Michigan has some of the toughest DUI laws in the country, with harsh fines, penalties and long jail sentences. When DUIs involve a minor or underage individual, the punishment can be abnormally harsh. The state’s Zero Tolerance law for underage drivers allows for the arrest of anyone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.02-0.07%. This is well below the normal legal limit of 0.08% for drivers 21 years or older. Convictions for underage DUI in Michigan are very serious and will be a permanent scar on an individual’s record. In addition to this, they also carry punishments that can be more serious than a normal DUI conviction.
If you or a loved one is facing a Michigan OWI Zero Tolerance charge, it is vital to reach out to an experienced attorney specializing in DUI defense. An experienced drunk driving attorney can help avoid jail time, excessive fines and help to protect your permanent record.
Zero Tolerance Law
As mentioned previously, Michigan’s Zero Tolerance law surrounding drunk driving is one of the harshest in the nation. While there is no jail time for a first OWI Zero Tolerance conviction, an underaged offender could be sentenced to up to 360 community service, as well as a $250 fine. A second underage DUI offense however carries with it a $500 fine and up to 93 days in jail with 60 hours of community service.
Many individuals believe that a first OWI Zero Tolerance offense is not worth fighting because it does not include incarceration. This is incorrect, as convictions will not only stay on a person’s record forever but they also will be taken into consideration if the same individual is convicted of any subsequent DUI charges. For example, if a driver were to be convicted of an OWI Zero Tolerance charge and then be charged with another OWI after they turned 21, this new charge would be treated as an OWI second offense.
There is a caveat to the use of previous zero tolerance convictions to enhance charges for subsequent offenses. According to state law, only one previous underage DUI conviction can be used to enhance charges. This means that in order for a DUI charge to be considered a felony, it would require one Zero Tolerance conviction in addition to a second DUI conviction when the individual was 21 years of age older.
Determining Underage Impairment
When an underage individual is pulled over on a suspected OWI violation, law enforcement will employ the same NHTSA standardized field sobriety test used for those 21 years of age or older in order to determine whether the individual is under the influence of alcohol. This will take place regardless of the amount of alcohol the individual may have in their system, and is conducted in order to establish probable cause required prior to conducting a preliminary breath test. However unlike a standard OWI investigation, even if an underage individual passes the field sobriety test, they will still be charged with an underage OWI if the breathalyzer detects any alcohol in their system.
Immediate Consequences of Underage DUI
The consequences of an underage DUI can oftentimes be more serious than a normal DUI, both in the long and short term. In Michigan, judges are allowed to increase the penalties of an underage DUI at their discretion, which can lead to the possibility of a minor being charged with an adult OWI offense, carrying with it adult consequences. Sometimes a judge will make an example of an underage DUI offender, since they are not only driving under the influence, but they are also not of legal drinking age.
A judge may use their sentencing discretion in an attempt to teach the minor a lesson to prevent future offenses before they become an adult. This can include requiring a minor to write an essay, forcing them to enroll in an alcohol education program, or perform an unusually large amount of community service hours. In certain circumstances a judge may sentence the minor to jail time although this is generally uncommon.
Under certain circumstances, state law mandates an underaged driver be faced with a regular OWI charge. This happens when they have a BAC of 0.08% or higher, which is outside the BAC range of the Zero Tolerance Law. This carries with it the same penalties as an adult charge, with up to 93 days in jail, increased fines, longer community service, drivers license revocation and mandatory enrollment in an alcohol treatment program.
Long Term Effects of an Underage DUI
Outside of the immediate and obvious criminal consequences of an underage DUI, a Zero Tolerance conviction can have lasting long term effects on an individuals quality of life and affect their current and future employment opportunities. This especially applies to those who want to work in the transportation and shipping industry, as a previous DUI or any other serious driving infraction can potentially disqualify that individual from employment in those fields.
Sometimes this restriction isn’t even up to the discretion of employers, but is a result of a government statute prohibiting the granting of operators licenses to individuals convicted of a DUI. This prohibition often isn’t just for those interested in driving trucks, but also for those interested in a career as an aircraft pilot or even as a captain of a ship or vessel.
In addition to the effects a DUI may have on an individual’s employment opportunities, it also can affect their ability to be accepted into different schools, universities or other educational programs. During the admissions process, schools will investigate the record of applicants for prior criminal behavior or anything else that may reflect upon an individual’s character. Some admissions processes may include drunk driving convictions as one of the disqualifiers for applicants.
Processing OWI Cases
As mentioned previously, a Zero Tolerance OWI is a serious charge and if convicted it will be a misdemeanor on an individual’s permanent record. In addition, an underage OWI conviction can be counted as a prior offense in the event the individual is charged with another OWI in the future, magnifying its consequences. On top of all of this, an individual may face jail time for their first underage OWI conviction if they are unable to meet a judge’s conditions such as community service, curfew or an alcohol treatment program.
When a minor is charged with an underage OWI in Michigan their case will be heard in a district court. The only exception to this is when the charge is also attached to a felony. When this happens, the case will skip the district court and be brought directly to a circuit court for the hearing. Defendants should take underage OWI charges seriously and treat them as if they were a regular OWI drunk driving charge in Michigan. This is important because the courts will generally treat them in the same manner as normal OWI charges.
Prosecuting Underage DUI
It is uncommon for judges to apply an adult trial process to a minor or a DUI charge, however it does happen from time to time. As previously mentioned, adult charges carry the possibility of jail time long with increased fines, longer community service hours and mandatory alcohol treatment programs. These increased penalties can cause serious problems for a minor, preventing them from participating in schooling and closing doors to future employment opportunities.
A good attorney can help individuals avoid being charged as an adult by working with a judge to encourage alternative options such as rehabilitation and educational programs. This is dependent on what a judge interprets to be the correct course of action to prevent another DUI incident from occurring in the future. Certain judges, regardless of their personal views surrounding the accused, will be exceptionally difficult to convince that an alternative sentence is the best choice. Oftentimes, these judges will feel that teaching offenders a harsh lesson at an early age is logically the best course of action.
There are other judges who are more lenient on underage DUI offenders and will give them a break. Sometimes this occurs when an offender is barely under the drinking age and/or their Datamaster DMT test results are well under the regular BAC limit of 0.08 for adults. This can be helped along by a skilled attorney who can convince a judge that the underage offender will not be a problem going forward and that a harsh punishment will diminish their future ability to be productive members of society.
There are certain strategies that an individual who is facing Zero Tolerance OWI violations can employ prior to and during their trial that will benefit them. Many of these strategies include voluntary participation in educational programs, substance abuse counseling, alcohol treatment programs, therapy or even the use of medications to help with the underlying reasons behind their alcohol use. A good DUI defense attorney can help to recommend the best strategy to ensure the defendant is put in the best position during their trial and court proceedings.
Education is of particular importance as a preemptive strategy, as many offenders lack the education regarding alcohol misuse and are not actually alcoholics or suffering from substance abuse. When going through any treatment, educational or other strategies it is critical that positive progress by the individual during their treatment is well documented in order to show a judge that they have been making a meaningful effort to change their behavior. The attorney representing the accused can advise how best to document this progress and even actively record the progress in order to present the accused in the best possible light.