Law enforcement officers across the state of Michigan arrested more than 30,000 people in 2018 on suspicion of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. That’s an average of about 83 people every single day of the year, each of them facing the possibility of operating while intoxicated (OWI) or operating while visibly impaired (OWVI) charges.

While most impaired driving-related charges are misdemeanors, there are some circumstances in which an OWI becomes a felony. That means harsher penalties and a bigger disruption of your life.

When drunk or drugged driving becomes a felony

Most drunk and drugged driving charges are misdemeanors. A conviction on these offenses can come with a combination of a fine, jail time, community service requirements, a driver’s license suspension, an ignition interlock device and/or added points to your driving record.

In some cases, a driver arrested for OWI or OWVI might end up facing felony charges. According to the Secretary of State, this can happen if:

  • The driver already has at least two prior convictions during their lifetime
  • The drunk or drugged driving caused someone’s death
  • The drunk or drugged driving caused someone else to be seriously injured

A felony conviction can lead to a significant fine – up to $10,000 in some instances – as well as a yearslong prison sentence and a lengthy license revocation. Of course, none of those outcomes take into account the impact on other aspects of life, including employment and housing prospects.

OWI and OWVI defense

An arrest or accusation does not mean someone is guilty. In fact, of the 30,000 people arrested on suspicion of operating a vehicle while under the influence in 2018, about half weren’t convicted. In many cases, a strong, proactive defense strategy can help in the minimization of these types of charges.

Everyone deserves a chance to defend themselves no matter how severe the accusation, particularly when so much is at stake.

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