Operating While Visibly Impaired

In Oakland County, operating while visibly impaired is a charge that is often the result of plea negotiations with the prosecutor in a operating while intoxicated case.  The operating while visibly impaired is supposed to act as a lesser offense than an operating while intoxicated, and in some respects it is.  The major difference between the two is that in an impaired driving, the defendant's Michigan driver license is only restricted for three months and there is no hard suspension.  In an operating while intoxicated, the defendant receives a one month hard suspension, followed by five months of a restricted license.  

Although there are other differences between the two convictions, both carry with them the possibility of up to 93 days in jail and both show up as alcohol related convictions on the defendant's criminal history.  Another difference worth considering is that the driver responsibility fee is $1,000.00 a year for two years for an operating while intoxicated conviction, while operating while visibly impaired carries with it a fine of $500.00 a year for two years.

Because the differences in possible criminal liability between an impaired and regular drunk driving are so similar, many times we suggest that the client seriously consider taking their drunk driving case to trial.  The old adage of "what do you have to lose" is very telling here, as most Oakland County judges will not punish somebody for going to trial.

High BAC Superdrunk Driving

One of the most common operating while intoxicated charges we see in Oakland County courts is the charge of operating a vehicle with a high blood alcohol content, commonly known as superdrunk driving.  The basics of this charge are that the prosecutor must show that the defendant has a blood alcohol level of a .17 bac or higher.  This can be proven both with a breath test and a blood draw.

The superdrunk driving law was put on the books a few years ago and carries with it more severe penalties than a normal drunk driving case.  Specifically, the defendant is looking at a possible sentence of 180 days in jail, a 45 day hard license suspension, a 10 1/2 month long restricted license where the individual can only drive with an interlock device, and various other mandatory requirements.  What makes superdrunk driving such a difficult charge is that in certain Oakland County courts, like the 48th District, a first time offender is possibly looking at serving the entire 180 days.

The major problem in litigating a high bac drunk driving case is that for the most part, the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office handles these types of cases.  What that means is that for most people charged with superdrunk driving, there is no chance of a reduction to a lesser charge as the Oakland County Prosecutor does not like to make deals in these cases.  The only solution is to conduct jury trials, of which we have had all sorts of victories defending high bac cases.

The State Legislature recently enacted a law which allows cities and townships to enact their own high bac laws, which is actually good for citizens in Oakland County because most city and township prosecutors are willing to reduce these cases to avoid trials, thus saving people from the terrible interlock sanction.

Operating While Intoxicated Causing Death

The most difficult type of drinking and driving case in Oakland County are situations in which somebody has operating a vehicle while intoxicated and this driving resulted in a death of somebody else.  These cases are extremely difficult to handle as the family of the decedent is devastated and the courts and judges encountered will have no mercy on the defendant.

Having handled operating while intoxicated causing death cases in Oakland County, we have extensive experience in handling these types of cases all the way through jury trials.  A person charged with operating while intoxicated causing death is facing up to 15 years in prison.  However, it has been a trend that in certain situations, the prosecutor's office will charge the defendant with second degree murder, a charge that carries with it the possibility of life in prison.

When there is a death that involves drinking and driving in Oakland County, the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office will handle the case.  There are a multitude of different issues and strategies that we have used in the past depending on each individual case.  We have been successful in negotiating deals in the past in Oakland County where the amount of incarceration was significantly less than what was required under the now advisory Sentencing Guidelines.

The bottom line is that operating while intoxicated causing death cases in Oakland County are extremely serious cases that require very specific strategies in order to give your client a chance at a life.

Operating Under the Influence of Drugs

The amount of people arrested for Operating Under the Influence of Drugs in Oakland County has increased dramatically in the past few years as the epidemic of prescription drug abuse becomes worse and worse.  Operating Under the Influence of Drugs or Narcotics is a charge that can be brought in two different ways.  First, if you have any presence of a schedule one narcotic, such as marijuana, in your system when operating a vehicle, you are in theory guilty of operating while intoxicated, whether or not you actually are intoxicated.  It is important to note that the medical marijuana act does protect people with cards against prosecution in these circumstances.  

The second method that Oakland County prosecutors use is to allege that the defendant was actually under the influence due to the use of drugs.  We have seen many of these cases stem from the use of Xanax, Vicodin, OxyContin, Ambien, and numerous other drugs.  The prosecutor must prove that the defendant was intoxicated or impaired at the time of the driving.

