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Home Blog Drunk Driving 3rd Offense (felony) DUI – Overview and the Law

A 3rd Offense OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) charge is a big deal. In Michigan. It is a felony.

However, there is some good news, because most of the possible legal fallout for a 3rd offense sounds a lot worse than it really is, especially here, in Greater-Detroit area of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer, Livingston, Monroe, St. Clair, and Washtenaw Counties.

In other words, things don’t usually turn nearly out as bad as you initially fear. That’s not to say a 3rd offense is a walk in the park – it’s not.

As veteran Michigan DUI lawyers, my team and I know this from our decades of experience. Our first priority is scrutinizing the evidence to see if there is some way to get the charge dismissed, or otherwise beat the case.

When a case is strong enough to withstand any such legal challenge, our experience has taught us that by handling things carefully and properly, many – and often most – of the potential legal penalties and negative consequences can be avoided. This means not having to worry about going to prison and having your life otherwise turned upside down.

In some cases, you don’t even have to worry about losing your driver’s license.

Let’s start by taking a look at the maximum possible penalties provided by law for a 3rd offense OWI in Michigan:

$500 to $5,000 fine, and either of the following:

  • 1 to 5 years imprisonment
  • Probation, with 30 days to 1 year in jail.
  • 60 to 180 days community service.
  • Driver’s license revocation and denial if there are 2 convictions within 7 years or 3 convictions within 10 years. The minimum period of revocation and denial is 1 year (minimum of 5 years if there was a prior revocation within 7 years).
  • License plate confiscation.
  • Vehicle immobilization for 1 to 3 years, unless the vehicle is forfeited.
  • Possible vehicle forfeiture.
  • Vehicle registration denial.
  • 6 points added to the offender’s driving record.

As pointed out above, this all sounds a lot worse than it will likely turn out, at least here, in the Greater-Detroit area outlined above.

Key here is that what’s listed above are the maximum penalties provided by law. That doesn’t mean that they’re certain, much less probable. In fact, many of these can be avoided outright, while others can be seriously minimized.

For all the potential legal penalties and negative consequences one may face following a drunk driving arrest, it’s important to remember this:

Success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you

If you’re looking for Michigan DUI lawyer because you, or a person important to you, is facing a 3rd Offense charge, you need someone highly qualified to actually make things better. This begins with a clear and honest explanation so that you understand your situation, and what can be done about it. In this overview section about 3rd offense DUI’s, we’re going to do just that.

We’re going to break our examination of 3rd offense Michigan DUI cases into 5 sub-sections:

  • In this section, we’ll briefly examine the penalties and realities of a 3rd offense DUI.
  • In part 1, we’ll talk about how you should go about looking for a lawyer.
  • Part 2 will examine the key role of the evidence.
  • In part 3, we’ll look at how the location of a case directly affects its outcome.
  • Finally, part 4 will wrap things up by exploring the most important part of any DUI case, and a 3rd offense in particular: the sentencing recommendation and your relationship to alcohol.

Let’s start off by clarifying the term “3rd offense.”

In the state of Michigan, there is no higher DUI than a 3rd Offense. A person can have 8 prior drunk driving convictions, but even if he or she is arrested for number 9, it will still be called a “3rd offense,” or a “third offense.”

The rules about time don’t apply to 3rd offenses at all.

For example, in Michigan, a person can ONLY be charged with a 2nd offense DUI if the 1st conviction occurred no more than 7 years before his or her arrest for the 2nd DUI.

It doesn’t work like that for a 3rd offense.

As long as a person has been convicted of 2 prior DUI’s – no matter how long ago either of them took place – an arrest for a 3rd drunk driving at any point in a person’s lifetime can be (and usually will be) charged as a 3rd offense felony OWI.

Because a 3rd offense DUI charge is, in fact, a felony, the case must start in the local, district court for the city or township where the arrest took place. Ultimately, it will be transferred, or “sent up” to the circuit court for the County in which it is pending, UNLESS it get’s “plea bargained” down to a 2nd offense misdemeanor.

