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1st (First) Offense DUI – Overview

Jeffrey Randa
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1st (First) Offense DUI – Overview

After more than 30 years practicing as Michigan DUI lawyers, my team and I know that no one plans to go out and get arrested for drunk driving.

Whatever else, a 1st offense DUI usually “just happens.” It is often (although not always) a person’s first criminal arrest and certainly a humbling experience.

As scary as it may seem, however, a 1st offense OWI (short for “Operating While Intoxicated,” the technical actual term in Michigan for the misdemeanor offense that just about everyone calls a “DUI,” and that some call a “DWI”) is not the end of the world. This is in large part true precisely because it is a 1st offense, and the courts understand that we all make mistakes in life.

Even though the whole DUI situation can feel like a nightmare, the simple truth is that, even if the case against you is strong enough to survive any legal challenge(s), you will probably not have to go through many of the things that seem to threaten you right now.

Will I Go to Jail for My First DUI?

Generally speaking, the answer is “no.”

The reality is that, almost without exception, jail is NOT on the menu in any of the courts in the Greater-Detroit area of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and surrounding Counties.

Of course, the first question in every DUI case is whether the evidence is solid. As Michigan DUI lawyers, our first priority is always to find a way to beat the charge.

In truth, the biggest risk in a first-offense DUI case is getting stuck on long, difficult probation with all kinds of breath and urine testing, classes, counseling, community service, support groups, losing the ability to drive, and then having a restricted license for longer than necessary.

Also, if you hold a medical or other professional license, you are NOT really at risk of having it revoked for a 1st offense DUI, so don’t sweat that.

Instead, you hire a Michigan DUI lawyer – like me and my team – to get the whole case knocked out, or to at least avoid the realistic consequences that can and will happen in your case, like having restrictions placed on your ability to drive.

One of the first things that we do, as your defense lawyer, is to obtain and then carefully evaluate all the evidence to make sure the police officer who handled your arrest did everything legally, and properly

Is a First-Offense OWI in Michigan a Criminal Charge?

A DUI is a crime, and a conviction for any alcohol-related traffic offense goes on both a person’s criminal AND driving record. Although Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) is a criminal charge, most people who find themselves in this situation are not criminals in any sense of the word.

In the real world, most first-time DUI offenders are law-abiding, tax-paying, and productive members of society, and a drunk driving charge usually represents an isolated and unfortunate instance of poor judgment.

That all sounds good, but making sure that you don’t wind up feeling (or being treated) like a criminal is a key part of what my team and I do in every case we take. Even more important is that we will protect you from being seen by the court system as having a drinking problem, especially if you don’t have one (and most first-time DUI offenders do NOT).

Do I Have to Go to Alcoholics Anonymous or Counseling?

Usually not (the exception being High BAC cases). Of course, if you know your drinking has become a problem, then seeking help is always a good idea. Most of the time, though, a 1st offense DUI is more an incident of bad judgment, rather than anything else.

Unfortunately, the court system has an inherent “alcohol bias” that tends to “see” an alcohol problem that isn’t really there, or magnifies one that does exist. This assumption directly impacts how every person appearing for a DUI case is treated, right from the very beginning of his or her case.

Therefore, in those cases solid enough to survive any legal challenge, it is critical for our team to do 3 key things:

  1. Avoid as many of the legal penalties and negative consequences as possible. This includes keeping any period of probation short and simple.
  2. Protect your ability to drive, your record, and
  3. Make sure that you don’t get forced into any kind of burdensome and expensive counseling or rehab program to provide unnecessary “help” that you don’t need.

You undoubtedly felt bad enough at the time of your arrest. Now it’s time to move forward understanding that, if handled properly, your drunk driving offense can be managed, and wind up being little more than just a minor and temporary setback.

While a DUI is never good news, my team and I can and will get you through this intact and otherwise protect you from all the potential negative consequences of that single bad decision.

A Breakdown of First-Offense DUI Charges in Michigan

man in handcuffs next to blue car

In Michigan, there are three types of first-offense DUI charges, each depending upon a person’s bodily alcohol content. Note that the legal limit for OWI is .08, although a person can be charged with and found guilty of OWVI with a lesser blood alcohol content:

  1. Operating While Intoxicated (OWI),
  2. Operating While Intoxicated with a BAC of .17 or greater (High BAC), and
  3. Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI, or simply “impaired driving”).

