Michigan Drunk Driving – 3rd Offense in a Lifetime is a Felony

As a Drunk Driving Lawyer who handles DUI Cases in all of the District and Circuit Courts of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, I am often asked about the somewhat new Michigan Law that a provides that a person who has two prior Drunk Driving (also called DUI, DWI, OUIL and/or Impaired) convictions, and who is arrested for a third time for any Drunk Driving charge, no matter how long ago any of those two prior offenses occurred, faces a Felony Charge. In an earlier Blog post, I described the differences between these various charges and explained what they mean. It seems there is a lot of confusion regarding when and how a person can be charged with 3rd Offense Drunk Driving.

Michigan DUI Third Offense

In Michigan, the drunk-driving law makes it unlawful for those over the age of 21 to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or above. For commercial drivers and minors these limits are even lower. If you are found with a BAC over the legal limit, you will be charged with OWI.

Michigan also has an Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI) law. You may be charged with this crime if your ability to drive was visibly impaired by the alcohol and/or drugs in your system.

If you have been charged with a third drunk-driving offense in Michigan, it is critical you speak with an experienced DUI/OWI defense attorney immediately. A third offense is classified as a felony, which is far more serious than a misdemeanor.

For a third DUI offense, you may spend between one to five years in prison. The court will also order you to pay fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 and perform 60 to 180 days of community service.

Your driver’s license will be revoked for at least five years, though this revocation could last for the rest of your life if you do not win an administrative license restoration hearing with the Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD). The court will also confiscate your license plate and have your vehicle immobilized for one to three years, if it isn’t forfeited altogether. You will be blocked from registering a motor vehicle and must pay a $1,000 driver responsibility fee for the next two years.

You may wonder if it is worth hiring a DUI/OWI defense attorney. Because repeat offenders face higher penalties, as well as prison time, you have to ask yourself if you can afford not to hire an experienced DUI attorney.

Heidi’s Law

Many people are not aware of the change in the law (Known as Heidi’s Law) that got rid of the provision that a person was subject to a Felony Charge only if they racked up 3 Drunk Driving charges in 10 years. This new law, which took effect on January 3, 2007, now allows Prosecutors to count any two prior Drunk Driving convictions, regardless of what they were (OUIL, UBAL, OWI or OWVI) or when they occurred within a person’s lifetime, in order to make the Felony Charge.

In 1998 what was dubbed Michigan’s “Repeat Offender Law” changed what had been a somewhat confusing landscape of Alcohol-related Driving Offenses. The law was streamlined and simplified, and at the same time, made tougher. After passage of the Repeat Offender Law, any combination of 2 Impaired, OUIL, UBAL, or OWVI (and now OWI) charges within 7 years was to be handled as a Second Offense, and any combination of 3 of those charges within 10 years was to be handled as a 3rd Offense Felony.

This new law now gets rid of that 10 year provision. This means, for example, that someone who had an impaired driving 25 years ago, and another 17 years ago, and who is now arrested for another Drunk Driving offense is to be charged with a 3rd Offense, which is a Felony punishable by up to 5 years in Prison.

It does not matter if any of the prior offenses resulted in convictions for Impaired, OUIL, OWI or UBAL or any combination of them; the only thing that matters is that it’s the Driver’s so-called “3rd Strike.” Now, a person is essentially “at bat” for the rest of their life after their 2nd Drunk Driving conviction. Should you find yourself facing a 3rd Offense charge, remember to be a good consumer and check out all of your options. Speak with as many lawyers as you can (including me) until you find one in whom you have confidence, who you can afford, who does not make promises that seem too good to be true (they usually are) and with whom you are comfortable.