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How to Avoid Jail Time for a 3rd DUI Offense in Michigan

Home Blog DUI How to Avoid Jail Time for a 3rd DUI Offense in Michigan

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways:

  • In Michigan, a 3rd DUI arrest within a person’s lifetime results in a felony charge.
  • The maximum penalty for a 3rd Offense DUI is up to 5 years in state prison.
  • The minimum jail time for a 3rd Offense conviction is 30 days in the county jail.
  • Those 30 days CAN be waived if a person is admitted into a Sobriety Court or other specialty court program.
  • 3 OWI convictions within 10 years results in a lifetime driver’s license revocation, with no ability to appeal for at least 5 years.
  • If a person is admitted into a Sobriety Court program, then he or she can be awarded a restricted driver’s license.
  • As DUI attorneys, our first priority in every case is to carefully review ALL of the evidence and find a way to beat the charge.
  • If the case is solid, then we’ll do what’s necessary to avoid as many of the legal penalties and negative consequences as possible.
  • Always remember – Success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you.

Everyone knows that a 3rd offense DUI charge (the proper term in Michigan is “Operating While Intoxicated,” or “OWI,” for short) is serious. Unlike a first DUI, there are harsh penalties.

Most people are also aware that a 3rd offense is a felony and that the possible punishment is significantly worse than for a 2nd offense DUI. This article will NOT be some scare tactic, fear-based marketing piece about all that.

Instead, we’re going to look at how and why, despite what’s at stake, a third time, felony DUI charge shouldn’t be handled any differently than either a first DUI or second offense DUI case, and how a person can avoid jail.

For everything we’re going to cover, the simple fact is that my team and I, as DUI attorneys, know that the very best legal defense almost always comes down to the fundamentals. The very finest practitioners of anything must first excel in the fundamentals.

Consider any professional athlete: He or she runs, catches, throws, or does whatever with practiced skill and otherwise excels in all the basics, meaning the fundamentals of his or her sport. In that same way, the finest musicians get to the top of their craft by years and years of practicing the basic, fundamental stuff.

Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated in Michigan

Every DUI case – whether a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd offense – is based upon the simple, fundamental allegation that someone operated a motor vehicle with a bodily alcohol content of more than allowed by law. In Michigan, that means a person is “over the limit” if his or her BAC is .08 or higher.

Every DUI case is based on evidence. What are the facts that support the charge? The very first thing any criminal defense attorney should do is investigate all the evidence and facts when defending someone.

To be convicted of a DUI in Michigan, prosecutor must be able to prove a person had a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater, or that he or she was otherwise impaired while operating a vehicle. If not, then the person is not guilty of DWI.

Thus, the evidence in EVERY DUI case should be put under the microscope. A good DUI lawyer will carefully examine every last shred of it.

This included verifying that there was probable cause to make a traffic stop or otherwise investigate someone, how the field sobriety tests were conducted, and whether or not the breathalyzer and/or blood tests to determine the alleged DUI offender’s blood alcohol content (BAC) were administered and analyzed properly.

Of course, any good DUI attorney knows that having a lower blood alcohol content at the time of a DUI arrest is always better than having one that is higher. In the real world, however, that’s usually not the case is most 3rd offense DWI cases. Most third-time offenders usually test out with a higher, rather than a lower BAC.

To be sure, the sense of urgency when one is facing a felony DUI 3rd offense charge is strong, but that doesn’t change the fact that the best-case results are almost always obtained by carefully applying the fundamentals of DUI defense.

Jail Time Consequences for a 3rd DUI

infographic showing the cycle of consequences for a 3rd DUI

First, let’s get the scary-sounding legal stuff out of the way. Here are some of the most important potential penalties for Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) 3rd offense:

  • 1 to 5 years imprisonment, or
  • Probation with no less than 30 days to 1 year in jail
  • Mandatory community service of up to 180 hours
  • A fine from $500 to $5000
  • 6 points added to the driver’s record.
  • If the 3rd offense charge occurs within 7 years of a prior DUI, or within 10 years of 2 prior DWI convictions, the driver’s license will be revoked.
  • License plate confiscated
  • Vehicle registration denial

There are other possible consequences, as well, but our focus here is on how to avoid them.

It is important to note that our firm has handled many 3rd offense DUI charges where the evidence was solid, and yet we still managed to keep our client from doing ANY jail time. There are plenty of ways to do that.

Fortunately, such results are NOT that rare, either. That said, when my team and I manage to keep a client facing a 3rd offense DUI from getting locked up, it is always, and without exception, the result of good legal work, concentrated in the fundamentals.

How to Avoid Jail Time After a 3rd Offense DUI

In fact, one of the most important – and, unfortunately, most overlooked – such fundamental aspects of properly handling a DUI case is the lawyer’s mindset. This is NOT some self-promotional BS about how we’re better than anyone else, but rather a significant truth that can have a huge and positive impact on every 3rd offense DUI case and every other DUI case, as well.

