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Michigan DUI Attorneys

No one sets out intending to be arrested for drunk driving. At Grabel & Associates, our Best Michigan DUI attorneys know sometimes good people get arrested. You need an experienced lawyer to help you navigate the system, especially when it seems stacked against you.

If you have been arrested for operating while intoxicated (OWI), operating with any presence of a Schedule I drug or cocaine (OWPD), operating under the influence of liquor (OUIL), operating while visibly impaired (OWVI) or under 21 operating with any bodily alcohol content (Zero Tolerance), you must understand these are serious criminal offense. They can carry misdemeanor or felony penalties, depending on prior convictions and whether the incident resulted in serious bodily injury or death.

Prosecutors often take a hard line on these cases, and conviction can mean not only loss of freedom and driving privileges, but a stain on your permanent criminal record, as well as a hit to your finances, insurance premiums and reputation. Fines and costs associated with a Michigan DUI conviction can top $10,000.

The good news is Michigan OWI and related offenses are highly defensible with the help of a skilled DUI lawyer. Our Michigan attorneys will carefully analyze the specific circumstances to identify holes in the prosecutor’s case and opportunities to suppress unfavorable evidence. We’ll also seek details that could work to your advantage and minimize your penalties.

If you have questions about your recent OWI arrest, you can trust the knowledgeable, experienced and results-driven legal team of Grabel & Associates.

Drunk Driving Overview

Michigan law – specifically MCL 257.625 – prohibits any person – licensed or not – from operating a vehicle while intoxicated on a highway or other area designated for vehicles. Although the term “DUI” is more commonly-recognized, the proper legal acronym in Michigan Code of Laws is “OWI.” That’s because Michigan statute uses the word “operate” rather than “drive,” as in “driving under the influence” (DUI) or “driving while intoxicated” (DWI).

To prove one was “operating while intoxicated,” the law requires proof defendant met at least one of these criteria:

  • Was under the influence of alcohol, controlled substance or any other intoxicating substance or combination of those substances;
  • Had an alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, 210 liters of breath or 67 milliliters of urine. (This standard was previously 0.10 grams, and is slated to sunset, though it has been renewed in the past by lawmakers.);
  • Had a visibly impaired ability to operate a motor vehicle due to consumption of alcohol, a controlled substance or other intoxication substance or combination.
  • Has any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance as described in MCL 333.7271 in their body (OWPD).

The annual Michigan Drunk Driving Audit indicates roughly 35,000 people are convicted on OWI and related charges in the state each year. Arrests and convictions have dipped slightly over the last decade, though this could be at least partially attributed to fewer police officers on the streets, which means fewer road patrols and traffic stops. However, it doesn’t mean prosecutors will be less likely to pursue your case. You need to be ready with a strong defense.

What Does It Mean to “Operate” a Vehicle?

While Michigan statute doesn’t use the word “drive,” both DUI and OWI both generally mean to be in physical control of a moving vehicle. The term was changed because you can “operate” a motor vehicle even if you aren’t technically “driving” it.

MCL 257.35a of the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code defines “operate” or “operating” as:

  • Being in actual physical control of the vehicle;
  • Causing an automated motor vehicle to move under its own power in automatic mode upon a highway or street, regardless of whether the person is physically present in that automated motor vehicle at that time.

This means even if you are in a parked car, you can be arrested and convicted of OWI. There have been Michigan cases where individuals sleeping at the wheel have successfully defended OWI and OUIL charges after courts concluded there was insufficient evidence to prove defendant possessed requisite specific intent to use the vehicle as a vehicle, rather than just a shelter.

However, in many scenarios, prosecutors can establish “actual physical control” by producing evidence the defendant drove the vehicle while intoxicated to the location where law enforcement found him.

Proving Impairment

To secure an OWI conviction, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was operating a vehicle while either “under the influence,” or with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher.

Some of the evidence commonly presented to support DUI allegations:

