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Driver’s License Penalties in Michigan 1st Offense DUI Cases

Home Blog DUI Driver’s License Penalties in Michigan 1st Offense DUI Cases

Everyone facing a DUI charge wants to know what’s going to happen to his or her driver’s license. In this article, we’re going to look exclusively at 1st offense DUI cases, where there are essentially 3 possible DUI license penalties. This means that, early on, the best answer to the question “What will happen to my license” is “it depends.” In this article, we’re going to take a quick look at each possibility, and explain how all of this works.

Understand the Michigan DUI license penalties in 1st offense cases.Let’s begin with the best possible outcome – that the whole case gets dismissed. If that happens, then there are no DUI license penalties to worry about. Trying to have a DUI charge tossed out of court is always the primary objective for me and my team. Since every DUI case is built upon evidence, the first order of business is for us to obtain and then carefully review all of it. However, unless that evidence is so fatally flawed that a Judge will toss it out of court, then the case will survive.

The simple fact is that very few cases are so badly screwed up by the police that a Judge will just outright dismiss it. That said, it is important to point out that it is only through a careful review of the evidence, in an effort to find a way out of the charge, that we can discover other issues that will help us drive a better outcome. No matter what, a lawyer MUST begin with the mindset that there is some flaw in the evidence “good enough” to get the client out of the charge, and work from there.

In other words, it is never acceptable for us, as DUI lawyers, to merely “look over” the evidence and see what jumps out. Of course, a determination to find a way out of the case, while important, won’t change the facts as they exist. The facts are the facts. Nevertheless, that kind of attitude, coupled with hard work, often does result in my team and I being able to negotiate a more lenient final charge for our clients.

It is only the final charge that goes on a person’s driving record that determines his or her DUI license penalties, meaning what happens to his or her driving privileges. This is SO important, we need to back up a bit and sort this out….

In the real world, just about everyone arrested for a 1st offense DUI will be charged with either Operating While Intoxicated (or “OWI,” for short), or Operating with a BAC of .17 or Greater (often called or cited as “High BAC“).

One of the first things most people do when they get home is hop online and look for information about their case, including the DUI license penalties. It’s easy enough to find DUI stuff on the internet, but what people read can also be misleading, for the reason we noted above: It’s only the final charge that goes on a person’s record, and not the initial charge made against him or her that counts.

In fact, quite often (if not most of the time), the final DUI charge that winds up on a person’s record is NOT the original offense for which he or she was arrested. Thus, if a person is charged with High BAC or just OWI, it is often possible for us to negotiate a plea bargain, sometimes all the way down to the least serious DUI offense of Operating While Visibly Impaired (knows as OWVI, or “Impaired,” for short).

When that happens, the person will only have to deal with the least serious DUI license penalties.

Here is about the most common, real-world Michigan DUI situation: A person is arrested and charged with 1st offense Operating While Intoxicated (OWI). The case against him or her is strong enough to survive any challenge to dismiss it outright. As the person’s DUI lawyers, my team and I work hard, negotiate with the prosecutor, and get the charge reduced from an OWI down to OWVI (Impaired).

This means, then, that the DUI license penalties a person originally faced, while the OWI was pending, are now off the table, and that he or she will instead only have to deal with the driving restrictions for the lesser offense of “Impaired” (OWVI).

It’s important to understand that DUI license penalties are imposed automatically – and exclusively – by the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS), according to law. The court has nothing to do with them, other than making sure that an accurate record of a person’s final DUI conviction offense is properly transmitted to the SOS.

This means that there is no legal way for a Judge to modify the DUI driver’s license penalties in any way. The law was changed about 26 years ago (back in 1998) to vest exclusive jurisdiction for all DUI licensing actions with the SOS. This left Judges with no authority to do anything regarding a person’s license in a DUI case. This is important enough to repeat: A Judge cannot lengthen, shorten, or otherwise do anything with respect to DUI license penalties.

