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Your Detroit OWI Case: The Basics

It's Saturday night in Hockeytown and you're feeling victorious as you drive back from "The Joe." Your beloved 11-time Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings just won a fierce battle against the Chicago Blackhawks. You've had a few beers. Well, more than a few. In fact, you may have lost count. You start to drift out of your lane and overcorrect, almost hitting the car next to you.

Suddenly, you see flashing lights behind you. A Detroit police officer approaches your car, and asks for license and registration. She asks you a few more questions and notices you have red, watery eyes and your speech is slurred. "Sir, have you been drinking?" she asks. You don't want to lie. "Two beers," you respond. She then asks you to take a series of field sobriety tests (FSTs). Eventually, you blow into a handheld device known as a preliminary alcohol test (PBT).

The officer believes you are intoxicated, places you under arrest, and takes you to the Central District police station for booking and your choice of a blood, breath, or urine test. You choose a breath test and blow into the Datamaster Intox DMT. Results aren't looking good. She takes you to the Wayne County Jail for the evening. Next stop, arraignment in the 36th District Court.


Michigan has several separate charges for drivers who are impaired by drugs or alcohol. Here's a list.

  • Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI): You weren't able to drive safely and the officer could see it. Your FSTs show it. You don't need a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or above to be charged with OWVI.
  • Operating While Intoxicated (OWI): Your ability to drive is substantially affected by alcohol or drugs. For OWI, your BAC is at or above the legal limit of 0.08%.
  • Operating With Any Presence of a Schedule 1 Drug or Cocaine (OWPD): You might not appear impaired, but if you have even a trace of these drugs in your blood and you're driving, you can be charged.
  • "Super Drunk" Driving/High BAC: The technical term is "high blood alcohol content enhanced penalty law." Drive with a BAC of 0.17% or higher, and you'll face stiff penalties.
  • Under Age 21 Operating with Any Bodily Alcohol Content: If you are under 21, Michigan has zero tolerance for drinking and driving. You'll be charged if you have any presence of alcohol.

Keep in mind, you will face felony charges if you do any of the following:

  • Three OWI or OWVI convictions within 10 years.
  • Causing serious injury while driving; (You'll face up to five years imprisonment OR a $1,000 to $5,000 fine, or both).
  • Causing death while driving (You'll face up to 15 years imprisonment OR a $2,500 to $10,000 fine, or both).

What if I refuse a chemical test?

You have that option, but there's a penalty. 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. If you are under 21 and refuse the PBT, 2 points are added to your driving record. Michigan also has an implied consent law. If you're arrested and refuse to take the chemical test, your license will be automatically suspended for one year and six points will be added to your driving record.


In most situations, you'll spend the night in jail and be released the next day with a promise to appear for arraignment. If you are charged with a felony you'll appear in court and have to post bail. The judge might impose additional conditions such as alcohol testing. At arraignment, you can plead guilty, not guilty, no contest or stand mute on the charges. You can hire a lawyer, represent yourself, or ask for a public defender.

Preliminary Hearing (Felony only)

Within 14 days of arraignment, you will have a preliminary or probable cause hearing. This isn't the trial. It's a hearing to show there's probable cause to believe you committed a felony. The prosecutor will call witnesses to testify under oath. Your attorney can cross-examine them, also.


Pre-trials are where the plea negotiations take place in both felony and misdemeanor cases. In a misdemeanor, it'll happen after the arraignment. For a felony, the pre-trial is held after the preliminary hearing, usually within two weeks, and is the first hearing in the Circuit Court, where your felony case will remain.


You've rejected the plea offer and want to go to trial. The state must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are tried for a felony, you have the right to a jury trial where 12 randomly selected members of the community decide your guilt or innocence. In a misdemeanor trial, it'll be a seven-member jury panel.


If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will impose a sentence in your case ranging from a small fine, to probation, to alcohol/drug counseling, and in the most serious cases, an active prison sentence.

Driver's License Suspension: The Administrative Hearing

Drunk driving arrests actually require two hearings: criminal and administrative. Nobody likes dealing with Michigan Secretary of State, but if you are arrested for drunk driving, it's inevitable. Here is what can happen:

First Offense

OWI/OWPD: 180-day suspension. After the first 30 days of the suspension you can apply for a restricted license.

OWVI: Driver's license restrictions for 90 days. It will be 180 days if impaired by a controlled substance.

Chemical Test Refusal: If you refused a chemical test you have 14 days to challenge the refusal. If you fail to win your challenge, or fail to request a hearing within the 14-day time frame, your driver's license will be suspended for 1 year.

Your license can be revoked if you commit multiple drunk driving offenses within ten years, or injure, or kill someone.

Ignition Interlock Device

If you've been convicted of any of the following crimes, you'll have to install a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device [BAIID] on any vehicle you own or intend to drive.

  • Habitual Offender: Two or more convictions within 7 years or three or more convictions within 10 years.
  • "Super Drunk" Driving/High BAC: In addition to any penalties ordered by the court, your license will be suspended for one year. You will be eligible for a restricted license after serving 45 days of the suspension if a BAIID is installed on every vehicle you operate.


Remember, it's best to never drink or use drugs and drive. Select a designated driver ahead of time, who will stay sober. You can also ask someone else to give you a ride, call a taxi, or use public transportation. That way you can avoid having to deal with a DUI in Detroit, or anywhere else.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex DUI situations usually require a lawyer
  • DUI defense attorneys can challenge Breathalyzer/Intoxilyzer or blood test results
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate DUI penalties
  • A lawyer can help get your license back

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


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