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Charged with Michigan OWI / DUI / Drunk Driving?

Charged with Michigan OWI…

For many people, a Michigan OWI / DUI charge is their first and only encounter with the law.

But it is an encounter that can change your life forever.

If you are convicted of Michigan OWI you face fines, possible jail time, and a suspended license. Depending on your job, an OWI conviction can also affect your livelihood.

With so much at stake, don’t leave an OWI charge to chance.

How a Lawyer Can Help

In Michigan, Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is called Operating While Intoxicated (OWI).

A Michigan OWI is a criminal charge. This means that the prosecutor must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that you have the right to confront the evidence against you.

To successfully navigate an OWI charge, you need an experienced OWI defense lawyer on your side. A lawyer who understands the law and who will work hard to challenge the evidence against you and how it was obtained. A lawyer who will try to have the charges against you reduced, or even have your case thrown out.

In addition to being your advocate, an experienced criminal defense lawyer will offer you unbiased advice about the charges against you and your chances of success. Your lawyer can develop a strategy to combat the charges against you, try to have some of the evidence excluded, work to reduce the charges, or even have the case against you dismissed. Lawyers are trained to evaluate the evidence and help you make a calm and rational decision about how to move forward with your case.

At Elmen Legal, I will work with you to defend you against a Michigan OWI charge. We will become partners in your defense and I will shoulder some of the emotional burden of dealing with a Michigan OWI charge.

I will take care of you as a whole person, advising you not just on your legal rights, but also on how a criminal conviction may affect you as a person.

Investigating an OWI Charge - Probable Cause, Field Sobriety Tests, and the BAC Test

After our initial consultation, I will work with you to determine the best ways to challenge the case against you. This will involve investigating whether the police officer had probable cause to initiate the traffic stop and to continue with the investigation, whether the Field Sobriety Tests were conducted properly, and whether there are any irregularities that could be used to challenge the results of the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) test.

Did the Police Have Probable Cause?

In order to initiate a traffic stop the police must have probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed. Once you have been stopped, the officer needs probable cause to continue the investigation.

Probable cause is another way of saying “did the police officer have a reasonable suspicion that you were breaking the law?”

Reasons police can stop you include:

  • Speeding
  • Weaving outside of your lane
  • Erratic driving
  • Driving too slowly
  • Failure to stop at a stop sign or traffic light
  • Driving left of center
  • Hesitation at a green light
  • Burnt out headlight or tail light

All of these are violations of the law. While some of them are minor, they all may give the police officer probable cause to initiate a traffic stop.

Once you have been stopped, the police officer will be evaluating you, looking for signs that you might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Probable cause to believe you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs might include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Glassy eyes
  • Smoking during interactions with the police
  • An odor of alcohol or drugs
  • Disorientation or fumbling
  • Confusion

If at any point in your interactions law enforcement cannot establish probable cause to continue with the investigation, they are required to stop and cannot move to the next phase of the investigation. If the police officer continued the investigation without probable cause, I can ask the court to exclude any evidence obtained from that point forward.

Depending on the circumstances of your case, this could mean that your blood alcohol content cannot be considered, that the Field Sobriety Tests cannot come into evidence, or that the stop itself was invalid.

Even if my attempts to have the evidence excluded are ultimately unsuccessful, a Motion to Suppress Evidence is still beneficial because it gives me an opportunity to cross-examine the police officer and identify additional potential weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.

If we are successful in having some or all of the evidence excluded, it makes it more difficult for the prosecutor to secure a guilty verdict, which may make it easier to negotiate a lighter sentence or even have the case dismissed.

Your Performance on Field Sobriety Tests

At some point during an OWI stop you were likely asked to perform Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). These tests are supposed to be conducted according to a set of national standards, and may include some combination of:

  • Standing on one foot
  • Walk and turn
  • Horizontal nystagmus gaze test
  • Reciting the alphabet backwards
  • Answering a simple math problem
  • Counting backward
  • Touching your finger to your nose

Police officers are required to administer them in accordance with national standards. If the police do not follow the national standards, the results of the test may be excluded as evidence, or the accuracy of the test can be called into question.

Based on my conversation with you during our initial interview and your recollection of what happened and how the tests were administered, I may be able to challenge the way the tests were administered and have the results excluded.

