to use an ignition interlock system.

For a second offense, you may only go to jail for a minimum of five days, but you could get up to one year. The fines begin at $200, but could be as much as $1,000. The license suspension is now a minimum of a year, and you also have to use an ignition interlock device.

If you then get a third conviction, the minimum for jail time is 30 days, and the maximum is, once again, a single year. The fines start at $200 again, with the same max of $1,000 as you could see for a second offense. Once more, you will need to use an ignition interlock device, and your license could be suspended for a minimum of one year. In short, the only real change is the difference in minimum jail time.

Be sure that you know your legal options if you are arrested on DUI charges.