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What’s the Difference Between DUI and OWI in Michigan?

Oct 4th, 2016 DUI OWI

Both DUI and OWI are acronym’s for drunk driving. DUI means Driving Under the Influence whereas OWI means Operating While Intoxicated.  DWI is another acronym that was once commonly used, and this one means Driving While Intoxicated. In Michigan the proper legal acronym is OWI, but DUI is still used as a more general reference to drunk driving, mostly because it is such a well-known acronym.  If you have been arrested in Michigan for drunk driving, then the ticket you received will indicate “OWI.”  All of this is set forth in Michigan’s drunk driving laws, which can be found at Michigan Compiled Laws 257.625, et. seq.

DUI and DWI are both well known to the public because they were the first acronyms used nationally to describe drunk driving.  However, these terms are no longer used in law because they are too broad, and according to police and prosecutors, these acronyms allow too many people to get away with drunk driving.

This is because the terms or acronyms DUI and DWI both contain “D” for the word “driving.”  The term driving generally means to be in physical control of a moving vehicle. This term was changed in Michigan and many any other states from driving to operating because you can operate a motor vehicle even if you are not driving it.  The term operating essentially means being in control, and in Michigan, the definition has even been expanded to include having the ability to control.  This means if you are in a parked car you can still be operating it.

Prior to the change from DUI to OWI, a possible defense to a drunk driving charge would be that you were not driving.  Thus, if you were in a parked car, asleep, stopped in an intersection, or otherwise not actually moving, your case could be dismissed.  This defense is generally not available anymore because the term operation is much more broad.

Historically, in 1999 the state legislature in Michigan changed the acronyms used for drunk driving from OUIL and UBAL to OWI.  This was done so that one term, OWI, could be used to denote both legal theories available to the prosecutor. Now, OWI can be proved when a prosecutor shows, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you were either operating under the influence of liquor (OUIL), or where operating while having and unlawful bodily alcohol level (UBAL).

However, in Michigan, there were still presumptions in 1999, and the legal limit was .10.  So, if you were above a .07 but below a .10 you were presumed to be impaired by alcohol, whereas if you were a .10 or above you were presumed to be intoxicated.  Also, if you were below a .07 you were presumed not to be in violation of the law because you were neither impaired nor intoxicated.

Michigan’s law changed again in 2003 when the legal limit was lowered to .08.  Along with this change, the presumptions were also removed.  This meant you could (and still can) be convicted of drunk driving in Michigan even if your breath test is below a .07. However, in order for a prosecutor to prove this theory, it must be shown that your ability to operate a motor vehicle was substantially lessened due to the consumption of alcohol.

One final thing.  OWI can be proven if the intoxication is caused by a drug other than alcohol.  So if you take Xanax or Ambien, and the use of this drug has caused your ability to drive to be lessened substantially, then you can be found guilty of OWI in Michigan.