Operating While Intoxicated (OWI)

OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) is operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or greater, or under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.

First time offender expectations

The first offense is a misdemeanor punishable by one or more of the following:

  • up to 93 days in jail
  • a fine of $100 to $500
  • community service of up to 360 hours

The Secretary of State will suspend the operator’s license for 180 days and a restricted license is available only after 30 days. Six points are also assessed against the driver’s record.

A common point of confusion regarding Michigan’s Operating While Intoxicated law is that there are essentially two ways to prove someone was operating a vehicle while intoxicated. The first is that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant was under the influence of alcohol while operating the vehicle.

What does “Under the Influence” mean?

“Under the Influence of Alcohol” means that, as a result of drinking alcohol, the defendant’s ability to operate a motor vehicle in a normal manner was substantially lessened. To be under the influence, a person does not have to be what is called “dead drunk,” that is, falling down or hardly able to stand up. On the other hand, just because a person has drunk alcohol or smells of alcohol does not prove that the person is under the influence of alcohol.

The test is whether because of drinking alcohol the defendant’s mental or physical condition was significantly affected, and the defendant was no longer able to operate a vehicle in a normal manner.

Unlawful Bodily Alcohol Content – 0.08

The second way to prove an individual was operating while intoxicated is to prove the defendant operated the vehicle with a bodily alcohol level of .08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood/210 liters of breath/67 milliliters of urine.

Generally speaking, to prove an individual was .08 or higher, the prosecutor admits into evidence the results of a chemical breath test conducted on an instrument called the DataMaster, or blood is drawn and sent to a laboratory for testing. A urine test is extremely rare and considered the most unreliable of the three tests.

A careful read of the prosecutor’s charging document (the piece of paper charging the defendant with a crime is called a complaint for a misdemeanor or an information for a felony) usually charges a defendant with operating while intoxicated in the alternative. This allows the prosecutor to prove either the defendant was under the influence of alcohol, or they have a bodily alcohol level of .08 grams or more.

Operating While Intoxicated

Another element the prosecutor has to prove is that the defendant was “operating” a motor vehicle. The definition of operating is not extremely clear, however, a common misconception is the belief that a defendant has to be driving the vehicle at the time to constitute operating.

There have been several cases in Michigan which have sustained operation when an individual was asleep and/or passed out in the vehicle. The circumstances of the case will dictate whether the individual is operating. Our Supreme Court concluded that operating should be defined in terms of the danger the OUIL (currently OWI) statute seeks to prevent which is the collision of a vehicle being operated by a person under the influence of intoxicating liquor with other persons or property. Once a person using a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle has put the vehicle in motion, or in a position posing a significant risk of causing a collision, such a person continues to operate it until the vehicle is returned to a position posing no such risk.

Drunk Driving Attorneys Representing Clients in Michigan

In southwest Michigan, people turn to Hills at Law, P.C. for effective representation. Our attorneys have more than 100 years of combined experience and have taken action on behalf of various clients. We are committed to pursuing the best possible outcomes for our clients, ready to do everything to minimize the impact these charges will have on your life.


Contact The Firm: 269.373.5430

Fighting for your liberty when the government is fighting to take it.