It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle on public roads while intoxicated or impaired in all 50 states. However, each state has its own way of penalizing impaired driving, as well as its own legal terminology in the various laws and codes that create consequences for impaired driving.
In Michigan, there are two primary forms of impaired driving. Drivers can face allegations of operating while ability impaired (OWAI) or operating while intoxicated (OWI). You can wind up charged with an OWAI offense even if your blood alcohol level is below the legal cut-off for an OWI.
Anyone with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher could face OWI charges under Michigan law. Understanding the potential consequences for those charges can help you make more informed decisions about your legal situation.
The penalties increase with the number of previous issues
If this arrest was the first time that law enforcement officers have accused you of driving while impaired, you will typically face the lowest level of consequences and penalties. These include a fine of between $100 and $500, up to 93 days in jail, as many as 360 hours of community service, loss of your license for 30 days and six points added to your license.
However, if you get convicted of a second offense, you will face a fine of between $200 and $1,000, between five and 365 days in jail and loss of your license for at least 1 year. Because the penalties get worse with additional convictions, some people think that they only need to fight second or third charges.
However, fighting an initial OWI charge can help you avoid a criminal record and ensure that you won't face increased penalties for any arrests in the future. Pushing back also helps you avoid a driver responsibility fee and the points on your license, which can mean much more expensive insurance.
You can face OWI charges for intoxicating substances other than alcohol
Contrary to popular belief, impaired driving charges extend to more than just alcohol. People can find themselves arrested for driving under the influence of over the counter medication, prescription drugs or narcotic substances. Just because you can legally buy a substance doesn't mean you can safely drive while using it.
Since marijuana is now legal in Michigan, more people are experimenting with it. However, getting behind the wheel shortly after smoking cannabis could mean OWI charges, even if you didn't feel like it affected your driving.
It is better to err on the side of caution when determining whether you can safely and legally drive. For those who have already gotten arrested and are wondering how to handle pending charges related to impaired driving in Michigan, talking with a criminal defense attorney can help them choose a strategy.