Amberg & Amberg trial attorney Jim Amberg recently obtained a not guilty verdict in the Plymouth 35th District Court in a drugged driving case in which the client had morphine, codeine, Xanax, and Ambien in his system at the time he was driving.  Although his driving was terrible and he couldn't even stand up or speak, Jim was able to show that his client was having a medical event at the time of the alleged drugged driving and the jury found him not guilty. 

Operating While Intoxicated 3rd Offense Felony

In Michigan, if you have two prior operating while intoxicated or operating while impaired convictions, a new charge for operating while intoxicated can be treated as a felony.  This is even if the priors were years before.  In Oakland County, we have seen felony drunk driving charges when the prior charges were nearly thirty years before.  A felony drunk driving conviction in Oakland County carries with it a possible five year prison sentence, with a mandatory minimum thirty day sentence.  Because work release is no longer available in Oakland County, this means that a conviction for a drunk driving felony in Oakland County will result in mandatory jail time, no exceptions.  Additionally, the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office will likely attempt to forfeit your vehicle.

As to the possibility of a plea deal, the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office does not make deals in OWI felony cases.  The elected prosecutor has created a policy where all felony drinking and driving cases go to trial unless the defendants plead guilty as charged.  The extent of what you can expect in a plea on a felony drinking and driving is that the prosecutor may sometimes agree to a particular length of jail or prison sentence. 

The Judges of the 6th Circuit Court in Oakland County handle all drinking and driving offenses that are charged in Oakland County.  The Circuit Court Judges of Oakland County are generally tough on felony drunk driving cases, especially when the defendant has more than one prior felony or if the defendant has had more than two prior drinking and driving convictions.  These cases are very complex and difficult and in order to win or get a decent sentence, a solid strategy must be implemented from the beginning of the case.

Operating While Intoxicated 2nd Offense

Receiving a second offense operating while intoxicated in Oakland County is an extremely serious situation because of the tough Oakland County District Court judges.  A conviction for a second offense drunk driving will likely result in jail time, and will result in significant jail time in certain tough Oakland County courts.  An operating while intoxicated charge becomes a second offense charge if you have a prior conviction within seven years of the new charge.  The way to determine the dates is to look at the date that you were sentenced on the first operating while intoxicated.  If that date is within seven years of the date you are charged on the new offense, then you could be facing a second offense charge.

There are a few other key differences that make a second offense much for serious.  First, the amount of potential jail time is increased from 93 days to 365 days.  Second, two convictions within seven years will revoke your driver license for a minimum of one year.  It is important to note that the time frame for that is measured from conviction date to conviction date.

Because Oakland County has some of the toughest drunk driving courts in the nation, the sentences imposed for second offense convictions can be extremely harsh.  This is further exacerbated  by the fact that the Oakland County Prosecutor handles all second offense cases and they have an office wide policy to not make any deals in these cases.  

There are some courts and judges in Oakland County who participate in sobriety court programs.  These programs are great for second offense cases because they generally allow you to not go to jail on second offense drunk driving charges and the law also allows for you to have a restricted license with an interlock device, even though your license has been revoked.

Operating While Intoxicated First Offense

The operating while intoxicated, also known as an owi or a dui, is the most common drinking and driving charge in Oakland County.  Stemming from MCL 257.625, it is a crime in Oakland County to operate a vehicle with either a blood alcohol content of a .08 or higher, or to operate a vehicle "under the influence."  This is the most common type of criminal charge in Oakland County, where thousands of people get charged and convicted every year.  Oakland County has the reputation of having some of the toughest courts in the nation when it comes to drinking and driving cases, and this reputation is rings true.  District courts such as the 48th in Bloomfield Township and the 52-3 in Rochester Hills are courts where jail is a possibility with some judges and a certainty with others.

A first offense operating while intoxicated carries with it the possibility of up to 93 days in jail, although jail sentences are generally probation for most of the Oakland County district court judges.  Additionally, an owi conviction carries with it a license sanction of no license for 30 days, followed by a restricted license for six months.  Probation, fines and costs, classes, community service, interlock devices, alcohol and drug testing, counseling, rehab, and mandatory AA are all possible sanctions that you can expect from an operating while intoxicated conviction in Oakland County.  

For the most part, 1st Offense operating while intoxicated cases are prosecuted by private practice prosecutors who represent the various cities and townships of Oakland County.  However, the Oakland County does prosecute operating while intoxicated first offense cases, generally when a State Trooper is involved or if the case takes place on Oakland University's campus.