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Mike Kelly DUI Attorney & Advocate

Comprehensive Guide for Michigan DUI Laws

Michigan has some of the most confusing drunk driving laws in the United States. This is a direct result of a series of overly complex charges, statues and legal proceedings surrounding DUI offenses. Understanding how Michigan’s DUI laws are structured is critical in order to prevent or mitigate the life altering consequences of a DUI conviction. Below is a comprehensive guide of the ins and outs of Michigan DUI/OWI laws in order to assist those facing these charges the best information possible to defend against drunk driving charges.

Please note that while the information on this page can help guide individuals in the right direction and answer their general questions, it should not be considered a substitute for professional legal assistance. For those who find themselves facing legal issues involving drunk driving, it is strongly advised that they consult with an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon as possible in order to protect their rights.

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Michigan DUI/OWI Overview

Bottle of liquor in the passenger seat of a car while a man is behind the wheelOperating a car, truck or other motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is considered a serious crime in Michigan. Being charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) can lead to serious penalties and ramifications, often more serious than an average person might think. An OWI conviction can result in the suspension of your license, jail time, significant fines and even the potential loss of employment, in addition to other possible consequences. For these reasons, it is incredibly important to avoid an OWI conviction at all costs.

Per Michigan’s Vehicle Code, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle in public while under the influence of an intoxicating substance. In most other states, this is known as Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), whereas in Michigan it is specifically known as Operating While Intoxicated (OWI). Regardless of the name given, it is important to be aware that an individual can be charged with an OWI merely just by having control of the vehicle – even if it is parked. Additionally, public places include not just public streets and roadways but also private property generally accessible to vehicles such as parking lots. This means that an individual can be charged with an OWI simply for sitting in the driver’s seat of their car in a parking lot while intoxicated.

Under Michigan Law, intoxication in the context of an OWI is defined as:

  • Being under the influence of alcohol or another controlled and/or intoxicating substance
  • Having a blood alcohol content at or above 0.08 grams per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath or per 67 milliliters of urine
  • Having a blood alcohol content of 0.17 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath or per 67 milliliters of urine

It is important to consider that not every individual’s body will respond in the same manner when it comes to the consumption of alcohol. This means there can be variance in the actual blood alcohol level of individuals despite them consuming the same amount of alcohol. This can be due to differences in factors such as weight, height, metabolism, food in your body prior to or during the consumption of alcohol, to name a few.

Michigan DUI Penalties

The State of Michigan has several tiers for drunk driving offenses, based on the number of prior infractions as well as the blood alcohol content and the age of the driver.

1st Offense OWI (BAC Under .17)
$100 to $500 fine, and one or more of the following:

  • Jail time of up to 93 days
  • Community service of up to 360 hours
  • 30 day license suspension followed by license restrictions for 150 days
  • Possibility of vehicle immobilization
  • Possibility of ignition interlock device requirement
  • Six points added to driving record.

1st Offense OWI With High Blood Alcohol Content (BAC .17 Or Higher)
$200 to $700 fine, and one or more of the following:

  • Jail time of up to 180 days
  • Community service of up to 360 hours
  • License suspension for a minimum of 1 year, with possible eligibility of restricted driving after 45 days
  • License plate confiscation
  • 6 points added to your driving record

2nd Offense OWI
$200 to $1,000 fine, and one or more of the following:

  • Up to 1 year in jail
  • Community service of up to 90 days
  • License revocation for a minimum of 1 year, with a 5 year minimum in the event of prior revocation within 7 years
  • License plate confiscation.
  • Vehicle immobilization for 90 to 180 days
  • Possibility of vehicle forfeiture
  • 6 points added to driving record

3rd Offense OWI
$500 to $5,000 fine, and one or more of the following:

  • Imprisonment for 1 to 5 years
  • 30 days to 1 year in jail with probation
  • Community service of up to 180 days
  • License revocation for 2 prior convictions within 7 years, or 3 convictions within 10 years
  • License plate confiscation
  • Vehicle immobilization for 1 to 3 years
  • Possible vehicle forfeiture
  • Vehicle registration denial
  • 6 points added to driving record

Penalties for Underage Drivers

When it comes to underage drinking, Michigan has a zero-tolerance policy. Essentially, this means that individuals under 21 can be charged with OWI if they have any amount of alcohol in their system. Below are penalties specific to those who are charged with underage OWI:

1st Offense
One or more of the following:

  • Fine up to $250
  • Community service up to 360 hours
  • Restricted driving privileges for 30 days
  • 4 points added to driving record

2nd Offense
One or more of the following:

  • Fines of up to $500
  • Community service of up to 60 days
  • Jail time of up to 93 days
  • Driver’s license suspension for 90 days, with a minimum of 1 year revocation for those with prior offense
  • 4 points added to driving record

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Can an individual still be charged with an OWI if they’re below the legal BAC limit?
Yes. Despite there being an official BAC limit at 0.08, police officers are given discretion if an individual is showing signs of impairment such as slurred speech and imbalance. Technically, this is a specific subcategory of charge known as Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI).

Q. Can an individual still get an OWI if they’re not driving the vehicle?
Yes. Under Michigan law, operating a vehicle is defined as having physical control of the vehicle. This can mean that an individual who is sitting in the driver’s seat while intoxicated can still be charged with drunk driving even if the car is in park and not running.