My team and I often manage to do that in 3rd offense DUI cases. Then, the matter stays in the local, district court, and the person faces far less severe legal penalties and negative consequences.

A 3rd offense DUI, like all criminal cases, begins with an arraignment, where bond is set and dates are given for a probable cause conference (PCC) and a probable cause hearing (often called a “preliminary examination”).

In addition, it is standard for a Judge to order anyone facing a DUI charge to NOT consume any alcohol, and require that he or she submit to breath and/or urine testing to ensure compliance.

A 3rd offense DUI case follows the same process as any other DUI, except that, because it’s a felony, following the arraignment, the first substantive proceeding, held in the district court, will be a probable cause conference.

Under Michigan law, when someone is charged with any felony offense, the parties will first get together for a probable cause conference (sometimes called a “pre-exam” and often designated as a PCC).

Michigan law also requires that a probable cause conference be scheduled within 21 days from the date of the person’s arraignment.

The probable cause conference comes first, as its main legal purpose is to determine if there will ultimately be a probable cause hearing. To help understand all this, a little explanation is in order:

Most cases never go all the way to and through a probable cause hearing (aka preliminary exam). In practice, a probable cause conference is rather informal, and involves the prosecutor and the defense lawyer talking about the case with the goal of “working it out.”

Indeed, it’s often at the probable cause conference where a plea bargain that reduces a 3rd offense felony down to a 2nd offense misdemeanor is negotiated.

There can be multiple probable cause conferences as the parties try and work out a resolution. That said, there is a lot more than just plea bargaining takes place at these initial PCC meetings. All kinds of legal issues are discussed between the defense lawyer and the prosecutor, including things like sentence bargains, the possibility of a person seeking admission to sobriety court, and more.

If a case cannot be settled at this stage, it is most usually “waived up” to circuit court. In other words, very few cases – especially felony DUI cases – go through an actual probable cause hearing.

Technically speaking, if a person does decide to hold a probable cause hearing (preliminary exam), the prosecutor must present enough evidence to convince the district court Judge of 2 things:

1. That there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed, and

2. That there is probable cause to believe that the person facing the charge committed it.

This is a very low legal standard, meaning that not much proof is required to keep a case from being dismissed. In the real world, what this means is that the prosecutor only has to persuade the Judge that it’s more likely than not that a law was violated, and that there is at least an honest, debatable question of fact that the person charged violated it.

In other words, after the prosecutor presents his or her evidence, unless the Judge can sit back and say something like, “Well, this case is total BS,” and then dismiss it for lack of evidence, the matter will be “bound over” and sent to the circuit court for further proceedings.

This no doubt accounts for why so few cases (and again, especially felony DUI cases) are taken all the way through a probable cause hearing. In the overwhelming majority of felony cases, and especially 3rd offense DUI cases, there will never be a probable cause hearing; either the case gets worked out as a misdemeanor in the district court, or it moves on to the circuit court.

As far as plea bargains go in 3rd offense cases, it’s usually – but not always – better, if possible, to negotiate a deal that takes a 3rd offense felony DUI down to a 2nd offense misdemeanor in the local district court. However, there can also be any number of reasons (including things like the prosecutor’s policy, the defense lawyer’s strategy, or an especially tough district court Judge) why the case should be sent to the circuit court, instead.

This can sound complicated and confusing, but when my team and I sit down with our client, in-person, and explain everything, it’s a lot more straightforward.

By contrast, a detailed explanation here would eat up more space than it’s worth.

The real-world takeaway for now is that in the vast majority of cases, the defense lawyer and the prosecutor will meet for any number of pre-exam conferences in the district court to discuss the evidence and attempt to work out a resolution of the case.

This either leads to a plea bargain in the district court, or the case moves up to the circuit court.

Things will make more sense as we go through the next 4 sections. The key point here is that a whole lot can be done to make things better if you’re facing a 3rd offense DUI. The extent to which that happens, though, depends on the skill of your lawyer, the strength of the evidence against you, the location of your case, and other factors we’ll examine in the next sections.