The game has changed in Michigan and now the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that a person driving a car while intoxicated, even on private property, can still be charged with Operating While Intoxicated if the area is “capable of being reached by a motor vehicle.” This is a stark difference between the state of the law prior to this truly expansive decision. Previously, an OWI could only be charged for an offense that took place on public property or an area that was travelled or accessed by the public.

The law regarding OWI in Michigan, according to the statute, is that the area where the suspect’s vehicle was traveling must have been “generally accessible” to motor vehicles. Prior to this recent decision of the Michigan Supreme Court, multiple court decisions found that a vehicle on private property was not being driven on an area “generally accessible” to motor vehicles.

Michigan’s OWI Laws

Specifically, Michigan’s drunk driving law states that a person shall not operate a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state if the person is operating while intoxicated.

Operating While Intoxicated means that the person is under the influence of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance or a combination of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance. It can also mean that the person has an alcohol content of 0.08 grams or more.

Operating While Impaired is a lesser offense to OWI and is frequently referred to as Impaired Driving. This law states that a person shall not operate a vehicle upon a place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles when, due to the consumption of drugs or alcohol, the person’s ability to operate the vehicle is visibly impaired.

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Penalties for OWI or Impaired Driving can be quite complex.

A first offense OWI or Impaired Driving are punishable by up to 93 days in jail and up to 2 years of probation. A second offense carries up to 1 year in jail and a third offense is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and up to 5 years of probation. Having a suspended license, an injury or death, a child in the car, a prior felony record, and other factors can increase all of these potential punishments substantially.

The new OWI decision in the Supreme Court is a game changer

In the recent case before the Michigan Supreme Court, the defendant was observed by the police to back out of his detached garage, drive back for 25 feet and then pull back into the garage. The vehicle backed up only to a point that was in line with his house and still on his private property. There was no allegation that he drove the car on a public road or over an easement or sidewalk readily accessible to the public. The MI Supreme Court changed the rules and now the test is whether the area is capable of being reached by a vehicle, regardless of whether the area is private or not.

License Sanctions for a Drunk or Drugged Driving Conviction

For some people, the loss of driving privileges is more problematic than a jail sentence. Some defendants convicted of OWI lose their driver’s license and then go decades, or longer, before achieving license restoration. At least a jail sentence comes to an end.

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For a first offense OWI or a second offense that occurred greater than 7 years before, the time of the suspension is limited and other factors determine whether a restricted license is possible or not. In some cases, a restricted license is not permitted for a period of time. In those situations where there are two convictions within 7 years or three within 10 years, the Michigan Department of State indefinitely revokes a person’s driver’s license. The only way to achieve license restoration following a revocation is to appeal the revocation to the Drivers Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) after a minimum of 1 year. This process is complex and the odds are stacked against the petitioner. It takes years of experience, intensive preparation, and a track-record of winning before a lawyer is in a position to win these DAAD hearings routinely.

OWI Charges in Michigan – Your Best Defense

If you are charged with DUI or OWI in Michigan on private property or public property, you need aggressive and effective defense lawyers to make sure you are treated fairly, avoid jail, and avoid losing your driving privileges. Courts, like the Michigan Supreme Court, bend over backwards to help prosecutors secure convictions. Only an elite group of OWI defense lawyers in Michigan would have the knowledge, reputation, and tenacity to stand up to tough judges and get charges dismissed or reduced.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorneys - Lewis & Dickstein PLLC

The defense team with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has a reputation built on decades of successfully defending DUI, OWI, Impaired Driving, and Driving Under the Influence of Controlled Substance charges. We have achieved a multitude of dismissals and reductions to non-alcohol related offenses and this may be possible in your case. Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete a Request for Assistance Form and an experienced defense lawyer will promptly contact you.


We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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