  • Field sobriety tests. The Michigan State Police use the Standardized Field Sobriety Testing training program to train officers in identifying and assessing a driver’s impairment. MCL 257.62a defines field sobriety tests as those validated and with substantial adherence to standards prescribed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Officer observations – including field sobriety test results – are an especially important aspect of cases where evidence of chemical testing is weak or lacking.
  • Chemical testing. This involves testing of the suspect’s blood, urine or breath. Proof that your blood-alcohol concentration exceeded the legal threshold of 0.08 (for those over 21) or 0.01 (for those under 21) will be considered proof of your impairment. However, defense lawyers may have several ways to challenge the results of these tests, which are not infallible. Michigan law enforcement use the DataMaster DMT system to conduct breath alcohol testing. Those who operate it must be properly-trained and systems regularly calibrated. Failure to do so could impact the validity of the results, as could numerous other factors, such as certain medical conditions. When it comes to blood analysis, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 2013 case of Missouri v. McNeely that police must first have a warrant to draw blood without defendant’s consent. On oversight on this issue could be grounds to suppress what is often key evidence in DUI cases.
  • Saliva testing. Police have begun using saliva testing to ascertain whether a driver is under the influence of narcotics. Those who refuse such testing may be subject to a civil infraction. Critics have rightly noted some drugs can remain in the body for an extensive time after consumption, which means a positive result alone doesn’t necessarily prove impairment.
  • Drug Recognition Expert Testimony. These individuals are specially-trained by the Michigan State Police to identify, evaluate and document suspected drug impairment. Although such testimony can be given significant weight in court, it’s not a perfect science. Your defense lawyer can help you identify ways to challenge it.

Know that even if there is no valid breath, blood or urine test, a suspected OWI driver can be charged, prosecuted and convicted based on circumstantial evidence of impairment.

Our attorneys have in some cases successfully challenged the lawfulness of the initial police stop or the procedures followed thereafter. Per the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, as cited in the 1978 Michigan Supreme Court case of People v. Kusowski, the fruit of the poisonous tree is an exclusionary rule that essentially says evidence yielded in an unlawful search and seizure cannot be used. Your attorney can file a motion to suppress illegally-gathered evidence, which if vital to prosecution’s case could result in dismissal of your OWI charges.

If you are a commercial driver, it should be noted prosecutors need only show a BAC of 0.04 or higher. Even those not convicted criminally could face administrative penalties from the Michigan Department of Motor Vehicles.

Sobriety Checkpoints

Sobriety checkpoints (also called DUI checkpoints), per a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Michigan State Police v. Sitz, were deemed constitutional, though they must follow strict criteria to be valid. The court held the government’s interest in preventing drunk driving outweighed the degree of intrusion upon individual drivers, and thus was consistent with the 4th Amendment. But individual states still had freedom to refuse to allow such checkpoints.

Interestingly, although it was a Michigan case that carved out the exception for sobriety checkpoints nationally, Michigan later outlawed the practice – one of nearly a dozen states to do so.

Penalties for Drunk Driving in Michigan

In general, penalties for OWI and drunk driving in Michigan will depend on several factors, including your blood-alcohol concentration and prior offenses.

Michigan OWI penalties for a first-time offender include:

  • A fine of between $100 and $500;
  • Maximum 93 days in jail;
  • Maximum 360 community service hours;
  • Suspension of driver’s license for 30 days, followed by 150 days of restriction;
  • Possible vehicle immobilization;
  • Possible ignition interlock;
  • Six points on your driving record;
  • Driver Responsibility Fee of $1,000 for two straight years.

Michigan OWI penalties for a second-time offender include:

  • A fine of between $200 and $1,000;
  • Minimum five days, maximum 1 year in jail;
  • Revocation of driver’s license for at least one year, minimum five years if defendant had prior license revocation;
  • Confiscation of license plate;
  • Vehicle immobilization for 90 to 180 days;
  • Possible forfeiture of vehicle;
  • Six points on your driving record;
  • Driver Responsibility fee of $1,000 for two straight years.

Certain factors can result in harsher penalties.

State legislation passed in 2010 stipulated that “super” drunk drivers – those whose blood-alcohol concentration is at 0.17 or higher – will face harsher sentences. Approximately one-third of suspected drunk drivers in Michigan fall into this category.

Additionally, if you have someone under 16 in the car with you while operating while impaired, you will face penalties of between 5 days and 1 year in jail and a fine of between $200 and $1,000. If you commit a second offense within seven years or you already have two prior convictions, it’s considered a felony, and you’ll serve between 1 and 5 years in prison.

Further, if you cause the death of someone else while committing OWI, it is considered a felony for which the maximum penalty is 15 years in prison and a fine of between $2,500 and $10,000. If you are impaired with a BAC higher than 0.17, your maximum prison sentence can be up to 20 years. If everyone survives the DUI crash, you would still be looking at a maximum of between 5 and 10 years, depending on your BAC.

If you are facing any drunk driving charge, let our Michigan DUI attorneys help you look more closely at your legal options. Our criminal defense strategies have been proven time and again in courts throughout Michigan, and we are committed to fighting to protect your rights and obtain the most favorable outcome possible.

Contact DUI Defense Attorneys at Grabel & Associates, Michigan Criminal Defense Lawyers, for a free consultation by calling 1-800-342-7869 or contact us online.

Grabel & Associates defends any of the following Michigan DUI charges:


We will challenge rights violations and faulty testing procedures, including:


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