​"Just Because You Were Over The Limit Does Not Mean You Are Guilty!" ®

Grand Rapids Drunk Driving OWI Lawyer

What Does It All Mean?


What Is The Difference Between DUI, DWI, and OWI?


This is a common question with a fairly simple answer. Every state sets its own drunk driving laws. Some states call it DUI or DWI or something similar, while Michigan calls it OWI. Because DUI (Driving Under the Influence) or DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) implies a prosecutor must prove a defendant was “driving,” Michigan legislators decided to call it OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) to eliminate the “driving” requirement and allow prosecutors to merely prove that a defendant was “operating” a vehicle. This means even if a police officer does not actually see a person driving, the officer may still be able to arrest them for Operating While Intoxicated.  Therefore, a person sitting inside a car may be charged with OWI even if the car was not being driven.


 What Does An OWI Conviction Mean To Me? 


Being convicted of an alcohol related driving offense in Michigan means you will ALWAYS have a criminal record. Even though convictions for some crimes can be expunged or set aside, meaning it gets removed from your public record, alcohol related driving convictions cannot be removed. Further, aside from the penalties the court may assess, such as jail time, fines, and probation, your driver’s license will be affected, your insurance rates will go up, and you may lose your job – or be prevented from obtaining certain jobs. An OWI conviction can be very costly – especially if you don’t hire the right attorney. Not only is Ed Sternisha licensed as an attorney, he also holds licenses or certifications in many other areas, including being licensed as a private investigator, and as an insurance agent. He was also a police officer who made many drunk driving arrests and knows exactly what rules the police must follow. Ed uses his experience in these other areas to help him better serve each client who comes into his office. Plus, Ed only handles drunk driving cases – meaning it is not simply something he dabbles in; it is 100% of his business!


 What Are The Penalties?


Michigan drunk driving laws are broken down into various offenses. Here is a little bit (but not all) of information for some of the most common ones. Keep in mind that it is always best to consult with an attorney specifically about your case because every case is different.


OWVI – The lowest offense in the drunk driving laws is Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI), or what is commonly referred to as, “Impaired.” If you are convicted of Impaired, you face up to 93 days in jail, up to $300 in fines (plus hundreds more for court costs, restitution, probation oversight, etc.). You may also be ordered to do community service, attend A.A. meetings (or similar) or counseling, and submit to alcohol or drug testing regularly.


When it comes to your driver’s license, however, your attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge have no control. If you are convicted of OWVI, the Michigan Secretary of State WILL add 4 points to your record and your license will be restricted for 90 days (180 days if you were convicted of being impaired by drugs instead of alcohol). You will be able to drive back and forth to work, school, probation, and a few other places, but you will not be able to do any pleasure driving, not even to get groceries. See below for more about a restricted license.


OWI-1st – The charge for most first-time offenders is Operating While Intoxicated (OWI-1st). This is where your BAC is either .08 or above, or you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs while operating a motor vehicle. If you are convicted of this charge, you face up to 93 days in jail, up to $500 in fines (plus hundreds more for court costs, restitution, probation oversight, etc.). You may also be ordered to do community service, attend A.A. meetings (or similar) or counseling, and submit to alcohol or drug testing regularly.


Your driver’s license WILL be suspended for 30 days followed by 150 days restricted. You will also receive 6 points on your license. During the first 30 days, if you are caught driving at all, you will be arrested and charged with a new criminal offense of Driving While License Suspended (DWLS). During the 150 days of a restricted license, you will be allowed to drive to and from work, while on duty at work, to and from school, etc., but again, no pleasure driving. Driving outside of the restrictions is an arrestable criminal offense.


The limitations for a restricted license are automatic and are not modifiable. Your lawyer, the prosecutor, and the judge cannot add, to or change the restrictions. 


The general restrictions for a Restricted License are:


- To/from/during the person’s place of employment.

- To/from the person’s residence to and a listed location:

- An alcohol or drug education or treatment program as ordered by the court.

- The court probation department.

- A court-ordered community service program.

