In 2010, Michigan’s Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) statute was amended to include a classification for first-time drunk driving offenders with an elevated blood alcohol content (BAC). It is called being charged as a High BAC or “Superdrunk.” Now, if you have a BAC of .17 or above the state (and now municipalities) can subject first-time DUI defendants to heightened punishment. It basically doubles the possible punishments of the first offense OWI. Essentially even though it is your first offense, you will be facing penalties as if it was your second offense OWI. Many states and jurisdictions have enacted similar statutes that are called aggravated DUIs.
- 180 days in jail (93 days for OWI 1st)
- $200-700 in fines ($100-500 for OWI 1st)
- One-year driver’s license suspension; restrictions after 45 days with ignition interlock (six months suspended and restricted after 30 days for OWI 1st)
- 360 hours of community service
- Vehicle immobilization up to 180 days
- Six points on your driving record
- One year alcohol rehabilitation
- $2,000 in driver responsibility fees ($1,000 per year for two consecutive years)
The stakes are much higher with the High BAC charge in more ways than one. Not only are the penalties more severe and the financial costs higher, but plea negotiations are much tougher as well. If a driver was charged with OWI 1st, most jurisdictions will at least offer a reduction to Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI) or “Impaired Driving.” While it is still an alcohol-related offense, it does have its merits, particularly if there are no issues with the case that could get a better reduction or dismissal. Impaired Driving is less expensive, less points (which means your insurance won’t go up as much), and it automatically comes with restricted driving privileges.
With the High BAC charge, even if they reduce it down a notch to just a regular OWI, you still get the same amount of points on your license, same driver’s responsibility fees, and you still lose your license completely (no driving at all!) for a period of time. You have two options and neither one is good- one just isn’t quite as bad as the other one. If convicted of a High BAC, not only do you lose your license and have to install an ignition interlock or breathalyzer (which costs approximately $75-125/month) but your chances of going to jail are more likely. Plus, many prosecutors have adopted policies against plea bargains on High BAC charges thus forcing defendants to plead “on the nose” or take it trial. Even though there is strategically no reason not to take it to trial in that case, most defendants still opt for the plea due to the cost and time of trial and to merely get it over with. If there was an accident or property damage, almost assuredly no prosecutor will reduce the charge. No matter how you look at it, your options when facing a “super drunk” charge just aren’t good.
That is where having an experienced OWI attorney comes in to the picture. With the stakes higher and the options fewer, you need someone experienced in defending against drunk driving charges more than ever. The stop of the vehicle needs to be reviewed to determine if the police had reasonable suspicion to pull you over. Then the police reports and cruiser cam videos must be thoroughly reviewed to see if the police had probable cause to arrest you. Often this is done after the officer has observed so-called behaviors or mannerisms indicating intoxication or administering field sobriety tests. Usually the last thing the officer does is give the driver a roadside PBT giving an approximation of the driver’s BAC. Then the driver is taken to the police station where an evidential breath test is given. Sometimes a blood draw is taken instead if the DataMaster operator is not available or the driver has been in an accident and taken to the hospital for treatment.
There are many rules governing the procedures of how these critical tests are administered and can only be administered by someone trained and certified to do so. Certification credentials should always be requested as well as calibration records and maintenance logs for the evidential breath test. The breath test room video is critical as well because there must be a 15-minute observation period to make sure the driver has not regurgitated or placed anything inside the mouth.
A lot of variables factor into a DUI case. It is of the utmost importance that they be thoroughly scrutinized, especially with a High BAC charge. Only an experienced OWI attorney can determine the best course of action—whether it’s forcing the prosecutor to offer a better plea bargain, get the case dismissed with a motion, or take the matter to trial. You should always consult with an attorney before making a decision on any DUI charge, especially a super drunk charge. Look for an attorney that makes DUI defense a substantial part of their practice. What you don’t want is the general practitioner, someone who occasionally “dabbles” in DUI defense, or even worse the lowest bidder who will do nothing than look at the police report and plead you out the first chance he gets regardless of whether it’s in your best interests or not.
If you are facing a High BAC charge, contact our Michigan OWI lawyer today at Austin Legal Services, PLC at (517) 614-1983.
Defending High BAC and other OWI charges throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Shiawassee, Lenawee, Jackson, Barry, Livingston, Kent, Washtenaw in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Holt, Okemos, Delta Township, Lansing Township, Jackson, Bath, St. Johns, Jackson, Hastings, Howell, Brighton, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Corunna.