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OWIs During the Holiday Season

With three major holidays in just over a month, the winter season can become a busy time for law enforcement and attorneys in regards to operating while intoxicated (OWI) related offenses. While it may seem like December would be the peak time for drunk driving offenses, the top four holidays for drunk driving according to law enforcement are St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.

Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) is a serious offense in the State of Michigan and an individual can be charged with OWI, operating while impaired, or operating with a high blood alcohol content. Each offense can come with a fine, jail time and suspension of license. It is important for drivers to know their limits, and plan ahead if they will be out drinking.

two classes of Champaign to celebrate holidays

Serious Offense

Drunk driving is a serious offense in the state of Michigan. Law enforcement will not be lenient because it is the holiday season or because drivers have just celebrated with their families. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can have serious consequences.

According to the Michigan Department of State Police Criminal Justice Information Center’s 2021 Drunk Driving Audit, in 2021, approximately 44.7 percent of the fatal crashes in Michigan involved alcohol or other drugs. Drunk driving fatalities in Michigan in 2021 had a 21 percent increase from 2019 from 295 to 357 and drug related fatalities increased 16 percent from 237 in 2019 to 275 in 2021.

If you are Pulled Over

Getting pulled over while intoxicated does not simply mean getting a ticket. The consequences vary depending on the amount of alcohol or drugs in the driver's system.

According to the law, if a driver is pulled over with a blood alcohol count (BAC) of between .08 and .16, and this is their first offense they could receive:

  • Up to $500 fine

  • Up to 93 days in jail

  • Up to 360 hours of community service

  • Up to 180 days license suspension

  • 6 points on a driver's license

If your BAC is .17 or higher and this is a first offense:

  • Up to $700 fine

  • Up to 180 days in jail

  • Up to 360 hours of community service

  • Up to one year license suspension

  • 6 points on a driver's license

  • Mandatory completion of an alcohol treatment program

  • Ignition interlock use and compliance after 45 days license suspension is required to receive a restricted driver's license. Convicted drunk drivers have limited driving privileges, are prohibited from operating a vehicle without an approved and properly installed ignition interlock device, and are responsible for all installation and upkeep costs for the device.

There is also a lesser included offense, that being operating while impaired. Typically, that subjects the individual to up to 93 days in jail, fines and costs, however, the driver’s license is restricted for 90 days.

In Michigan, if anyone refuses a chemical breath test the first time is automatically given a one year’s driver’s license suspension. A second refusal within seven years is a two year license suspension.

police lights, pulling someone over for a OWI

More Than One Offense

After a driver's first OWI offense, the penalties, fines and suspensions become increasingly more severe.

If a driver is convicted of a second drunk driving offense within seven years of the previous drunk driving conviction, the possible punishment is imprisonment for no less than five days but no more than one year, fines up to $1,000 (not including court costs) and revoking of the license for a minimum of one year.

A driver’s first and second OWI offenses are considered misdemeanors, but when a driver is convicted of drunk driving a third time, it is considered a felony. Felony drunk driving is punishable with up to a $5,000 fine, one to five year imprisonment (with a mandatory 30-day sentence) and up to 180 days of community service. The driver may also have to forfeit their vehicle.

When to Talk to an Attorney

If a driver is pulled over and arrested for an alcohol related driving offense, they should immediately contact an attorney. The consequences of a OWI are severe, so it is important that you contact an attorney with experience who will make sure you are represented fairly and justly. No matter if this is the driver’s first offense or third, having a skilled legal professional will ensure that all the proper legal procedures are being followed and the driver is getting the proper due process. Driver’s should make sure their lawyer is current on all the most recent OWI laws and have experience representing clients in this area.

Restoring a Record

Driver’s who are convicted of a OWI can have this information on their driving record for life. Recently the State of Michigan House Bills 4219 and 4220 changed the OWI conviction record keeping. Now, for the first time in Michigan history, first time DUI offenders may be able to expunge their records.

Expungement of records is only for driver’s with one DUI on their records. There is an application process as well as several other requirements to qualify including:

  • A wait time of five years after the DUI sentence is complete

  • First DUI only

  • During the five year probationary period drivers can not get arrested or convicted of any other crimes.

  • If a person was injured or killed as a result of the DUI, even if it is the driver’s first offense, they become ineligible for expungement.

  • If the driver was driving a commercial vehicle using a CDL license when convicted, the driver is no eligible for expungement

  • If the driver had a minor in the car they are not eligible for expungement.

The expungement process takes time and is complicated. It is important to have an attorney help with the process, especially since expungement cases in Michigan have only been heard since February 2022. Drivers looking to have their record expunged should have experienced and qualified lawyer handle their cases. They will know if the case qualifies for expungement and what paperwork needs to be filed. If mistakes are made, there is a three year waiting period before drivers can try again.

many people have drinks to celebrate the holiday season

Celebrate Safely

Law enforcement is out looking for drivers operating while impaired, so before going out for a celebration, plan ahead. Have a designated driver, plan to call an Uber or Lyft or plan to stay put for the night. Don’t take a chance. Drinking and driving is a serious offense that will not only affect a driver’s record, but can also impact the lives of others. Accidents caused by drinking and driving can cause serious injury and death.

Be smart. Be safe. Don’t drink and drive.

In case you missed last months blog:

A licensed attorney in the community can answer questions about tenant or landlord rights or the eviction moratorium.

Kimm Burger


"I want to hear your side of the story."


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