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Michigan DUI Laws

In Michigan, the crime of drunk driving is called OWI, which is an acronym that means “Operating While Intoxicated”. Other common acronyms for this offense are DUI, DWI, OUIL, UBAL, but again, Michigan criminal laws call this offense OWI. In Michigan, the crime of DUI is usually classified as a misdemeanor, but depending on the number of priors drunk driving convictions on your record, it can also be classified as a felony. It carries penalties that can include license revocation of up to five years, and the possibility of jail time of up to five years. Of course, if you are charged with a first offense, then you are likely to face much less severe penalties. The three types of DUI penalties are discussed in more detail elsewhere on this website. En Español.

Michigan DUI Laws

The reason the state legislature has chosen to make the penalties for this offense so severe is because the thousands of people travel on Michigan streets and highways deserve to have safe roadways. The tragic toll of intoxication-related accidents is declining nationally, but drunk driving is still one of the primary causes of injury and death on our highways.

On the other hand, responsible drinking and driving is NOT AGAINST THE LAW. Our country attempted to prohibit consumption and possession of alcohol which led to one of the most violent chapters in American history. Americans are allowed the freedom of many choices, and drinking alcohol responsibly is one of them. Anytime that you intend to consume alcohol and later drive, you have a responsibility to do so conscientiously so that no one is endangered by your conduct.

Common Law Drunk Driving (OUIL)

In Michigan, if you have been charged with drunk driving, then you are specifically charged with violating the law by operating a motor vehicle while you were either intoxicated or impaired by alcohol. The principal or more serious crime of drunk driving is known by the acronym “OWI”. This stands for operating while intoxicated. This more serious charge can be proved one of three ways. One way is for the prosecutor to show that you were OUIL, which stands for operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor. To prove this crime, the prosecutor needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that because of drinking alcohol your ability to operate a motor vehicle was substantially lessened. This is known as the common law offense of drunk driving. A chemical test result can be used by the judge or jury to determine if you’ve committed this crime, but a chemical test is not necessary.

The Statutory Crime of Drunk Driving

There is also a statutory offense known as UBAL. This means that at the time that you were operating your car you had an unlawful blood alcohol level. As you are undoubtedly aware, the legal limit in Michigan and most states is .08. So, if the prosecutor can prove that your blood alcohol level at the time you were driving was .08 or greater, and can prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, then you can be found guilty of drunk driving. This is known as a “per se” offense, meaning the prosecutor does not need to prove that the alcohol had any impact on your ability to drive. The prosecutor does, however, have to prove that the chemical test is both admissible as well as reliable. In Michigan we do not have “trial by number”, and the jury must decide what meaning or what “weight” to give to the chemical evidence. Just because there is a breath or blood test in your case does not mean automatically that the jury must or even will find you guilty.

The Crime of “Drugged” Driving

Finally there is the crime of OUID. This is operating under the influence of drugs, or the combination of drugs and alcohol. If the drug in question is a prescribed drug, then the standard is “substantially lessened”. You should understand however that it is possible to be charged with this crime even for over-the-counter drugs, that is provided they affect your driving. For example, there have been instances in other states where people have been prosecuted even for drugs as benign as Benadryl. In fact, in the DRE (drug recognition expert) training program, law enforcement officers are taught using this working definition of a drug: Any substance, which when taken into the human body, can impair the ability of the person to operate a vehicle safely. Ostensibly at least, a DRE is trained so that they can:

  • Define the term drug and name the seven drug categories associated with the DECP training
  • Identify the twelve step drug evaluation process
  • Administer and interpret the psychophysical tests used in the twelve step process

Of course, you can also be charged if the drug in question is a controlled substance. If it is, then the crime is “zero tolerance”, meaning if the drug is present in your system while you are driving, then you are guilty regardless of if the drug impacted your ability to drive. These drugs are specifically listed in the Michigan statute and include derivatives of the main drugs, and also include the so-called designer drugs.