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Key Takeaways:

  • A plea from OWI to OWVI charges is the most common plea offered by prosecutors in these cases, and is often considered a favorable outcome by clients, specifically because it comes with a much less severe impact on the defendant’s driver’s license.
  • Taking an OWVI plea can be beneficial in many cases. However, in other cases, it can backfire—specifically when it comes to any future drunk driving arrests. Both OWIs and OWVI count toward future arrests, which become much more severe with either charge on your record.
  • In some cases—specifically cases where you can actually fight the case and get it thrown out or significantly reduced to non-drunk-driving-related charges—it may not make sense to take the plea deal. Each case must be examined based on its own set of facts and circumstances.

A plea offer from OWI (drunk driving) charges to OWVI (impaired driving charges) is the most common plea offer that a prosecutor will make in these cases. It is the outcome that most clients want their defense lawyer to get for them, because of the big difference in driver’s license impact.

A first-time OWI drunk driving charge will result in a 180-day suspension of your driver’s license, 30 days of which is a hard suspension, which means no driving at all for any reason. The hard suspension is followed by a 150-day restricted license. A first-time OWI also means 6 points on your driver’s license. The Judge will also have the discretion to put an ignition interlock on your car.

Impaired driving, in contrast, is significantly less severe in terms of the impact on your driver’s license. It comes with 90 days of having a restricted license instead of 180 days. Moreover, none of that 90 days is a hard suspension, which means you can always drive on your restricted license for work, for school, and for court. In addition, instead of 6 points, it’s only 4 points on your driver’s license. Finally, with an OWVI, the ignition interlock is not an option for the Judge.

So, although the statutory penalty of 93 days in jail is the same for an OWI and an impaired driving conviction, the driver’s license advantage with the OWVI causes most people to decide to take a plea offer to the impaired driving charge.

However, in my experience, this can be something of a mistake. Not every case should be pled to impaired driving. The fact of the matter is that impaired driving and drunk driving are both the same when they are used to enhance the next arrest or conviction.

If you get a second drunk driving conviction within 7 years in Michigan, it results in the revocation of your driver’s license. This means that you lose your license, and it’s truly gone for that period of time—without any exceptions for any sort of driving. That is true whether you were convicted or pled guilty to OWI or impaired driving. In addition, both OWI and OWVI have the same impact on significantly increasing the criminal penalties for any second drunk driving offense.

If you are convicted of a third drunk driving — again, which your pled-to OWVI will count toward — it will result in not only in the revocation of your driver’s license again, but more importantly it is a felony, which can result in up to one year in prison with a mandatory minimum amount of jail time of 30 days.

Sometimes, clients make a mistake when they plead guilty due to an impaired driving plea offer: specifically, if their case is defensible. They do it just to get it over with, to save money, and/or to save the stress and risk of trial. However, the mistake comes into play the next time they get stopped for drunk driving, when that next case is not defensible. Then they really find themselves in a bad spot, because that second conviction is going to result in a revocation of their driver’s license.

Every case should be judged on its own individual facts and circumstances—including whether or not to take a plea deal from an OWVI when you might be able to defend the case and walk away with no drunk driving conviction at all.

It should be noted that a plea to impaired driving is frequently the right answer, and a plea offer of impaired driving should be seriously considered by any client and his or her lawyer. However, it’s not the right outcome every single time, and it’s not the right outcome simply because it cuts your driver’s license sanction in half and avoids the hard suspension of 30 days.

It might be the right outcome and it might be the right legal decision for you and your lawyer to make, but it’s something that should be done only after a very careful and considered analysis on whether your case is defensible.

When thinking about your case and whether you should take a plea deal, you should consider each aspect of the question carefully, especially as it pertains to the question of whether you can go to trial and actually win your case. Would the initial stop stand up in Court? Was it actually based on probable cause or even reasonable, articulable suspicion?

If the initial reason that the police officer pulled you over is not valid, you can win the case by filing a legal Motion to Dismiss, challenging that initial stop.

If the police officer did not have reasonable, articulable suspicion to take you out of your car and continue that stop to conduct a drunk driving investigation, that’s a second potential Motion that can be filed challenging your continued detention as an unconstitutional search and seizure.

Consider the arrest as well. As we discussed earlier, arrests have to be based on probable cause. If the police officer did not have valid probable cause because your PBT was 0.05 and you passed the field sobriety tests, then that’s a third Motion that can be filed challenging probable cause your arrest.

So, before you take the plea down to OWVI, you and your lawyer need to fully examine the details of the case and determine whether the case is defensible by way of a legal defense, or factually by taking the case to trial, because the prosecutor can’t prove that you were driving drunk.

If either one of those things is true, then even if that offer to impaired driving is a good one, you’re better off taking the case to Court, by either filing Motions or going to trial.

So again, every case is different, and needs to be judged by its own unique set of circumstances and facts.

For more information on OWI Law in Michigan, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (248) 509-0056 today.

Mark Satawa

Call Today For Your Free Case Strategy Session
(248) 509-0056