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The Simple, Single Most Important Thing About a Michigan DUI Charge

Home Blog Driver's License Restoration The Simple, Single Most Important Thing About a Michigan DUI Charge

Anyone facing a Michigan DUI charge who goes online and spends time on legal websites can quickly get information overload. Some of the stuff lawyers put up these days will have a person thinking that in order for a DUI case to survive in court, the police officer has to run expert tests in biology, chemistry, and physiology, along with being an expert in the law and police procedure,. All too often, the DUI information found online seems gets too caught up in the nitty-gritty while overlooking the big picture. In this article, we’re going to zoom out and reset our focus on the big-picture reality of a Michigan DUI charge.

Understand the big picture about a DUI charge in MichiganWhat is a DUI, really? At its core, it’s an incident of drunk driving. This is often lost in much of what can be found online, because many legal sites “get lost in the weeds,” so to speak. Of course, a lot of money can be made when a lawyer sells the idea that he or she has some unique and special defense to a Michigan DUI charge. Ultimately, a DUI case comes down 2 key questions: Was a person “operating” a vehicle on a road open to the public, and did he or she do so while impaired, intoxicated, or with a bodily alcohol content (BAC) of at least .08 at that time?

Answering those questions requires a number of other considerations. For example, under Michigan law, “operating” a vehicle does NOT necessarily mean driving it. If a person is trying to “sleep one off” in a parking lot and has the keys in the ignition, or has the engine running to stay warm, that’s enough to satisfy the “operating” requirement. Not that my opinion matters, but I think that’s BS and decidedly counter-productive. The point, though, is that we can take the legal magnifying glass and zoom in so much on the finer details of any area that we lose site of the bigger picture.

Before we step back to look at that bigger picture, let’s clear up two important details:

First, the actual term for a Michigan DUI charge is “Operating While Intoxicated,” or “OWI,” for short. Over the years, though, the term “DUI” has become pretty much universal in the United States, so we’ll stick with it here. In terms of meaning – and this is a “big picture” notion – “DUI” is short for “Driving Under the Influence,” so both terms – DUI and OWI – reference the same thing.

Second, if someone is facing a Michigan DUI charge, it means he or she stands accused of “operating” a motor vehicle while impaired, intoxicated, or with a BAC of .08 or more. There is an important distinction here, because being intoxicated is not always the same thing as having a BAC of .08 or more. Let me explain:

It is illegal to drive while intoxicated by any substance, not just alcohol. Thus, even if a person has a valid prescription for medication (including medical marijuana), he or she is not allowed to drive if intoxicated or otherwise impaired by it.

Also, there are some people who are hardcore drinkers and have developed a serious tolerance to alcohol (the same also holds true for many drugs, like opiates). Imagine someone who drinks a lot, every single day, and who has done so for years. This person might be able to pass every field sobriety test even with a BAC of .10. In other words, he or she may NOT be intoxicated at that level. Rather than get caught up in that question, however, Michigan law simply provides that a person cannot drive if impaired, intoxicated, or with a BAC of .08 or higher.

For what it’s worth, there is another Michigan DUI charge that is even less severe than OWI, and it’s called “Operating While Visibly Impaired,” or “OWVI” for short. It’s often just called “Impaired.” It carries less serious consequences than an OWI or a “High BAC” charge.

For example, instead of having to deal with the suspension of one’s driver’s license, a person convicted of “Impaired” will never lose his or her driving privileges, and the fines for this offense are usually $200 to $700 dollars less, as well.

In practice, OWVI, or “Impaired” is almost NEVER brought as the original charge made against someone following a DUI arrest. Instead, it is most often used when the evidence is solid, and we are nevertheless able negotiate a plea bargain for our client in a regular OWI or High BAC case. This is all part of how to properly manage a DUI case.

“Impaired,” as used when talking about a Michigan DUI charge, is something less than “intoxicated.” It means that a person’s ability to operate the vehicle, while not substantially affected by alcohol (or drugs), was still diminished in such a way that he or she could not do so in a normal manner, as if he or she had not consumed or ingested any kind of intoxicating substance.

As far as having “operated” a vehicle either while intoxicated, impaired, or with a BAC of .08 or more goes, the simple fact is that there is seldom any question about whether or not a person has done so. To be sure, as Michigan DUI lawyers, my team and I regularly deal with drunk driving cases where that question DOES arise, but for every 1 of those, we see 50 more where the person was simply pulled over as part of a traffic stop, or the police responded to an accident and there is no question who was driving.

With that as our backdrop, let’s circle back to the question of “What is a DUI?”

Anyone facing a Michigan DUI charge needs to really grasp that big-picture answer before he or she has any chance of understanding the finer analyses that can call the evidence into question.

As we noted, a DUI is really an incident of driving while intoxicated, or with a BAC of .08 or greater. Whether or not that did or did not happen is the primary issue before a court for anyone facing a Michigan DUI charge. All the technical, legal stuff is really the result of what lawyers have come up with over the years to either beat a case, or to have evidence within it excluded.

