What Happens to My License?

In our roles as Michigan DUI lawyers, one of the most common questions my team and I get asked by someone facing a drinking and driving charge is what will happen to their driver’s license. 

Surprisingly, the answer is pretty direct and simple. What will happen to the driver’s license depends entirely on what happens to the DUI charge.

Here, we'll focus on what happens in 1st offense DUI cases, as the penalties for a 2nd offense case are covered in a separate section. However, there are a few things to cover first, so this all makes sense:

Of course, it’s always the goal to beat, or get out of a DUI charge. 

While that’s the best-case outcome, the fact is that most DUI cases are not simply thrown out of court. Obviously, if we can find a way to get your charge knocked out somehow, then nothing will happen to your license. 

If your DUI charge doesn’t just "go away," however, then you’ll have to get ready for some changes in the way you get around.

First, you need to bear in mind that the DUI charge you face may very well not be the charge you wind up with on your record, especially in 1st Offense cases, where the right defense attorney can often negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor.

Understanding a DUI charges

It is also important to understand the language of Michigan's drunk driving law. 

In Michigan, there is no charge called “DUI.” While that's generally understood to be short for “driving under the influence,” that is NOT a proper legal term used in any Michigan law. 

Instead, the technical term for drunk driving in Michigan is “Operating While Intoxicated,” or OWI. 

You’ll notice that’s what it says on your ticket, or court papers. Sometimes, a ticket may read, “combined OWI/UBAC” or “combined “OWI/UBAL,” but they are the same thing. 

In Michigan, a DUI is really an OWI.

Difference Between Suspension and Revocation of a Driver's License

In DUI cases, there are only 2 kinds of license actions, or “sanctions,” that can occur: A suspension, or a revocation

If your license is suspended, it is taken away for a specific period of time (rather like being suspended from school for 3 days, or a week) and then returned thereafter. A person can be given a restricted license during all or part of a suspension, but suspensions only occur in 1st offense cases; they cannot occur in 2nd cases.

Anyone convicted of a 2nd offense DUI will have his or her license revoked.

If your license is revoked, it is taken away for good. To continue the school analogy, a revocation is the same thing as an expulsion, or being expelled. A student expelled from school cannot just come back; he or she has to reapply and a formal decision has to be made to allow him or her to return, or not. 

There is no restricted license allowed if a person’s license is revoked because there is no license to restrict. Revocations are the only option in 2nd and 3rd offense cases, meaning there is no way to keep any kind of driving privileges, restricted or otherwise, unless a person is admitted into a Sobriety Court program.

With this in mind, we can be boil things down even further: 

If you are convicted of a 2nd or 3rd offense DUI, your license will be revoked, as in gone for good. There isn’t anything else to really talk about in such cases except how to get around until the revocation period is over, and you can apply for a restoration of your license which is call a license appeal through the Michigan Secretary of State Office of Hearing and Administrative Oversight (OHAO).

Now, let's look at those 1st offense DUI license penalties:

If you are facing your 1st offense DUI, then what will happen to your license depends on which of the following charges you wind up (as opposed to are initially charged) with:

High BAC or OWI Enhanced (different ways of saying the same thing - 1st Offense with a BAC of .17 or higher):

License suspended for 1 year – no driving for the first 45 days, then a restricted license for the next 10 and ½ months (320 days) but must use an ignition interlock.

OWI 1st Offense:

License suspended for 6 months - no driving for the first 30 days, then a restricted license for the next 5 months (150 days). No interlock.

OWVI (“Impaired Driving”):

License suspended for 90 days – restricted license from the very first day. This means a person never completely loses the ability to drive. No interlock.

Most of the time, high BAC and OWI charges are negotiated down to this lesser charge of impaired driving (OWVI), saving a person’s ability to at least drive to work and school.

A restricted driver's license means that a person can only drive:

1. In the course of the person’s employment or occupation.

2. To and from any combination of the following:

The person’s residence

The person’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 person is enrolled as a student.

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

An ignition interlock service provider as required.

3. While driving with a restricted license, the person shall carry proof of his or her destination and the hours of any employment, class, or other reason for traveling and shall display that proof upon a peace officer’s request.

That’s it. 

If something isn’t covered by one of these allowances, then it’s not allowed. And to clarify a question likely already on your lips, yes, this does mean that you cannot take the kids to school and you cannot go grocery shopping or pick up the dry cleaning.

What Happens to a CDL After an Alcohol Conviction

There are a few other things that are worth knowing. If you hold a CDL and are convicted of (or plead guilty to) any alcohol-related charge, including a 1st offense OWVI "Impaired Driving," then your CDL will be completely suspended for 1 year. 

There is no appeal, and it does not matter if you drive for a living.

While the circumstances in which they arise are often difficult, and the questions about them are frequently complex, the driver’s license sanctions in any DUI case are, in the final analysis, rather straightforward and simple, even though the can also be difficult to live with.

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