Your Defense Lawyer’s Mindset Will Make or Break Your 3rd DUI Case

Any lawyer who takes on a 3rd offense DUI charge MUST begin with the idea that there is a way to beat the case. It is imperative that he or she start off evaluating the evidence with a solid determination to find a way out of the charge.

The “catch,” however, is that no matter how much a lawyer (or anyone else, for that matter) examines the facts, they are what they are.

In other words, even though the lawyer is absolutely determined to find a way to get a 3rd offense DUI charge (or any DUI charge, for that matter) dismissed, he or she can’t change the facts of what happened.

Ultimately, there is either a way to get the case tossed out of court – or not. Unfortunately for anyone facing a 3rd offense drunk driving charge, the simple truth is that most of the time, DUI cases do NOT get dismissed outright. That shouldn’t be a surprise.

Is There Evidence That Can be Dismissed in Your DUI Case?

Without a doubt, one of the biggest mistakes many lawyers make when defending a DUI charge is to merely “look over” the evidence.

Essentially, that means they’re only looking to see if anything jumps out at them. That is NOT how things should be done. This is all the more true for someone facing a 3rd DUI offense after 2 or more prior drunk driving convictions.

In fact, without a strong determination to find enough problems with the evidence to get the person out of the charge, anyone examining it is at risk for what’s called “confirmation bias.” This means that he or she is likely to follow the police narrative that supports the charge rather than looking deeper for those details that can be used to fight it.

Accordingly, an experienced DUI attorney must start out with the belief that somewhere, there are enough inconsistencies or other problems with the evidence to either beat the case, or at least help drive a better outcome. A good DUI lawyer must always be conscious that his or her job is to keep looking until those kinds of things are found.

Whatever else, when a DUI case does get dismissed, it’s not an accident. It only happens when the lawyer works hard to find a way out.

How to Find a Way Out of Jail Time after a 3rd DUI: An Analogy

hands touching through jail bars

Here is my favorite analogy on this point:

In lots of movies and TV shows, someone is in a car that crashes into the water and starts sinking. Of course, the person inside begins scrambling to get out.

Now, imagine that happening to you. You first unfasten your seat belt and then try the door. The water pressure, though, makes it impossible to open, at least at that moment. Do you just sit there, then, waiting to die, content that you looked for a way out but didn’t find one?

Of course not!

Instead, you do everything you can to escape. You may quickly realize that there is no obvious way out, but you don’t just give up. You’ll kick and push and do everything possible to find a way out because your life depends on it.

The same approach is fundamental to the proper handling of any DUI case, especially a 3rd offense DUI charge. In that context, a DUI lawyer must always look much deeper the obvious.

A Law Firm That Goes Beyond the Basics Gets YOU Out of Jail

As we noted earlier, the starting point for all DUI cases is evidence. It’s now 2023, and every police vehicle is equipped with a dashcam. Many law enforcement agencies also utilize body-cam video equipment.

It is a fundamental step in the proper handling of a DUI case that the lawyer should carefully examine all such relevant videos. It goes without saying that, given the stakes, this is all the more true when one is facing a 3rd offense DUI charge.

Early on, I noted that my team and I have kept many of our clients facing a 3rd offense DUI charge out of jail, even when the evidence has been solid. It is just a fact that most DUI cases are not so catastrophically screwed up by the police that they’ll just be completely thrown out of court.

In those cases, we use everything we find to help drive a better case result.

Why Work With Jeffrey Randa and Associates

Success in a DUI case is always best measured by what does NOT happen to you. My team and I believe in that so strongly that it’s one of our firm’s mottos and operating principles. Avoiding as many of the legal penalties and negative consequences as possible is what must be done in every drunk driving case that cannot be otherwise “knocked out.”

The fundamental goal in a DUI case that won’t be dismissed is to avoid as much punishment as possible. A lot goes into doing that, and it certainly requires more than just telling the Judge that it won’t happen again.

We, the client and us, as the lawyers, will have a lot of work to do to get the best (as in most lenient) outcome.

You can talk to a clergyperson to save your soul or a counselor to save your mind, but our job is to save your a$$. Of course, we often refer our clients to a treatment program with one of OUR substance abuse counselors in order to help us do just that.

My team and I honestly believe that the attorney-client relationship should be collaborative, with the primary goal of producing the very best (meaning the most lenient) outcome possible.


“I wish I could give 10 stars, because they got my entire DUI case dismissed. What more could you ask for?” – Ben H.

“Every time I called, I got an immediate answer to my question. I’d send emails at night, thinking I’d get a reply the next day, and minutes later, Jeff would reply. I had a second DUI, and my lawyers did a great job and made sure I didn’t lose my license. I highly recommend this law firm!” – Lisa J.

