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Michigan Criminal Law Blog

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Michigan OWI – What Happens to First Offenders?

If your experience with drinking and driving - and being arrested for doing so - is limited, the events that follow can be fairly intimidating. As a first-time offender, the good news is the penalties will not be nearly as harsh as they would be if you’ve been caught multiple times. The bad news is there are still consequences and the incident can still have a serious negative effect on your life.

One of the most important concerns you’re likely to have when arrested for an OWI is whether or not you’ll still be able to drive. The answer to that is “it depends.”

When you’re arrested for OWI, the arresting officer is supposed to confiscate and destroy your license. In its place you should receive temporary driving privileges and the ability to drive immediately following your release. There are still issues to care of in the coming days and weeks following your arrest and release – including a hearing to avoid an automatic suspension of your license if you refused the chemical test - but in the meantime, you should have the temporary unrestricted right to drive.

Could My License Still Be Suspended?

Yes. Despite the immediate right to drive following your release after arrest, there is still a chance your license could be suspended.

Suspensions are based on Michigan’s non-negotiable laws. The court does not determine the penalty for drunk driving and cannot shorten, extend, or modify license restrictions. The rules are predetermined and whatever your conviction, you will be subject to those predetermined penalties.

Those penalties might include a hard suspension, which is the absolute loss of driving privileges, or a restricted license, which means you can only drive:

  • To and from work, and during the course of work if necessary
  • To and from school, and during the course of school if necessary
  • To and from your own serious medical treatments
  • To and from court appearances related to your OWI conviction
  • To and from community support events, including AA meetings

Michigan’s Drunk Driving Penalties

Michigan’s OWI laws distinguish between regular OWIs, when you are caught driving with a BAC under .17, and High BAC, when your blood alcohol content is .17 or greater. The penalties related to these convictions, as pre-determined, include:

  • Up to $500 fine
  • Up to 93 days in jail
  • Up to 360 hours of community service
  • Up to 180 days license suspension
  • 6 points on a driver's license

“Super Drunk” or High BAC (operating while intoxicated with a BAC of .17 or higher):
Up to $700 fine

  • Up to 180 days in jail
  • Up to 360 hours of community service
  • Up to one year license suspension
  • 6 points on a driver's license
  • Mandatory completion of an alcohol treatment program

For more information on Michigan’s Super Drunk Law, check out this article from

There are no exceptions to these penalties. If your situation requires an exception, assume the answer will be “no,” regardless what that request might be.

However, it’s important to remember many first-time offenders are not ultimately convicted of the original charges against them. Even if the original charge includes license suspension, there’s a chance it will be reduced so you need not worry about the associated penalty.

What you don’t want to do is assume you will be granted an exception (you won’t) or that the charge will be automatically reduced. In order to avoid the penalties associated with what you’ve initially been charged, you need an attorney working on your behalf and making an effort to reduce the charges. A reduction in charge is the only way to avoid the penalties listed above.

If you’ve been arrested for OWI, you need an attorney. Contact Andrew W. Kowalkowski, PLLC at 248.974.9594 to schedule a consultation.

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