John N. Elliott on DUI Cases
Driving under the influence, despite its danger, is often viewed as one of the least morally culpable crimes. Many people who drive after consuming alcohol believe they pose no threat to themselves or others. They assume they're fine to drive and will reach home safely. In numerous instances, they don't even recognize they're over the legal limit. Sadly, most prosecutors are not so understanding. They take drunk driving cases very seriously. If you've been arrested for driving under the influence, it is crucial to contact an experienced DUI defense attorney immediately.
Firstly, let's provide a basic overview of drunk driving offenses in Michigan and the possible penalties.
Can a DUI charge be dismissed in Michigan?
Yes, it is possible to have a DUI charge dismissed in Michigan, but it is rarely straightforward.
Over the past several decades, society has decided that drunk driving is unacceptable. If you were to survey 100 people on whether they think drunk driving should be legal, you are unlikely to get many affirming responses. Moreover, prosecutors are elected officials. They often perceive leniency toward drunk drivers as a poor re-election strategy. In most cases, they vigorously pursue drunk driving charges. Therefore, don't expect the prosecutor to dismiss the charge simply because you've not been in trouble before, donate to charity, or may lose your job. They typically won't show leniency.
So, how can a DUI charge be dismissed?
In most cases, the answer is litigation. That is, you need to present a legal challenge to the charge in court. Usually, this involves either challenging the "stop" (i.e., did the police have a reason to pull you over) or challenging the "test" (i.e., the breath or blood test the police administered is invalid or inadmissible for some reason). These defenses might not be available in every DUI case, but they can arise surprisingly often. Even though you may believe your case is hopeless, there could be a successful legal challenge that can lead to the case being dismissed.
Do I have to serve jail time for a DUI in Michigan?
For a standard, first-time DUI in Michigan, you generally won't have to serve jail time. Although there are exceptions, most Michigan judges do not impose jail time in these circumstances.
However, the situation becomes more complex when aggravating factors are involved. For instance, if you caused a minor accident, potentially injuring another driver, most (but not all) judges would likely order some jail time. The duration will depend on the judge handling the case, but a safe estimate would be around 5 to 21 days.
If you've previously been convicted of a DUI offense, another conviction would likely result in jail time, usually between a week and a month. For a third or subsequent DUI offense, Michigan law mandates a minimum of 30 days in jail, and many judges will impose a longer sentence. A third or subsequent DUI offense is a felony, and prison time becomes a possibility.
These are general estimates based on our experience. However, with a competent DUI attorney, no conclusion is predetermined when it comes to jail time in a DUI case.
Operating While Impaired
Everyone is aware of the "legal limit" in Michigan—0.08. But did you know that you can be prosecuted for drunk driving even if you're under that limit? This often surprises our clients. Michigan law allows prosecution for "operating while impaired," which means driving with "less ability than would an ordinary careful driver." The law also states that your ability to drive "must have been lessened to the point that it would have been noticed by another person."
Here are the potential consequences of an operating while impaired conviction:
Operating While Intoxicated
This is the most common charge we see. The prosecutor must prove that you were at or above the legal limit of 0.08 or that due to drinking alcohol, your mental or physical condition significantly affected your ability to operate your vehicle in a normal manner.
Here are the potential consequences for operating while intoxicated:
Operating With a High Blood
Otherwise known as “super drunk,” the prosecutor must prove that your blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.17 or above, which is more than twice the “legal limit” of 0.08. This law was implemented in 2010 and carries a harsher punishment.
Here are the consequences of operating with a high BAC:
Operating While Intoxicated –
If you’ve previously been convicted of operating while impaired or operating while intoxicated and you’re arrested for another such offense within 7 years, you’ll likely be charged with operating while intoxicated, 2nd offense. As you might expect, the potential punishments become significantly harsher. The impact on your driver’s license can be particularly severe.
Here are the consequences for operating while intoxicated, 2nd offense:
Operating While Intoxicated –
If you’ve previously been convicted of two drunk driving offenses, and you’re arrested for a third one at any point in your lifetime, you’re facing an operating while intoxicated, 3rd offense charge. Generally, this is the highest level operating while intoxicated offense in Michigan and carries the most severe penalties.
Here are the consequences for operating while intoxicated, 3rd offense:
Operating Under the Influence of Drugs - Drugged Driving
If you haven't been drinking but are accused of driving under the influence of drugs, the standards for operating while impaired and operating while intoxicated remain the same. The prosecutor must demonstrate that the drugs caused you to drive with "less ability than would an ordinary careful driver," which means your ability to drive "must have been lessened to the point that it would have been noticed by another person." For operating while intoxicated, the prosecutor must prove that due to the drugs in your system, your mental or physical condition was significantly affected, and you were no longer able to operate your car in a normal manner. The penalties for operating while impaired by drugs and operating while intoxicated by drugs are the same as if you had been under the influence of alcohol instead of drugs, with one exception. For an operating while impaired by drugs conviction, your license will be restricted for 180 days rather than only 90 days.
DUI Cases Present Many Opportunities for a Skilled Defense Attorney
Drunk driving cases can be some of the most complex criminal cases. Often, this complexity can work to your advantage. The burden is on the prosecutor to validate your arrest and prove you were either impaired or intoxicated. Without revealing too much about our strategy, here are some questions we will explore in your case:
A "no" answer to any of these questions can potentially have a dramatic impact on your case. Contact us as soon as possible to learn how.
Expertise in Drunk Driving Cases
John N. Elliott has handled drunk driving cases in nearly every court in Michigan. He has successfully obtained dismissals, not-guilty verdicts, and pleas to reduce offenses. In some cases, charges have been reduced to traffic tickets. Don't attempt to handle this alone, thinking that the prosecutor will be lenient. They won't. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side.