Even a person convicted of a first offense DUI/OWI in Michigan with no prior record faces the possibility of up to 93 days in jail, and judges in some courts are well known for putting first time offenders in jail. Also, repeat drunk drivers may face up to five years in prison for felony drunk driving, and where a death or serious injury occurs, the offender may be looking at 15 years or more in prison. Even second offenders face a minimum mandatory 5-day jail sentence, while felony drunk drivers are looking at a minimum of 30 days to a year in jail.
Convictions aren’t the only reason people charged with drunk driving may face jail time. Before the case even gets underway, and while you are still presumed innocent, some courts set extremely high cash bonds that are simply out of reach for many offenders. If the bond is too high, then you stay in jail until the bond is posted. Also, in addition to the money posted, you will be ordered to comply with certain bond conditions. A person who violates their bond conditions can have the money they posted revoked, which again results in being remanded to jail. Once convicted, you will also be ordered to comply with various terms and conditions of probation as part of your sentence, and if you violate these you may also face jail time.
Considering all the different ways a person charged with drunk driving can end up in jail, is there any sure-fire way to stay out of jail entirely? In most first offense DUI/OWI cases the answer is yes. In some repeat offense scenarios, it is also possible to avoid all jail time. However, as with all other aspects of drunk driving defense, preparation is often the key to avoiding jail time.
As it relates to bond, be sure and discuss your case in detail with your lawyer before your arraignment. A good pre-arraignment interview can help your lawyer know how to individualize your case to the court. A failure to do so will allow the judge or magistrate to make unwarranted assumptions about you and your case leading to a high cash bond and onerous bond conditions. On the other hand, good advocacy on the part of your lawyer at the arraignment can go a long way toward obtaining the most favorable bond and have the least restrictive possible bond conditions. Scheduling and if possible obtaining a substance use evaluation before the bond hearing can help the judge or magistrate understand that you are taking the matter very seriously.
A conviction for even a standard first offense drunk driver in Michigan means the offender will face up to 93 days in jail. While there isn’t a single court in Michigan that imposes jail time for all first-time offenders, some judges in some courts impose jail time regularly. Still, in these more draconian courts, jail time is not a certainty. Even the notorious Judge Kimberly Small in the 48th District Court fails to put all first time DUI/OWI offenders in jail. Nevertheless, the best way to avoid jail in a difficult court is to obtain a great result born from an aggressive defense. Sometimes this may mean obtaining a reduction to a non-alcohol or drug-related crime. Other times it may mean winning the case on motions or at trial. If this kind of a defense is not possible, then it’s always a good idea to consider beginning alcohol treatment soon after the arrest. While not all first offense drunk drivers are alcoholics, it’s still a good idea to have a substance use evaluation performed by a competent therapist.
After a complete evaluation, the therapist will determine either that you meet the criteria for a DSM V substance use disorder, or that you do not. If you do meet the criteria, then the therapist will characterize this, based on his/her findings, as mild moderate or severe. Also, the therapist will design a treatment plan to address your personal situation, and this may include individual therapy, group therapy, involvement in a structured support group such as AA or CR, and possibly even inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment. Whatever the diagnosis and recommendation, following through on the treatment plan can go a long way toward persuading the Judge that jail time is not necessary or appropriate in your case.
Also, before you are sentenced on any criminal case both you and your lawyer will have an opportunity to address the court and attempt to persuade them that jail time is not appropriate or warranted. It is usually a good idea to prepare a detailed statement and your lawyer can assist you in helping you draft such a statement. A presentence memorandum can also be filed by the court, and a good presentence memorandum can fully articulate to the court all of the positive aspects of your life. If the court is persuaded by your personal statement and the statement and memorandum of your lawyer, then what started out as jail sentence may end up straight probation.
Regarding the issues of bond and probation, people who avoided jail time at the sentencing may face jail time due to an allegation that they have violated their probation. The most common reasons are a failure to test or a positive test. If you are charged with either of these then a good lawyer can assist you in obtaining the best possible result. Alcohol and drug tests are all prone to producing false positives, and a lawyer well versed in the science of breath, blood and urine testing can help show the court that what looks like a drinking episode is actually a false positive, thereby again avoiding jail time.