In Michigan, there are roughly 30,000 DUI arrests each year. In the course of doing anything 30,000 times annually, it’s a given that some mistakes will be made. Police officers are human, and occasionally, something that was supposed to be done gets overlooked, or, something gets done that wasn’t supposed to happen as part of the DUI investigation, arrest and/or evidence gathering process.

The statistical reality is that many (if not most) of these mistakes are small enough to NOT be grounds to get the entire case dismissed.

When there is some question about the reliability of certain evidence, the defense lawyer can seek to keep it out of court. The Judge, therefore, will be called upon to decide if it should be excluded from the case. Many times, when that happens, the court will simply do a polite “side-step” and rule that the issue can be addressed to the jury as a question of fact, rather than ruled upon directly by the court, as a question of law. That means the evidence gets in, and the case DOESN’T get dismissed.

Here’s a DUI fact you can take to the bank: No Judge is EVER going to exclude evidence or dismiss a Michigan DUI charge unless he or she has no other legal choice.

There isn’t a single Judge who sits on the bench just “waiting” for the chance to throw a DUI charge out of court. In fact, as I pointed out in a recent article, it is far better for a Judge, at least for electability purposes, to have a reputation for being tough on drunk drivers rather than being known as a “softie.” No Judge’s chances for reelection are threatened by being know for trying to keep his or her community safe from drunk drivers.

Let that sink in for a moment, because it’s real-world stuff, and it’s really important for anyone facing a DUI charge. This is, in part, why it’s important that a person’s first DUI also be his or her last.

Unfortunately, that often gets overlooked because it doesn’t generally mix well with the “we’ll fight it and get it thrown out of court” kind of marketing messages put out by many lawyers. One can get the idea from some legal websites that there are so many things that have to be done “right” with DUI evidence that it’s really easy for enough to go wrong and get the whole thing dismissed.

That’s just not how things work. The reality of a DUI charge is very different

Instead, and as we’ve already stated, what’s at issue for anyone facing a Michigan DUI charge is whether it can be proven that he or she was operating a vehicle, and was either intoxicated (or impaired) by something, or had a BAC of .08 or more.

Of course there are always legitimate questions about the reliability of the evidence, and how it was obtained. As DUI lawyers, my team and I always begin each case with the mindset that there IS some such issue sufficient to get some or all of the evidence excluded, or otherwise get the whole case dismissed. Our job is to put everything under the proverbial legal microscope to find that.

It is absolutely a losing strategy for a lawyer to start off in a DUI case thinking anything less. Even when there is no fatal flaw in the evidence, that kind of meticulous scrutiny will very often lead to us discovering other things that, while not enough to knock the case out, can at least be used to drive a better deal (as in plea bargain) for a client facing a DUI charge in Michigan.

Typically, the problems that are found and result in evidence being excluded, or getting a case dismissed outright, are seldom those pointed out by the client. People will always try to explain what they think the police did wrong (“They didn’t have any reason to pull me over,” or “They never read me my rights”). As part of our careful review of the evidence, my team and I will always look carefully at all of that.

When something is found that can be used to exclude the evidence, or get a DUI charge dismissed, it’s usually not sanything that’s obvious. Instead, those kinds of issues are discovered precisely because of the mindset that there MUST be some flaw in the evidence, and that we have to keep digging until we find it. The kinds of things that turn up most often are lack of reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle, improper administration of field sobriety tests, insufficient probable cause to make the arrest, and/or problems with the chemical (breath or blood) tests.

Beyond any issues of illegal police conduct or other mistakes that can render evidence inadmissible, just about everything else in a DUI case really goes back to our earlier question: Did the person operate a motor vehicle while impaired, intoxicated, or with a BAC or .08 or more?

Statistically, the vast majority of DUI cases ARE legally strong enough to make it through the court system. Given that, our job in those cases is to avoid as many of the legal penalties and negative consequences as possible. If a DUI charge in Michigan isn’t going to get thrown out, then we have to manage things to produce the best (meaning most lenient) result possible.

And while that technical stuff is important, who you are as a person matters a lot, as well.

One of our firm mottos is that success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you. When it comes to a DUI charge in Michigan, less is always more, as in better.

It may not seem like an earth-shattering revelation, but in just about everything, it’s the big picture that matters. Before anyone wanders off and gets lost in the details, it’s best to understand that big picture first, especially in the context of a Michigan DUI charge. Only then does any discussion about all the things that could be wrong with a case make any real sense.

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

This blog is the perfect place to start. It is fully searchable and updated with a new, original article each week. To-date, I have written and published over 620 articles in the DUI section. With a little effort, the reader can learn more about how DUI cases work here, on this site, than anywhere else. Don’t take my word for that, however – check for yourself.

After you’ve read enough, start calling around. The best way to really learn about your situation is to speak with a live person. If your case is pending anywhere in the Greater-Detroit area, meaning anywhere in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, or one of the surrounding counties, make sure you give our office a ring.

My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer all of your questions and explain things fully. We always encourage everyone to comparison shop, and invite everyone to call us back, even if just to compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.