Even if the results of the FSTs are not excluded, I may be able to call into question the reliability of the test results and use this evidence to convince the jury to enter a Not Guilty verdict.

Testing Your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)

In Michigan, it is illegal for people age 21 or older to drive with a BAC that is .08% or higher.

The most common method of testing a driver’s BAC is by using the Breathalyzer test, which analyzes the alcohol content of a driver’s breath to measure BAC.

BAC can also be determined by testing a driver’s blood or urine. But the breath test is the most common because it is the easiest to administer.

Just like with the FSTs, you are not required to submit to a BAC test. However, if you refuse, you driver’s license will be suspended under Michigan’s Implied Consent law, you may become ineligible for driving privileges, and you face enhanced penalties if you are convicted of an OWI.

Even if the police tested your BAC, I may be able to challenge the results of the test by challenging:

  • Whether the machine was properly calibrated
  • Whether the test was administered properly
  • How frequently the machine was calibrated and tested
  • How the test sample was stored prior to testing
  • Chain of custody
  • Errors in the machine log
  • Your medical history and its impact on the results of the test
  • When the test was administered

Marijuana OWI in Michigan

Most people know that drivers over 21 years of age can be charged with a Michigan OWI if your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is .08% or higher. But you can also be charged with OWI for being under the influence of marijuana or other prescription or non-prescription drugs.

Just like an OWI for alcohol, police must have a reasonable suspicion that you are under the influence of the drug and that the drug has made you unable to safely operate a motor vehicle.

Because a Breathalyzer does not test for the presence of marijuana, conviction will rest almost entirely on the testimony of the police officer and whether or not you appeared to be under the influence of the drug.

An experienced Michigan OWI defense lawyer can challenge whether the police officer had probable cause to initiate the stop or to believe that you were under the influence of marijuana or another drug, and can challenge whether the FSTs were administered properly and your performance of them.

Penalties for an OWI Conviction

If you are convicted of a first-time Michigan OWI you face penalties that include up to 93 days in jail, fines between $100 and $500, up to 360 hours (45) days of community service, vehicle immobilization, and installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID).

For a second Michigan OWI conviction you face jail time of between 5 days and 1 year, fine between $200 and $1,000, a minimum of 30 days probation, a minimum of 60 days of community service and a maximum of 180 days, installation of an IID, and mandatory vehicle immobilization.

For a third offense you face jail time of 1 to 5 years, fines of $500 to $5,000, a minimum of 30 days of probation up to 1 year of probation, a minimum of 60 days and a maximum of 180 days of community service, installation of an IID, and vehicle immobilization.

For every OWI you face a mandatory 30-day license suspension, followed by 150 days of restricted driving privileges.

Elmen Legal Can Help

Penalties for a Michigan OWI conviction are severe. But I can help. At Elmen Legal, you will work directly with me, as opposed to being handed off to a junior associate.

I will partner with you as we work through your case together.

I will keep you informed of the progress of your case, and will help by shouldering some of the burden of dealing with an OWI charge.

I give you advice and help you make decisions about how to move forward with your case. In some cases this may be taking a plea bargain, while in others it will be going to trial.

Throughout it all, I will not lose sight of the fact that I am taking care of you as a whole person, and will respect, understand, and advise you on the potential collateral consequences of decisions you make about your case.

I represent people who have been charged with Michigan OWI in Ann Arbor, Saline, Pittsfield Township, Chelsea, or Ypsilanti, in Washtenaw, Wayne, Monroe, Lenawee, Hillsdale, Jackson, Ingham, Livingston, and Oakland Counties.

Learn more about Michigan criminal defense attorney Robert Elmen, get answers to Frequently Asked Questions, and learn why clients choose to work with Elmen Legal.

Free Consultation

If you have been charged with a Michigan OWI, contact me at Elmen Legal today to schedule a free initial consultation. Call me at (734) 707-8915, or email me at robert@elmenlegal.com.

Robert Elmen's Profile Image
Admitted to practice law in 2014, Ann Arbor criminal defense attorney Robert Elmen defends people accused of crimes such as assault and battery, domestic violence, sex crimes, drug crimes, and drunk driving / OWI / DUI. His caring approach towards his clients sets him apart from other lawyers as he recognizes that people come to him during their darkest hours, looking for help, and for hope. Robert is a student of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and draws on his martial arts training to help himself and his clients remain calm in the face of what may seem like insurmountable odds.

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