Beyond alcohol, it is illegal for a person to operate a vehicle under the influence of a controlled substance. Thus, a person can be charge with OWI for driving under the influence of drugs.

In order to be considered a 1st offense, you cannot have had a conviction for ANY prior alcohol-related traffic offense within the 7 years preceding the date of your arrest for the current charge.

If, however, a person’s conviction date for a prior DUI occurs within 7 years of his or her arrest for another DUI (meaning OWI) charge, then it will be considered a second offense. Make no mistake, compared to a 1st offense, a 2nd DUI is a serious offense.

This means that although you may have had a DUI many years ago, as long as the conviction date for that offense is more than 7 years before the date of your current arrest, then it can only be charged as a 1st offense.

Here is a breakdown of the 1st offense charges under Michigan’s DUI laws outlining the maximum possible penalties and driver’s license sanctions for first-time offenders:

Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) carries the following potential maximum penalties:

  • Up to 93 days in jail
  • Up to 360 hours community service
  • Fine of $200 to $700, plus costs
  • Driver’s license completely suspended for 45 days, followed by 10 and ½ months days restricted driving with MANDATORY Ignition Interlock (BAIID)
  • Possible vehicle immobilization for 180 days
  • Mandatory alcohol treatment or self-help program for not less than 1 year
  • 6 points on driving record

Operating While Intoxicated with a BAC of .17 or Greater (Superdrunk, or “High BAC”) maximum possible penalties:

  • Up to 180 days in jail
  • Fine of up to $300, plus costs
  • Up to 360 hours community service
  • Driver’s license restricted for 90 days
  • Possible vehicle immobilization
  • 4 points on driving record

Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI, and often simply called “impaired”), the least serious of all Michigan DUI charges, carries these maximum possible penalties:

  • Up to 93 days in jail
  • Fine of up to $300, plus costs
  • Up to 360 hours community service
  • Driver’s license restricted for 90 days
  • Possible vehicle immobilization
  • 4 points on driving record

In the real world, the goal in any Michigan OWI or High BAC charge that cannot be dismissed or otherwise thrown out of court is to plea-bargain it down to impaired driving (OWVI) because the penalties are much less severe.

However, things get a lot worse for anyone facing a 2nd or 3rd offense or any DUI causing serious injury or death. Note that third offense or a DUI causing injury or death is a felony. Here is a brief overview of the consequences repeat and serious offenders could face:

2nd Offense DUI

  • Up to 1 year in jail
  • Maximum possible fine of $1000, plus costs
  • Automatic REVOCATION of driver’s license for life, with no possible appeal for at least 1 year (in reality, more like 3 years)
  • 6 points added to driving record
  • Mandatory confiscation of license plate
  • Immobilization or forfeiture of vehicle

3rd Offense DUI

  • 1 to 5 years imprisonment, OR
  • Probation, with 30 days to 1 year in jail, OR
  • No jail, butt probation instead, with participation in and completion of a specialty court (i.e., Sobriety Court) program
  • Fine of $500 to $5000
  • 6 points on driving record
  • 60 to 180 days of community service
  • Revocation of driver’s license if either 1 prior DUI conviction within 7 years, or 2 prior convictions within the previous 10 years
  • License plate confiscation
  • Either immobilization for 1 to 3 years OR complete forfeiture of vehicle
  • Vehicle registration denial

OWI Causing Serious Injury

  • Up to 5 years in prison
  • Fine of $1000 to $5000
  • Revocation of driver’s license
  • Either immobilization or forfeiture of vehicle

OWI Causing Death

  • Up to 15 years in prison
  • Fine of $2500 to $10,000
  • Revocation of driver’s license
  • Either immobilization of forfeiture of vehicle

Our firm provides a deeper dive into these offenses on our dedicated 2nd-offense DUI and 3rd-offense DUI web pages.

Will I Need to Complete Community Service for OWI?

Generally not, BUT there are plenty of exceptions. The courts in Macomb County tend to order community service the least. By contrast, the courts in Oakland County tend to order it the most, and require the most hours of community service. Wayne County courts falls somewhere in the middle, with some requiring it, and others not.

Even in those courts that do order community service as part of a DUI sentence, the amount required is never unduly burdensome.

Why People Choose Jeffrey Randa & Associates

You shouldn’t get caught up considering any lawyers who waste time addressing potential outcomes that are simply NOT going to happen in the first place.

