Michigan OWI Laws: FAQ

When can I be charged with OWI in Michigan?

You will be charged with a OWI in Michigan if you operate a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08 or greater. To be guilty of this offense, absolutely no impairment of any of your physical abilities is necessary. In addition, you will be charged with OWI if you drive with drugs in your system or with a combination of drugs and alcohol, no matter what the amounts of those substances may be, where your physical abilities have become impaired to a certain degree. It does not matter if the drugs are legal, over the counter medications like antihistamines, nor does it matter if you have a prescription to take the drugs. If you are impaired as a result of taking them, then you are guilty of OWI.

Am I required to take a Chemical Test under Michigan Drunk Driving Law?

Yes. If you are arrested for drunk or drugged driving, you are required to take a chemical test to determine your bodily alcohol content (BAC) or the presence of drugs in your body. Under Michigan's Implied Consent law, all drivers are considered to have given their consent to this test.

Can an Officer pull me over for no reason in Michigan?

No. The stop must be justified by probable cause or a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. Usually, the officer will base the stop on a violation of the traffic code, such as speeding or weaving in your lane. They can also stop you for not wearing a seat belt or for having illegally tinted windows.

Can I have my drunk driving conviction expunged in Michigan?

No. The statute governing expungement in Michigan specifically precludes a person from even seeking to have a conviction for a "traffic offense" (including drunk driving) set­ aside. The statute also precludes a Judge from setting aside such a conviction.

How long will a drunk driving conviction stay on my record in Michigan?

All alcohol related traffic offenses are crimes, and are classified as either misdemeanors or felonies. Thus a drunk driving conviction will remain on your record for life. An important distinction however is regarding the treatment of this type of conviction by your automobile insurance company. Most insurance companies will stop considering drunk driving convictions in accessing auto insurance rates after a period of years. Because there's no hard and fast rule on this, it's best to check with your insurance company to learn what their specific policy is in for drunk driving offenses.

What should I do if I'm asked to take a Field Sobriety Test in Michigan?

Unlike the chemical test where refusal to submit may have serious consequences, you are not legally required to take any FSTs. The reality is that officers have usually made up their minds to arrest when they give the FSTs; the tests are simply additional evidence which the suspect inevitably "fails." Thus, in most cases a polite refusal may be appropriate.

What should I say if I am stopped by a Police Officer in Michigan and he asks if I have been drinking?

You are not required to answer potentially incriminating questions. A polite "I would like to speak with an attorney before I answer any questions" is a good reply. On the other hand, saying that you have one or two beers is not incriminating: it is not sufficient to cause intoxication ­ and it may explain the odor of alcohol on the breath.

What terms are used for drunk driving offenses in Michigan?

A person arrested for drunk driving in Michigan can be charged with 2 different types of offenses. 1) Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI) means that because of alcohol or other drugs, your ability to operate a motor vehicle was visibly impaired. 2) Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) includes 3 types of violations:

  • Alcohol or drugs in your body substantially affected your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.
  • Your bodily alcohol content (BAC) at or above 0.08. This level can be determined through a chemical test.
  • High BAC means the alcohol level in your body was at or above 0.17. This level can be determined through a chemical test. This charge will result in increased penalties.

First Offense

  • Up to a $500 fine, or up to 360 hours of community service, or both.
  • Driver's license is restricted for 30 days.
  • 4 points are added to the offender's driving record.
  • Driver Responsibility Fee of $500 for 2 consecutive years.

What will happen if an Officer pulls me over for suspected drunk driving in Michigan?

The officer will ask you to get out of the car and will instruct you to perform a series of "field sobriety tests." These are standard physical ability measures and they include: Reciting the alphabet from A ­ to Z, and counting backwards; Walking heel to toe along a straight line; Standing on one foot for a few seconds; In addition to these tests, some officers typically have certain field sobriety testing devices which they use. One such device is a breath meter (PBT) which you blow into, another is a light to shine in your eyes in order to test your pupil reaction. It is very important that if you suffer from any chronic physical problems, such as difficulty with your balance, problems walking or with your legs or feet, or problems with your lungs or eyes that you inform the officer of these things before you go through the field sobriety tests.

Second Offense within 7 years

  • One or more of the following:
    • Up to a $500 fine.
    • Up to 60 days of community service.
    • Up to 93 days in jail.
  • Driver's license suspension for 90 days. If there is a prior drunk or drugged driving conviction, there is a driver license revocation and denial for a minimum of 1 year (minimum of 5 years if there was a prior revocation within 7 years).
  • 4 points are added to the offender's driving record.
  • Driver Responsibility Fee of $500 for 2 consecutive years.

What happens if I refuse a Breath Test under Michigan Drunk Driving Law?

If you are stopped by a law enforcement officer who believes you may be driving while intoxicated or impaired, you may be asked to take a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) to determine whether alcohol was involved. If you refuse to take the PBT, you may be charged with a civil infraction, which carries a fine up to $150 plus court costs. A person under age 21 who refuses to take the PBT will have 2 points added to his or her driving record. Whether you take the PBT or not, you still must take the evidentiary test required by the implied consent law (see below).

What happens if I refuse a Chemical Test under Michigan Drunk Driving Law? Disclaimer

Refusing to take this test has driver's license consequences that are separate from those that result from any conviction that flows from the traffic stop. You may request an administrative hearing regarding the alleged refusal. At the hearing, the law enforcement officer would have to prove certain things before the statutory consequences would apply.

If you do not request the hearing, or if the officer proves his or her case at the hearing, the following will happen:

  • Six points will be added to your driving record.

  • Your license will be suspended for 1 year if it is the first time you refused to take the test under the Implied Consent law.
  • Your license will be suspended for 2 years if you refused to take the test one or more times within the preceding 7 years. There are no hardship appeals in circuit court for a restricted license in this situation.

If you refuse to take the test, or if the test shows that your BAC is 0.08 or higher, the law enforcement officer will destroy your driver license, and will issue a paper permit to you. You may drive on the paper permit until your criminal case is resolved in court.

What if I fail the Field Sobriety Tests under Michigan OWI Law?

You will probably be asked to take a preliminary breath test (PBT). You should be told that the only penalty if you refuse the PBT is a $100 fine. If you fail either test you will be told that you are under arrest for driving under the influence. You will be handcuffed, searched for weapons, placed in the back of the officer's car and taken to a jail for further tests. At the jail you will also be booked and held there until you post bail or until a judge releases you on your own recognizance without bail. Once again, as upsetting and as stressful as being arrested is, it is essential that you continue to act courteously and cooperatively with the officer. Do not argue, threaten or become belligerent in any way. This type of behavior will only make the experience even more unpleasant for you.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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