Michigan’s New “Super Drunk” Driving Law is Coming

As of October 31, 2010, anyone pulled over in Michigan for driving under the influence of alcohol may face the ramifications of the new “Super Drunk” driving law. Under the new law, which is also called the “High-BAC Law” by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), offenders registering a BAC (bodily alcohol content) of .17 or higher face stiffer penalties than current law, which treats any defendant over .08 the same under sentencing maximums.

Current Michigan drunk driving laws provide for two classes of offenses: (1) Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) and (2) Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI). OWI requires a BAC of .08 or above. If it's less than .08, the driver may be charged with OWVI based on a police officer’s observation of the alleged impaired driving (although these types of circumstances are rare).

The real benefit of having the OWVI law on the books is for prosecutors and defense attorneys to negotiate a plea deal reducing the offense. This reduction benefits the defendant in a number of ways, but the two most important benefits are realized through the Secretary of State’s penalty system, not the court system - no hard driving suspension and $1,000 less in Driver Responsibility Fees.

The “Super Drunk” driving law only pertains to first offenses, since the penalties for the current second offense operating while intoxicated charge are already higher than what the new law imposes. The most significant changes are:

- Maximum jail term increases from 93 days to 180 days

- Fines go up from a range of $100-$500 to $200-$700

- Mandatory alcohol treatment program for at least a year (this can include a self-help program such as AA). Previously, this was only required of repeat offenders.

- Mandatory one year suspension of driving privileges with the first 45 days as a true suspension, and the remainder served on a restricted basis only if the defendant installs and maintains a breath alcohol ignition interlock device in his motor vehicle, at his expense (which can cost upwards of $100/month).

Another amendment to the law creates a new offense regarding the monitoring of the interlock system. If a defendant is convicted of operating or attempting to operate a vehicle with an interlock system with a BAC of .025 or higher, the license penalty will double, resulting in a new 45-day hard suspension and an additional 320 days of restricted driving with the interlock system (resulting in approximately $1,200 additional expenses for the driver).

The last significant change for the “Super Drunk” driving amendments has the potential to affect non-drunk drivers. The amendment calls for impoundment of any non-equipped vehicle used by a defendant that is subject to the interlock system, no matter if the defendant owns the car. If you loan your car to such a defendant, even unknowingly, you may be subject to the costs associated with removal and storage of the car, and anyone who has ever dealt with tow truck companies knows that their fees are not cheap.

While Michigan’s legislature passed this enhanced law with the intent to reduce drunk driving (or to keep up with the Joneses since 45 other states have similar laws), it is still unclear how these new penalties will actually play out in court. Prosecutors around the state could use the enhanced penalties to alter their policies on plea bargaining, and as a result, potentially congest the courts with trials because defendants would not want to handle the mandatory year long treatment programs and interlock devices. Or, there may not be any change at all if defendants can plead down to an OWI or OWVI and avoid these enhanced penalties all together.

I guess we will wait and see, but October 31 will be here before we know it.

Curtis & Curtis, P.C. is a full service law firm located in Jackson, Michigan providing superior legal services and advice to individuals, families and businesses throughout mid-Michigan since 1901.

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