How Much Fines and Costs will be required in my Michigan Driving Case?

Any lawyer who regularly handles Drunk Driving cases in Michigan gets asked this question at least several times per week. I know that, as a Drunk Driving Attorney, I am asked all the time. I usually answer with a cautious “It depends….”

The truth is, there is no simple, or one-size-fits-all answer. There are several factors that must be looked at in order to come up with an answer.

First, and most important is in which Court (what city) is the case being heard? To illustrate, let’s take a typical, real life example of a person with a First Offense OWI. Assume the lawyer gets the charge reduced to what’s known as “Impaired Driving,” or OWVI.

The question we have here, then, is how much will this first-offense “Impaired Driving” cost?

The short, and best answer, is that it depends, more than anything else, on which Court is hearing the case. For example, not too long ago, a First Offense Impaired Driving in the 42-2 (New Baltimore) Court usually netted a fine and costs of $450. That same offense, in the 41-B (Clinton Township) Court, usually resulted in a fine and costs of about $950. Most other courts in the Tri-County area charged somewhere between those amounts.

Second, the whole cost paid by a Defendant is not limited to a “fine.” Going back to the Impaired Driving example above, the penalties for Impaired Driving allow a fine of “up to” $300, plus costs. It’s usually the “costs” that are both difficult to accurately predict and which cause people the most problems. Thus, in that above example, the 42-2 Court charged $300 in fines, plus $150 in costs. The 41-B Court charged $300 in fines plus $650 in costs. Costs vary widely form Court to Court.

Third, a growing number of municipalities have enacted ordinances which allow them to charge, in addition to any court fines and costs, for the actual Police Officer/Emergency Responder time spent in handling the case, right up from the point of arrest, through booking, holding, releasing, cleaning the jail cell, preparing the Police Report, and any other action connected with the offense. These are sometimes called as “Emergency Responder” costs. For those municipalities that do seek reimbursement, the amount, while it varies from place to place and case by case, usually adds up to somewhere between $250 to $350.

Beyond the expense of the fine, the costs, and any Emergency Responder/Police Officer reimbursement, there are several other additional expenses involved in any Drunk Driving or Alcohol-Related Traffic Offense. Of course, there are the lawyer’s fees, as well.

By law, a person who pleads guilty to, or is found guilty of, any Alcohol-Related Traffic Offense must undergo a mandatory substance abuse evaluation before the Court can sentence them. This almost always involves an interview with a Probation Officer who will hand the person a written test to complete. The test examines the taker’s drinking attitude and behavior. When the person answers the questions, those answers are given a numerical “score.” Anyway, the usual cost for this “evaluation” or “screening” is $100.

Finally, there is often a probationary period involved in the disposition of these cases, and there are costs for that, as well. Going back to the above “Impaired Driving” example, there are really three options which a Judge typically considers when sentencing someone in a case like our example:

1. The Judge can, and in the vast majority of Courts and cases will order the person to make monthly reports to the Probation Department, usually for a period or 12 to 18 months. Depending on the Court, the “monthly oversight fee” usually runs around $40. Multiply that by the number of months of Probation, and the total final cost typically amounts to somewhere between $480 and $720.

2. The Judge can order Probation, but allow it to be what’s known as “non-reporting,” meaning the person does not have to come in each month for an interview with a Probation Officer. In these cases, there is no “monthly oversight fee,” so usually a one-time fee of around $100 is charged. Although less likely than what’s called “straight” or reporting Probation, the possibility of this outcome still exists in some Courts. In others, particularly Oakland and Western Wayne Counties, it almost never happens.

3. The Judge can simply order that the Defendant pay Fines and Costs, and not order any Probation. In pretty much every Court, this is the least likely of the three options.

Again, each case is unique, but typically the “fine” plus all associated, Court-related costs can end up being somewhere between $550 on the low end up to nearly $2000 on the high end. So, to the question “how much do you think the fine is going to be?” we can now see the answer is, and always was, a qualified “It depends…”