What’s the Difference Between OWI and OUIL?

What’s the Difference Between OWI and OUIL?

OWI and OUIL are acronyms describing two different ways a prosecutor can prove the crime of drunk driving in Michigan.  The acronym OWI refers to the more general crime, while OUIL describes a specific way to prove a specific crime which is that of drunk driving.  In other words, the acronym OUIL relates to a certain kind of proof at trial. Either way, both OWI and OUIL ultimately relate to the same crime.

This crime can be found in Michigan law at MCL 257.625, which sets forth all the different ways intoxicated driving can be proved.  The general term for intoxicated driving is OWI which stands for operating while intoxicated.  The crime of OWI really consists of several different crimes depending on the type of intoxicating substance present.  Thus, OWI can describe intoxicated driving crimes involving alcohol, prescription drugs, and non-prescriptions drugs like cocaine or even marijuana.

When it comes to intoxication by alcohol, the acronym OUIL applies to one of the two ways the crime of OWI can be proved in court.  This stands for Operating Under the Influence of Liquor.  To prove this crime, the prosecutor will often use what is called the observation evidence.  This usually relates to all the evidence other than the breath or blood test.  Observation evidence is usually broken down into the parts, and these come from the three phases of the drunk driving investigation.

The first phase of the investigation is the vehicle in motion phase. In this part of the police officer’s investigation the officer will be looking for the way you are driving your car.  The question is whether any of the driving cues observed are consistent with intoxication? The decision point is whether to stop your car. If the police officer decides to stop your car then he or she will be observing the way you respond to the stop signal. This is all part of what police officers are trained to look for when conducting drunk driving investigations.

The next phase of the investigation is the personal contact phase which is also called the face-to-face contact phase. In this part of the investigation the police officer will be looking at your general appearance including whether or not your eyes appear bloodshot or glassy, and will also be looking at the way you respond to various questions such as where you are going and where you are coming from. The police officer will note in his or her report whether or not he or she observes slurred speech and also whether or not you are able to appropriately answer the questions asked. The officer will also be looking to determine whether or not you have fine motor control as it relates to your ability to provide the driver’s license vehicle registration and proof of insurance.  The decision point is whether or not to ask you to step out of the car, and if the officer asks you to do so,, then he or she will be observing whether or not you display any issues with coordination when stepping out of the car, or walking to the rear of the car, or more generally in your ability to follow directions.

The final phase of the investigation will be related to what are commonly called the field sobriety tests. The three standardized field sobriety tests include the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk-and-turn, and the one-leg stand.

The police officer will testify at trial about all of the observations made during all three phases of the investigation, and the jury will be asked to decide if together this evidence proves that your ability to operate the motor vehicle was substantially lessened.  If the jury believes this to be true, then they will essentially be finding that the prosecutor has proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, the crime of OWI by way of OUIL.  Thereafter, the court will enter a verdict of conviction.

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