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What Can A First Offender Expect After Being Arrested For DUI/OWI In Michigan?

Gerald R. Stahl, Holland Michigan May 7, 2024

Released on Bond

The arrest process after being suspected of OWI in Michigan can be quite humiliating to say the least. The priority is to get out of jail. The defendant will likely have to post a bond to be released from jail. In most courts, there is a method for fast tracking a bond after an OWI arrest. The defendant may have to post a cash bond or sign a personal recognizance bond. In either case, the bond will carry certain conditions you must follow as part of the terms of your release. Conditions are things like, not leaving the state without permission of the court, no use of alcohol or drugs, and notify the court of change of address. 

Bond amounts and conditions can vary greatly depending on the actual charges in the DUI arrest. A DUI/OWI arrest in Michigan can include charges. I recently represented a person in Western Michigan charged with OWI and charged with Fleeing and Eluding. In a case of an additional felony charge, the bond may be a cash bond, and may a reporting requirement or an alcohol monitor on the ankle. The judge will set the bond conditions that they feel appropriate based on the fact and charges in the case. For purposes of our discussion here we are mostly concerned about first offenders arrested for DUI.

The question then becomes, what happens after I am released on bond? In most courts, you will receive an appearance date for your Arraignment. In Holland 58th District Court you will most likely get your Appearance date with your bond release information. In other area courts, like the Allegan 57th District Court, the court may release you with instructions to call the court for your Arraignment date.


The defendant’s first appearance is the Arraignment. The Arraignment is the formal reading of the charges and advising the defendant of their constitutional rights. The judge in the first offense OWI, a misdemeanor, will ask the defendant to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. It is always better to have a lawyer representing you at the arraignment. The defendant should hire an attorney before the arraignment to eliminate the stress and strategize the case. The lawyer in almost every case will plead the defendant not guilty at the arraignment. If the defendant has any chance of avoiding the criminal record or reducing the charge in a plea bargain, they will plead not guilty at the arraignment.

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 driver’s license being suspended for 6 months with a restricted for 5 of those months. License Sanctions are controlled by the Secretary of the State not the court. 

Super Drunk: A first offense OWI could be enhanced to Super Drunk Driving. If the defendant’s blood alcohol level is .17 or higher, the prosecutor may charge the more serious charge of Super Drunk Driving. Super Drunk Driving carries harsher license sanctions, as well as more potential jail and counseling.

Pretrial Conference/Plea Bargaining

The pretrial conference will be scheduled in most cases at the time of arraignment. Depending on the court, the pretrial is usually set between 1 and 4 weeks from the time of arraignment. For instance, in Holland 58th District Court, it is usually one to two weeks from arraignment date.  

The goal of the defense lawyer at the pretrial conference is to get the charge dropped or reduced. The pretrial conference is an opportunity for the defense lawyer and the prosecutor to meet in private to discuss all aspects of the case. The conference includes the facts of the case and the police report. It is also an opportunity for the defense lawyer to discuss the mitigating circumstances or suspect practices of the police during the investigation and arrest. The defense attorney may raise issues such as probable cause for making the initial stop. Random stops are not allowed in Michigan. A police officer would have to witness the defendant violating some law or come upon the scene of an accident. Additionally, the facts and circumstances surrounding the breath or blood test may be challenged.

It is extremely difficult to get a drunk driving case dropped. In most cases the defendant has blown over the legal limit of .08 and was lawfully stopped.  The best way to get it dropped is to represent a client who is innocent. In my career representing OWI clients, I have had cases dropped by the prosecutors. I remember one case in Kent County where was my client charged with a seat belt violation and by the time he was breathalyzed at the police station, he blew under the legal limit. I had a couple cases dropped in Allegan County. In one case, the client waiting in his friend’s driveway for his friend to come home. The defendant waited for his friend in his truck and decided to drink beer while waiting. It was later agreed by all parties that he had not been drinking before he arrived at the house. Consequently, the case was dropped. 

However, absent a client being innocent, getting a charged reduce is the goal. The prosecutor may be more lenient if the client has a good driving record. The prosecutor may consider the severity of the underlying violation that resulted in the stop. The prosecutor will always consider the level of alcohol in the defendant’s system when considering a plea bargain. These factors may persuade the prosecutor to reduce the charge.

Settlement Conference

The court may schedule a settlement conference with judge if the parties are unable to agree at pretrial. It is a last-ditch effort to settle the case before scheduling it for a trial. In some cases, the settlement conference is scheduled while the prosecutor considers a reduction of the charge. In any event, the settlement conference may also lead to an indication by the judge of his sentence recommendation. This may include an indication of no jail. This could lead to a guilty plea.

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. 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. For instance, 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 restriction. This could save the individual from losing their job.


Most drunk driving cases do not go to trial. In the case of a innocent client, the prosecutor will usually drop the case before trial. The defense attorney may consider a trial if there is a critical mistake in the investigation. For instance, the breathalyzer had two very different readings and one was under the legal limit. I have not guilty verdicts in Kent County where the jury simply did not like the police officer’s attitude. If the jury sympathizes with your client for some reason, this may help your case. If the jury believes the client was bullied by the police or treated poorly, they may find the defendant not guilty. However, a jury trial is unusual in these cases. 

Sentencing possibilities after conviction for OWI or Impaired Driving in Michigan include:

Before a defendant can be sentenced for an OWI conviction in Michigan, they will be required to undergo an alcohol assessment. There are several licensed alcohol counseling companies in Kent, Ottawa and Allegan County that perform the required assessment. The alcohol assessment includes a clinical interview and test questions. It will also require a full panel drug test. The Judge will review the alcohol assessment prior to the sentencing. The judge may base some of his sentencing requirements based on the findings of the alcohol assessment. 

  1. Fines and court costs.

  2. Probation Monitoring.

  3. Victim Impact Panel Attendance.

  4. Alcohol Highway Safety Class.

  5. Community service or work crew.

  6. Alcohol and Drug Counseling.

  7. Jail or alcohol home monitoring.

License Sanctions:

Thus, the Secretary of State acts based upon the defendant’s master driving record. 

Gerald R. Stahl is a Trial Lawyer that has represented clients charged with DUI/OWI in Kent County, Ottawa County and Allegan County for over 40 years. This Blog is intended to discuss the issues involved in the court process after a first DUI/OWI arrest in Michigan and is not intended to give of be construed as legal advice.