Instead, you hire a Michigan DUI attorney (like me and my team) to avoid the real consequences that can and will happen in your case, like having restrictions placed on your ability to drive and being put on what can seem like never-ending probation, with all kinds of requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions About First Offense DUIs

Will My Driver’s License Be Suspended?

Yes, but this depends on the final offense for which you are convicted, which is often lesser than the original charge. This is explained above, but here is a summary:

  • High BAC (Superdrunk) – License suspended for 45 days (no driving), followed by restrictions with mandatory ignition interlock for the next 10 and ½ months
  • OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) – License suspended for 30 days (no driving), followed by restrictions (no interlock unless ordered by the court) for the next 5 months
  • OWVI (Operating While Visibly Impaired) – NO suspension, but license restricted for 90 days

What Happens if You Decline a Blood, Breath, or Urine Test?

man refusing breath test from police officer

In DUI cases, there is never a urine test because the results only confirm that a person did consume alcohol at some point, but not whether he or she is (or even was) intoxicated, and cannot provide anywhere near an accurate measurement of bodily alcohol content.

To be clear, there are generally 2 kinds of tests offered:

  1. Preliminary Breath Test: The first, at the side of the road, before arrest, is called a “PBT,” short for “Preliminary Breath Test.” Refusing that is only a civil infraction and cannot result in any driver’s license suspension.
  2. Breath or blood test: Following a DUI arrest, a person will either be asked to take a breath or blood test. This is the big one that matters. If a person declines to provide a breath or blood sample, the police will almost certainly obtain a warrant for a blood draw.

Michigan law provides that if a person refuses this test, his or her driver’s license will automatically be suspended for 1 year.

Anyone cited for refusal to submit to a chemical test has the right to request a hearing before the Michigan Secretary of State to challenge it. There are 4 issues specified in the law that can be contested.

Although these challenges are seldom upheld, the good news is that a person can still thereafter go to court thereafter and request restricted driving privileges.

What is the Most Common Sentence for a First DUI in Michigan?

A period of probation that forbids a person from consuming alcohol along with breath and/or urine testing to ensure compliance and some kind of class(es) or counseling.

Remember, the whole goal in any case that can’t be dismissed is to avoid and limit as many of these legal penalties and negative consequences possible.

In that sense, success is a DUI case is always best measured by what does NOT happen to you. This is truly a situation where less is more.

Is There a Super Drunk Driving Law in Michigan?

Yes. It’s most often called a “High BAC,” but is technically just OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) with a BAC of .17 or greater.

Do First-Time DUI Offenders in Michigan Need to Install Ignition Interlock Devices?

No, EXCEPT in High BAC cases. Legally, a Judge can order an interlock as a condition of probation in any DUI case, but that only happens very rarely.

What Fines and Expenses Are Associated With a First DUI Offense in Michigan?

The simplest answer is that a DUI is expensive. Many years ago, the State of Michigan ran an advertising campaign that estimated the cost of a 1st offense DUI at about $10,000.

Despite all the years since that campaign, and even including inflation, that figure is still pretty accurate.

Let’s look at an approximate breakdown:

  • Fines and court costs, including probation and testing: $1400 to $2500
  • Legal Fees: $3600 to $10,000 (anything more than $6000, unless there is a trial, or a lot of legal challenges is excessive)
  • Vehicle Insurance Increases: Depending on the vehicle, roughly $1500 (about 67%) per year for 3 years.
  • Miscellaneous costs (like getting the vehicle out impound and paying for breath and/or urine testing while the case is pending): Another $700 to $1500

As noted, these figures are approximations, but all things considered, the total realistic cost of a 1st offense DUI runs anywhere from about $10,000 to $13,000.

Receive a Confidential Consultation From Jeffrey Randa & Associates

Even though you didn’t plan on getting a DUI, my team and I will plan and execute an intelligent strategy to minimize the potential consequences of your charge.

There may not be any jail time in your future, but there still is important work to do.

If you’re facing a DUI in the Greater-Detroit area, meaning anywhere in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb or one of the surrounding counties, make sure you give our law firm a ring.

We always offer a free consultation that is both confidential and – best of all – done over the phone, right when you call.

My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain how things work. We’ll even be happy to compare notes with anything some other criminal defense attorney has told you.

We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. at either 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.