Q. Can an individual get a DUI from taking prescribed medication?
Yes. Controlled substances (including prescription drugs) are listed under Michigan’s OWI law. This means that operating a vehicle under the influence of this medication has the possibility of resulting in an OWI if it causes impairment in an individual’s ability to drive.

Q. Can field sobriety tests be refused?
Yes, unless the officer involved has a warrant. These field sobriety tests are conducted in order to gather probable cause necessary to arrest an individual for OWI. While refusal to participate in a sobriety test may not stop an officer from arresting a person, it will limit the evidence used against them in the future.

Q. Can breathalyzer tests be refused?
Like field sobriety tests, unless an officer obtains a warrant, breathalyzer chemical tests can be refused. However, unlike field sobriety tests, if an individual refuses a breathalyzer their license will be suspended for one year.

DUI Traffic Stops

When an individual is driving a car on public roadways, the police are legally allowed to pull them over if they have reasonable suspicion that they have or are in the process of committing a crime or traffic offense. Police cannot just pull over an individual based on a hunch or a guess, they must see something that gives them justifiable reasonable suspicion. One of the keys to defending against drunk driving traffic stops is whether or not the suspicion is reasonable in the first place.

When an individual is pulled over for suspected drunk driving, police will observe them and determine whether they are intoxicated using several different signs. Typically, intoxicated individuals will show glassy eyes and/or have slowed or slurred speech. More obvious signs such as the smell of alcohol or even an open container of alcohol will definitely lead the police to believe that an individual is intoxicated. When police have reasonable suspicion that an individual is intoxicated, they can ask them to step out of the vehicle and perform a field sobriety test.

Field Sobriety Tests (FST)

Field sobriety tests are a series of different tests which police officers will ask an individual to perform in order to determine whether or not they are an impaired driver. It should be noted that these tests do not determine whether there are drugs or alcohol in an individual’s system, but instead are designed to gather enough information to arrest an individual and administer a more precise chemical test such as a breathalyzer or blood test. Below are three of the most common roadside field sobriety tests officers will administer.


This is the most commonly known test, completed by walking nine steps in a straight line while touching heel to toe, turning around and completing the same nine walk back to the original starting point. An officer will observe an individual while they are doing this to look for any imbalance while walking, which can indicate impairment.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test

This is the infamous pen test, which involves an officer holding out a pen or light and asking the individual to follow it with their eyes. By observing the individual’s eyes and their ability to follow the object, the officer can determine whether or not the individual is impaired. Being unable to follow the pen or light is considered a failure of the test.

One-Leg-Stand Test

As the name implies, this test involves standing on one leg and balancing in order to determine whether or not the person is impaired. In this test, the officer will require an individual to stand on one leg with the other leg raised six inches from the ground. If the individual cannot maintain their balance on one leg during the test or struggle with swaying or rocking then they will have failed the test.

When an individual is charged with OWI, the prosecutor is tasked with proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual is guilty. There are a number of different legal defenses that an individual can use in an OWI case, which if successful can create reasonable doubt. A successful defense strategy can cause a case to be dismissed or otherwise lead to acquittal at a trial. Below is a list of the most common and effective defense strategies.

You Were Not Operating The Vehicle

The cornerstone of any OWI case is establishing that the accused was actually operating the vehicle while being intoxicated. In order to prove this, the prosecution must show that the individual was actually in control of the vehicle and not, for instance, passed out in the backseat with the keys nowhere near them. Additionally, if the officer never actually saw the accused operating the vehicle the prosecution may have a difficult time proving an OWI case.

The Officer Failed To Have Reasonable Suspicion To Pull You Over

When an individual is pulled over by the police and is subsequently charged with OWI, it is up to the prosecution to prove that the police had reason suspicion to justify the stop. This means that the police cannot pull an individual over just because they feel like it, they must have reasonable suspicion that they broke the law. If this isn’t the case, any evidence gathered from pulling an individual owner may be thrown out by a judge.

The Officer Failed To Have Probable Cause To Arrest You

It is important for individuals to understand that a stop and an arrest are two different things. In order for an arrest to happen, a stop must occur first. Additionally, the police must have probable cause that the individual has actually committed a crime. Generally this is established by the officer observing and interacting with the individual to gather evidence such as the smell of alcohol on their breath, bloodshot eyes, failed sobriety tests, etc. If there is no clear probable cause to arrest an individual, then an attorney can file a motion with a judge to have chemical tests thrown out in court or even the OWI case dismissed entirely.

The Police Did Not Read You An Implied Consent or Miranda Warning

If an individual is arrested for OWI and police ask them for a chemical test, then they are legally obligated to warn that individual about the consequences of refusing to take the test. If the police fail to do this, then it can be used as a defense in both the individual’s OWI case as well as the implied consent hearing. Additionally, if the police fail to read Miranda warnings (also known as Miranda rights) then anything incriminating that is said to police cannot be used in court during an OWI trial.

Breathalyzer Test Inaccurate or Defective

In Michigan, the DataMaster Breathalyzer is used to determine an individual’s BAC. These tests are generally conducted at a police station and when the machine is functioning properly they are considered highly accurate. However, in the event that there is an issue with the machine or the way it is used, these results can be inaccurate and subsequently called into question. If these results are questionable then it can be brought up in court to have the case potentially dismissed or charges dropped.