Does Michigan Law Distinguish Between an OWI and a DUI?


When discussing drunk driving offenses, several acronyms are commonly used across different states in the U.S., leading to confusion about their meanings and implications. DUI (driving under the influence), DWI (driving while intoxicated), and OWI (operating while intoxicated) are terms that often appear in legal contexts, each bearing significant consequences.

Although "DUI" is a term more widely recognized in popular culture, in Michigan, the charges and the severity are encapsulated under OWI. This designation reflects a broader scope, covering driving and operating any motor vehicle while impaired.

Regardless of the terminology—DUI or OWI—the repercussions of being convicted are severe and uniform. Those found guilty can face various penalties, including confinement and substantial fines. Additionally, the individual’s driver’s license may be suspended. Recovering these privileges involves a rigorous restoration process, underscoring the importance of understanding Michigan’s specific legal landscape for operating a vehicle under the influence.

If you or someone you know has been accused of intoxicated driving in Grand Rapids, call Tanis Schultz at (616) 227-3737 to schedule a consultation.

The Legal Definition of OWI in Michigan

The term "operating while intoxicated" (OWI) refers to an offense under state law, outlined explicitly in MCL Section 257.625. This statute provides that an individual shall not operate a vehicle on a highway or any other location open to the general public if intoxicated.

Intoxication can result from any of the following:

  • Being under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, an intoxicating substance, or a combination of these elements.
  • Having an alcohol content of 0.08 or more
  • Having an alcohol content of .17 or more

While Michigan does not differentiate between a DUI and an OWI, it does recognize a lesser offense known as “operating while visibly impaired” (OWVI). This charge applies when a driver's ability to operate a motor vehicle is visibly impaired by the consumption of alcohol, a controlled substance, or another intoxicating substance, regardless of the exact BAC level. In cases where an OWI charge is brought forth, a guilty verdict could be rendered for OWVI.

Understanding the Legal Consequences of an OWI Conviction

The state delineates clear consequences for those found guilty of OWI, with varying levels of punishment depending on the blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the offense.

The penalties for a first-time OWI with a BAC below .17 include:

  • Fine. Individuals may face a fine of up to $500.
  • Jail time. There is a potential for up to 93 days in jail.
  • Community service. Offenders may be required to perform up to 360 hours of community service.
  • Driver’s license suspension. The driver’s license may be suspended for up to 30 days for a first offense. 
  • Points on license. The conviction adds 6 points to the driver's license.

The penalties for a first-time OWI with a BAC of .17 or higher include:

  • Fine. Fines can increase to up to $1,000.
  • Jail time. Jail time may extend up to 180 days.
  • Community service. Up to 360 hours of community service remain a component of the penalty.
  • Driver’s license suspension. The suspension period can extend up to 1 year.
  • Mandatory alcohol treatment. Completion of an alcohol treatment program is required.
  • Ignition interlock. The use of an ignition interlock device is mandated.
  • Points on license. As with a lower BAC, 6 points are added to the driver’s license.

An OWI conviction impacts not just the legal standing of an individual but also their personal and professional life. A criminal record can hinder job prospects, increase insurance costs, and restrict travel options. Furthermore, the social stigma attached to a drunk driving conviction can strain personal relationships and community standing.

Additionally, certain aggravating factors can significantly increase the severity of the penalties. For instance, if the impaired driving resulted in the death or serious impairment of another person, the consequences are much more severe, potentially leading to felony charges. Similarly, if a person under the age of 16 was present in the vehicle at the time of the offense, penalties can be enhanced to reflect the increased responsibility of the driver.

Driver’s License Restoration After an OWI Conviction

When convicted of OWI, the individual’s driver's license is immediately suspended, meaning it is temporarily withdrawn for a certain period. The length of this suspension can vary, generally ranging from a few months to over a year, mainly if the offense involved a high BAC or repeated violations.

Several steps are involved in regaining driving privileges after the suspension period has ended:

  • Check your driving record. The first step in the restoration process is to review your driving record. Determine whether you have an "Administrative Denied and Revoked” status and, if so, what the review date is. If you have a review date, you cannot begin the reinstatement process until then.
  • Attend a hearing. A critical step in the restoration process is the hearing that assesses your readiness to resume driving and the risk you might pose to public safety.
  • Fulfill all legal obligations. Ensure all fines related to your OWI conviction are paid. Additionally, a reinstatement fee is typically required to process the restoration of your license.

Navigating the complexities of driver’s license restoration can be challenging, especially with the stringent requirements and the necessity of proving your fitness to drive. Legal assistance is vital in this process. A skilled attorney can help you gather the necessary documentation, prepare for the hearing, and represent you effectively.

Seek Legal Help to Fight Charges and Protect Your Driving Privileges

The path forward for those confronted with OWI charges should involve seeking professional legal help. This assistance is not just about mitigating penalties but facilitating fair representation in court and proper handling of procedural requirements, especially when restoring driving privileges.

Tanis Schultz is a full-service law firm with extensive experience in criminal defense and driver’s license restoration. We have defended clients in complex OWI cases, advocating fervently for their rights and working tirelessly to restore their driving privileges. Our team's depth of knowledge and strategic approach make us particularly adept at handling sensitive and nuanced cases.

To start your journey toward addressing these legal challenges, contact us at (616) 227-3737. We provide legal representation in Grand Rapids.

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