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Is Fighting a DUI Charge in Michigan Worth It?

Gerald R. Stahl March 8, 2022

Defendants in Michigan DUI cases often ask the question “Is my case worth fighting”? The answer is always, “yes”. DUI cases are extremely complicated and involve not only the courts but also the Secretary of State in every charge. It is almost unheard of that a defendant in a DUI case would attempt to go to court without an attorney. The risk of conviction and enhanced penalties is simply too high. A DUI conviction can result in significant license suspension, jail time, community service and other serious penalties. In the case of a felony third offense in Michigan a defendant could easily be facing a prison term.

Potential Charges After Being Cited for Drunk Driving in Michigan

Depending upon your prior record and other factors involved in the investigation, there can be an assortment of Operating While Intoxicated charges. In all cases, the defendant must deal with not only the court, but the Michigan Secretary of State separately as they control the license suspension or revocation.

First Offense: A DUI charge in Michigan is referred to as Operating While Intoxicated or OWI. A first offense OWI is a misdemeanor. A first offense carries up to 93 days in jail as well as fines, costs, probation, possible community service, counseling and restitution if appropriate. The first offense OWI will result in a driver’s license suspended for 6 months with a restriction for 5 of those months. A skilled lawyer may be able to negotiate a reduction to Impaired Driving from a first offense. The result would limit the license sanctions to a 90 suspension day with an immediate restricted license. Conversely, a first offense OWI could be enhanced to a so-called “Super Drunk Driving” if the defendant’s BAC is .17 or greater. The Super OWI carries more license sanctions as well as potential jail and counseling.

Second Offense: If a defendant has one prior OWI on their record within the last 7 years that defendant will be charged with a second offense .A second offense in Michigan carries much more serious consequences. The second offender is not only facing a minimum of 5 days in jail but also license revocation in addition to the other penalties.

Third Offense and Felony OWI: In the case of a third offense of OWI there is a potential for not only jail but also a term of prison. The statute allows the court to give the defendant jail with probation or 1 to 5 years in prison. The court often considers factors such as the driver’s alcohol level, the length of time between offenses, potential for rehabilitation, and the facts of the stop. If an accident is involved that includes serious injury to a victim the charges can be further enhanced to OWI Causing Serious Injuries. If a death is involved then the charges can include manslaughter or even second degree murder.

Faulty Police Procedures During Drunk Driving Investigation in Michigan

Police Must Have Probable Cause to Stop for DUI/OWI Charge in Michigan

The first question is whether or not the initial stop by the police was lawful. In order for the police to lawfully pull over a vehicle in Michigan the police officer must have probable cause that a violation of the traffic code occurred by the driver. In other words, the police must show that the driver broke some law. It could be a minor law such as weaving, speeding, or a license plate light malfunction. However, if the officer's stop is random because of profiling or just to check the driver and passengers ID, then the DUI can be dismissed for lack of probable cause.

DUI Investigation at The Scene of The Stop in Michigan

Although these rules and police conduct apply to Michigan, police often use similar tactics from state to state. If a driver is pulled over for a lawful violation, they will usually start asking questions. They are immediately investigating for indications of intoxication such as slurring words, confusion, or admission about coming from a bar or a party. I had a DUI case in Allegan County, Michigan a few years ago where the client was slightly lost and made an illegal U-turn. The officer stopped the client who admitted to having one glass of wine a couple hours earlier. This admission triggered the officer’s suspicion that the client was intoxicated. The client was angry at the officer’s accusation and the client was ultimately arrested. The officer felt the client’s anger was an indication of intoxication. The blood test showed that the client had almost no alcohol in his system and the case was dismissed.

Fighting Field Sobriety Tests After a DUI in Michigan

After the initial stop if the officer has reasonable suspicion that a driver is intoxicated they will request the driver perform field sobriety tests. It is almost always better to politely refuse to perform the officer’s field sobriety tests. The tests are actually set up so that most people will fail them even if they are not intoxicated. For instance, an officer’s instructions can be confusing. The officer may ask you to walk in a straight line and turn while counting. Then a defendant could not pass because they did not understand the instructions. Additionally the officer is subjectively grading your performance. Finally, the officer could ask you to do the alphabet backwards or start in the middle. Although these tasks sound simple, it would be hard to perform under extreme nervousness and pressure. It is for these reasons field sobriety tests cannot always be relied upon to show intoxication. Although it is up to the individual being investigated, it is not recommended by this attorney to agree to perform the tests.

Breath, Blood and Urine Tests in Michigan DUI Charge

Under the Michigan Implied Consent Law the officer investigating the OWI suspect has a right to request that you take a chemical test to determine the amount of alcohol or controlled substances in your system so long as he or she has probable cause the defendant is intoxicated. This test is done at the station and is in addition to any PBT or hand held breathalyzer. These tests can be disputed and in some cases the evidence is tainted by improper procedures. The court will then have no alternative but to throw out the test results. However, if the defendant refuses the requesting officer will ask the Judge for a blood warrant. The defendant will also be charged with a violation of the implied consent laws at the Secretary of State. The case is a civil matter and will result in loss of license for 6 months. This has nothing to do with the underlying charge of OWI and is a separate violation.

Drunk Driving Charges in Michigan Require the Help of An Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

The bottom line is that navigating a drunk driving case in Michigan is complicated. The experienced lawyer will know what to expect from each court whether it is the 58th District Court in Holland, Grand Haven, or Hudsonville, or the Grand Rapids courts of 63rd District Court or 61st District Court. All these courts are different and require the expertise of a criminal defense lawyer. Even under some of the most difficult circumstances, an experienced defense lawyer can achieve a reduction of charge or a reduced sentence for the client. The client should always consider the future consequences of not being adequately represented for OWI in Michigan.