Serious Impairment Under Drunk Driving Law

In order to convict a defendant of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI), the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:

  1. Operated a motor vehicle
  2. While intoxicated or impaired
  3. Caused serious impairment of a body function of another person because of the operation of the vehicle.

The first two elements of this crime are very clear.  The third, on the other hand, is not as clear.  In January 2014, the Michigan Court of Appeals provided some clarification as to the third element in People v. Beemer.  The Court looked for insight with the Motor Vehicle Code, the legislature’s intent, plain language, and Michigan Supreme Court precedent.
In Beemer, the Defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the victim suffered a serious impairment of a body function.  The victim testified that he lost use of his hand, he could use it, but not to the extent that he could use it before the injury.  His hand was swollen and in pain.  The physician determined the injury, which required a cast, would last six to eight weeks.  The Court of Appeals held that the victim’s hand injury amounted to a serious impairment of the body function.
The Court looked to the Motor Vehicle Code, which defines “serious impairment” of a bodily function as:

(a) loss of a limb or loss of use of a limb

(b) loss of a foot, hand, finger, or thumb or loss of use of a foot, hand, finger, or thumb;

(d) loss or substantial impairment of a bodily function;

(h) a skull fracture of other serious bone fracture.


The Court also relied on a Michigan Supreme Court case, People v. Thomas.  In Thomas, the Court noted that the definitions of serious impairment of body function contained in the no-fault act are not applicable to criminal cases.  The Court looked at the statutorily-included injuries and compared unlisted injuries to determine similarity.  The Court also concluded that the injury does not have to be permanent or long lasting to constitute serious impairment of a body function.
The above-discussed cases provide a bit more insight into what falls under a “serious impairment of a body function.”  It is not thorough though, and we should continue watching for further developments.
Contact Hills Law Office for more information on this could affect your case.


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