DUI First Offense OWI Operating While Intoxicated

The first offense drunk driving arrest is just as serious as any other. For the person accused, it might have been the first time being in a jail cell overnight. It also has to be the last since it is a traumatic experience. Every step of the court process is important too.

Despite often feeling guilty, it’s important to plead not guilty. That is what is necessary to get the best possible outcome that everyone is entitled to. Because the accused has never been through this before, it is especially important to consult an attorney who specializes in OWI defense in Michigan. They can explain the process below.

OWI is short for Operating While Intoxicated, which is what Michigan law calls a DUI (Driving Under the Influence). DUI is used in other states. Michigan choose to use the term “operating” to highlight that a person does not have to be actually “driving” a motor vehicle to by guilty.

“Operating” means driving or having physical control of the vehicle, even if it is not moving. There are solid defenses if a vehicle is parked.

Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) means a person operated a motor vehicle while they:

  1. had a bodily alcohol content equal to .08 or higher, or while
  2. they were under the influence of alcohol (or drugs).

This means that their ability to drive was materially and substantially effected to the degree.

OWI is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a fine of up to $500 plus costs. This does not mean that a conviction will result in jail; in fact, most people will not spend another day in jail. It means that a judge can give someone up to 93 days in jail if they believe it is appropriate. This decision is within their discretion. It is also the penalty if a person violates probation. Often, jail time is the penalty for probation violations.

An alternative to jail, or sometimes, in addition to jail, a person can serve up to two years of probation. Terms of probation often include no consuming alcohol, random drug and alcohol testing, monthly reporting to a probation officer, community service, driver license restriction for 180 days (first 30 days suspended) and substance abuse counseling. Vehicle immobilization is not typically imposed for a first offense violation.

Is it Possible to Limit OWI Penalties During Sentencing?

The court process begins with an arraignment where the person is officially told what drunk driving charge they are accused of is. The arraignment also introduces the maximum possible penalties (explained above), the defendant’s trial rights and pre-trial release bond conditions. These conditions generally include no consumption of alcohol and random testing. The person is ordered to come back to court in 2-3 weeks for a pre-trial.

A pre-trial is a court hearing where the accused meets with the prosecuting attorney in attempt to resolve the case. This is when an initial plea bargain offer is made or negotiated with the defendant’s lawyer. The defendant then chooses whether to accept or reject the plea bargain. If rejected, the matter is scheduled for either a trial or another pre-trial which may be necessary to permit additional time to negotiate or obtain additional information. A typical plea bargain in a first offense case is a plea to the lesser charge of Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI).

A motion hearing could be scheduled in the event that either party wished to address a legal issue for the judge to decide. For instance, a defense lawyer may challenge the admissibility of the breath test on legal grounds such as it was not administered property according to state law. In such case, the lawyer submits their argument in writing and the prosecutor then responds in writing.

After both parties have provided their written submissions, they appear before the judge and orally argue their positions. The judge will make a ruling granting or denying the motion after which the parties will again negotiate a resolution if the case goes to trial. There may be an unlimited number of motions available.

The general types of evidence used against a person arrested for DUI include:

  • observations of their driving,
  • observations of the driver (slurred speech, smell of alcohol),
  • results of field sobriety tests,
  • results of a breath or blood test for breath or blood alcohol content.

A person accused of driving while intoxicated may, or may not, have an alcohol and/or drug problem. This is always considered by the judge. In general, it is a good idea to obtain a private substance abuse evaluation to determine if a problem exists. If one does, then it is suggested to follow the evaluator’s recommendations for treatment, which may include attendance to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

The measurement of bodily alcohol content from a breath or blood test is just an estimation. They are never exactly correct and will have varying degrees of uncertainty depending upon various circumstances. You can learn more about breath alcohol testing and blood alcohol testing at the links provided.

The bottom line is that a chemical test is only as good as the quality of the tested sample, the maintenance and proper working order of the instrument, and the proper administration of the test. If there are any questions about any of these items, the results are not reliable and generally wrong. It takes a skilled DUI defense lawyer to not only demonstrate unreliability but also persuade a prosecutor, judge or jury to agree.

Can a Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer Really Get Me a Better Deal or Better Sentence?

Only a good DUI defense lawyer will properly obtain and evaluate all of the important evidence to determine the weakness in a DUI case. Without a true understanding of the case, a DUI lawyer cannot be effective.

When an issue is discovered, it can definitely result in a better result. But even if an issue is not discovered, a knowledgeable DUI lawyer will still get the best available deal.

At the same time, that lawyer will be available to answer all questions and make sure the process is as smooth as possible. They will provide their client the best available advice, explain the process from start to finish, and provide the client with advice on what to do and say.

The lawyer will…

  • provide realistic expectations,
  • speak on their behalf to provide the best arguments for a favorable sentence, and
  • help eliminate the anxiety and worry that often accompanies DUI charges; especially for first time offenders.

Learn how our team of skilled DUI attorneys convinced a judge to dismiss a first offense OWI case >>

The Law Offices of Barton Morris offer free case evaluations. Schedule an appointment with one of our drug crimes attorneys in Royal Oak by calling (248) 541-2600.

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