“Thank you so much for winning my case. I would highly recommend your service to anyone who needs it.” – Mark

Get Legal Advice If You Are Facing a 3rd Offense DUI in Michigan

My team and I know all the nuances of DUI law, but we never forget that good work is the key to producing the best results, and that always begins with careful attention to the fundamentals.

If you’re facing a 3rd offense DUI charge and looking for a lawyer, be a wise consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers examine the DUI process and how they explain their various approaches to it.

After you’ve done enough reading, start calling around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person, and that’s exactly what you’ll get with our office. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things.

We always offer a free consultation that is also confidential, and, best of all, done over the phone – right when you call. We never use any tactics to pressure someone into hiring us. Instead, we always suggest that you call around and speak with different law firms. As part of that, we’ll also invite you to call us back and compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.

We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at 248-247-7995 or 586-300-4347.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I Do Mandatory Jail Time for a Third DUI Conviction in Michigan?

The supposedly mandatory jail time for a third DUI conviction can be avoided. Specifically, the law provides that anyone convicted of a 3rd offense felony OWI charge must serve at least 30 days in jail UNLESS he or she is admitted into a specialty court program, like Sobriety Court.

Our firm has a dedicated legal assistant who handles everything related to getting our clients into a Sobriety Court program. We treat these matters with the very highest priority.

Beyond avoiding jail, a person admitted to a Sobriety Court program can also work around the mandatory driver’s license revocation and be granted restricted driving privileges. In most 3rd offense cases, a person won’t merely get a license suspension, but rather a complete revocation.

This means he or she won’t be able to even apply for a license appeal hearing for a long time.

The restricted license will, understandably, require the use of an ignition interlock device (technically called a “Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device,” or “BAIID,” for short). Still, and despite that very minor condition, this is great news for someone who would otherwise not be able to get a license for at least 5 years.

What is the Punishment for a 3rd DUI in Michigan While on Probation?

Anyone on probation for a prior offense who is convicted of a new offense faces serious consequences. This is a lot more than just “double trouble.” Beyond just having violated the terms of one’s probation, if a person is arrested for a DUI, then he or she presents as both a repeat criminal AND a risk to the public.

The potential penalties for someone already on probation who picks up a new 3rd offense, felony DUI are the same (as far as that new charge goes), but the reality of what will happen is different.

Imagine 2 different scenarios:

  1. Dave the Drinker only has 2 prior criminal convictions – both DUI’s – with his last about 7 years ago. Now, he’s arrested and charged with a 3rd offense drunk driving. For whatever reason, he doesn’t get into a Sobriety Court program, so he winds up doing the minimum required 30-day jail stint (which, in the real world works out to only about 23 days).
  2. Bad Luck Brenda, like Dave, also only has 2 prior criminal convictions – both DUI’s – except that she’s still on probation for her last (2nd offense) case, which was about a year and a half ago.

Even though she faces the same potential penalties as Dave for the 3rd offense, she is at serious risk of getting some jail time (including house arrest) from the court where she’s on and violated probation. She may also have to do some time for her new, 3rd offense as well, EVEN IF she gets into Sobriety Court.

The point is that anyone already on probation who picks up a new DUI is in real trouble, and needs an intelligent defense strategy to avoid and minimize the potential negative fallout. This is particularly true when the new charge is a3rd offense felony DUI.

What Are the Possible Defenses to Avoid a Jail Sentence for a Third DUI Offense?

Carefully examining all of the evidence – from the patrol car and body-cam video though the chemical test results – can give rise to challenges that can get a case dismissed entirely. No case equals no jail, and that’s always the best outcome possible.

When the evidence is solid enough to survive any legal challenges, then there are several ways to avoid jail in a 3rd offense, felony situation. Here are 2 of the most common:

First, negotiating a plea bargain that reduces the 3rd offense felony charge down to a 2nd offense misdemeanor eliminates the mandatory jail sentence.

Second, getting the client into a specialty court program, like Sobriety Court, can also avoid jail, because even in a 3rd offense case, the mandatory minimum 30 days can be waived.

Is a Third DUI a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

A 3rd offense DUI is a felony in Michigan. Of course, one of the primary goals in every case that’s strong enough to survive a legal challenge is to negotiate a reduction from the original felony charge down to a misdemeanor. This not only avoids the mandatory jail requirement altogether, but is far better for the client’s record, as well.

If You Hire a Lawyer for a 3rd DUI, Can You Avoid a Felony Charge?

Yes, it’s possible. Hiring a real DUI lawyer gives you the best chance to avoid jail in a 3rd offense DUI case. It can also help you avoid a felony conviction altogether, along with many of the other legal penalties and negative consequences.