These penalties are inconvenient, That’s by design, and it’s very much intentional. After all, DUI license penalties are just that – penalties. They’re part of the punishment for a DUI.

That said, they are, in the grand scheme of things, relatively minor, at least in 1st offense DUI cases. At worst, a person will go a month and a half being unable to drive, and, at best, he or she won’t have ANY period without driving privileges. The good news is that in all 1st offense cases, a person will get some kind of restricted driving privileges, either right out of the gate, or at least soon enough.

Let’s first look at what is meant by “restricted driving privileges.” This is defined under Michigan law to include the following (and to exclude anything not otherwise specified):

In the course of [meaning, to, from, and as required during] the individual’s employment or occupation.

To and from any combination of the following:

The individual’s residence.

The individual’s work location.

An alcohol or drug education or treatment program as ordered by the court.

The court probation department.

A court-ordered community service program.

An educational institution at which the individual is enrolled as a student.

A place of regularly occurring medical treatment for a serious condition for the individual or a member or the individual’s household or immediate family.

An ignition interlock service provider as required.

This means a person can drive to, from and during work (but not with any kind of CDL requirement), back to his or her home, to any kind of substance abuse counseling or program or AA that is ordered by the court, to probation, to school, and to any necessary medical treatment for a serious condition affecting the person, an immediate family member, or someone in his or his or household. The restricted license also allows the person to service an ignition interlock unit, if one is ordered by the court or otherwise required following a conviction for High BAC.

What’s noted above are the ONLY reasons a person can drive. The reality here is simple, if not a bit cold; if something is not listed, then it’s not allowed. This means that every “what about” question can be answered with a simple “no.”

    • What about taking my kids to school?


    • What about grocery shopping?


    • What about taking the vehicle in for a repair?

No can do….

If a reason to drive is not listed in the law, it’s not allowed – period. As a practical matter, these restrictions may work just fine for some people, yet be a bucket of suck for others,

There is nothing that can be done about that.

Now, let’s set out the DUI license penalties below, from least to most severe. Here, we’re talking time-frames. Remember, these are based upon the final conviction offense that goes on a person’s record, and NOT the charge first made against him or her:

Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI, or “Impaired,” for short): Restricted license for 90 days.

Operating While Intoxicated (OWI): Suspended (meaning NO driving whatsoever) license for 30 days, and then 5 months of restrictions.

Operating with a BAC of .17 or Greater (High BAC, sometimes called “Super Drunk”): Suspended license for 45 days (again NO driving whatsoever), then restrictions for the next 10 and 1/2 months – BUT – the person can ONLY drive while using an ignition interlock unit (Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device, or “BAIID” for short).

In the larger picture, these DUI license penalties aren’t that bad. Sure, they are restrictions, and to some extent or other, they’ll be a source of inconvenience. However, because I’ve been a DUI lawyer for over 30 years, I know, from the extensive experience of having handled thousands upon thousands of drinking and driving cases, that everyone manages to get through this.

As noted, these DUI license penalties may be hard for some people, yet hardly much more than a blip on the radar for others. In the end, though, and as just pointed out, everyone manages to get by, if only because they don’t have any other choice.

What’s important is to make sure a person winds up with the least license penalties possible, and my team and I will do just that. No lawyer can do more, and we will never do less.

If you’re facing a DUI and looking for a lawyer, be a savvy consumer and read around. Pay close attention to how different lawyers break down the DUI process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.

This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable and updated weekly with a new, original article. To-date, I have written and published over 620 articles in the DUI section. Here, the reader can learn about pretty much any facet of Michigan DUI cases, including DUI license penalties. There is no resource like it anywhere, but don’t take my word for it – check for yourself.

When you’ve done enough reading, start calling around. If your case is pending anywhere in the Greater-Detroit area, meaning in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb or one of the surrounding counties, make sure you give our firm a ring as you explore your options.

You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person, and that’s exactly what you’ll get when you call our office. All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions, explain things, and even compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.