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Michigan Criminal Law Blog

OWI vs. DUI: Is There a Difference in Michigan?

12355844904OWI (operating while intoxicated) and DUI (driving under the influence) both refer to drunk driving or driving after consuming alcohol or drugs. The official acronym used by the state of Michigan is OWI. Many people are familiar with and use DUI, but legally, you will be charged with the crime of OWI in the state.

Is there a difference?

Yes and no.

DUI has been used longer than OWI, but lawmakers wanted to come up with a less specific term to describe the crime of drinking and getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Many believed the use of the word “driving” – the D in DUI - made it easier for people to have the charges against them dropped because they needed to actually be driving vehicle in motion for their actions to a crime. They believed it was possible to operate a vehicle even without driving. As long as someone was in control of a vehicle – acting as operator – OWI charges applied.

Legally, the term operating includes the ability to control the vehicle, which means that even if you’re sitting in a car that isn’t moving while intoxicated, it’s possible to be charged with an OWI.

Here’s an example of why the distinction matters: a driver with an over-the-limit BAC drifts to a stop at a stop sign, falls asleep, and is arrested and charged with driving under the influence. The DUI charges can be dismissed because the vehicle was not moving. However, since he or she was operating the non-moving vehicle, OWI charges would apply.

The change created a broader definition of the crime and made it more difficult to defend against the charges because it made more activities related to alcohol consumption and motor vehicles illegal. All a prosecutor need show is that you were operating under the influence of alcohol or operating while your BAC was at an illegal level.

Harsher Laws Mean You Face a Higher Risk of Conviction

Michigan’s laws have been further tweaked over the years to make it easier for police and prosecutors to successfully convict people of crimes related to drinking and driving.

For instance, in 2003, the legal BAC limit was lowered to .08. You can also still be convicted if your breath test is lower than .07, if it can be shown beyond a doubt that your ability to operate your vehicle was reduced at that level.

It’s also possible to be convicted of OWI even if you were not drinking alcohol. The term applies to drugs, legal and illegal.

Obviously, anyone who drives after using an illicit drug can be convicted of OWI, as well as other crimes related to the drug. However, it’s important to realize that perfectly legal prescription medications can lead to an OWI charge and conviction. This is true even if you are using a drug according to its prescription.

For instance, if you drive after taking a sleeping pill and it can be shown your use of the pill affected your ability to drive safely, you could be looking at an OWI conviction.

For more information about using drugs while driving, check out this information from the Michigan Secretary of State.

The bottom line?

Regardless of the specific details of your OWI arrest, you need an experienced attorney. Changes to OWI laws have made it more difficult to defend yourself, but it’s still possible with an attorney who understands the laws and takes the time to understand how they apply to your situation. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your OWI arrest, contact Andrew W. Kowalkowski, PLLC at 248.974.9594.

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