- An educational institution at which the person is enrolled as a student.

- A place of regularly occurring medical treatment for a serious condition for the person or a member of the person’s household or immediate family.


The driver must carry proof of destination and hours and show it to a police officer if pulled over. These restrictions will be printed out on a temporary license issued by the Secretary of State following a conviction. 


OWI-2nd – If you have a prior OWI-related conviction within the past 7 years, you will be charged with OWI-2nd Offense. This is a much more serious charge because you are considered a repeat offender. If convicted of this charge, you face up to 1 year in jail, up to $1000 in fines (plus court costs, restitution, etc.), up to 90 days community service, plus many other conditions of probation. 


A conviction of a second OWI-related offense within 7 years WILL cause your driver’s license to be revoked for a minimum of 1 year (that means you no longer have any license). After a year has passed, you may apply for a new license, but this is not a simple procedure. Generally, it is better to retain an experienced lawyer who regularly handles driver’s license restoration cases.


OWI-3rd – This charge is a felony. If you have 2 or more prior OWI-related convictions anytime in your lifetime (even if they were nearly 30 years ago as was th, you face up to 5 years in state prison. Although there are some other possibilities, every case is different, and every judge is different. Many people convicted of OWI-3rdserve time in a county jail with an extended probation but, again, every case is different.


There are many variations of charges within the Michigan drunk driving laws. Super Drunk, which is really OWI - High BAC (.17 or more), is charged to people who would normally be charged with OWI-1st but have a BAC of more than double the legal limit of .08. If convicted of Super Drunk, you face up to 180 days in jail, $700 in fines (plus court costs), up to 360 hours of community service, etc. 


The Secretary of State will suspend your license for one year. After the first 45 days, you may have a restricted license, but you would be required to have a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID) installed in your car (at your expense). This would require you to blow into a device that will only start the engine of your car if it detects no alcohol.


Other related charges include OWI-Causing Serious Impairment of a Bodily Function, OWI-Causing Death, OWI-Child Endangerment, OWI-Minor (Zero Tolerance OWI), and more. 


If arrested for any OWI-related offense, plead not guilty and “Call Ed Instead!”


What Should I do?


If stopped by the police, remember, you still have your basic constitutional rights, so remain silent.  Any admissions you make WILL be used against you.  For most adult drivers without a CDL, if you refuse to take a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) at the roadside you will be responsible for a civil infraction.  A civil infraction is NOT a crime and you cannot be arrested for it - you will merely be assessed a fine.  If you decide to take a PBT or perform FSTs, the results WILL be used against you and the police may decide to arrest you at that point.  If you do not take the tests, the police will have less evidence to use against you later and without sufficient probable cause, the police cannot arrest you.  Currently there is NO PENALTY for refusing to perform field sobriety tests - (except under a limited roadside pilot program in select counties).


If arrested, the police may ask you to submit to an evidential chemical test (breath, blood, or urine).  This test is different than the PBT you may have submitted to at the roadside and your failure to submit to this test will result in your driving privileges being suspended for at least one year.  Remember, this is the test that you are asked to do AFTER being arrested.  Refusal of this test is not a crime either, however, if you refuse to submit, the police may obtain a search warrant from a judge allowing them to obtain a blood sample.

Regardless of what evidence the police may claim to have against you, do not make any admissions and plead NOT GUILTY at your arraignment.  Let Attorney Ed Sternisha investigate your case to see if the police followed all procedures properly.  Do not go it alone - you have too much to lose!

Remember, if you drink, call a cab.  If arrested, "Call Ed Instead!"®



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Awards / Memberships / Ratings

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Real-Time Questions & Answers

Court of Appeals Victory!

Michigan Court of Appeals Agrees With Attorney Sternisha


Attorney Ed Sternisha spent 4 years fighting for a client who was charged with drunk driving.  Ultimately Ed was able to prove the traffic stop was illegal because the police had the wrong speed limit.  As such, all evidence was suppressed.


Field Sobriety Tests - Yes or No?

Lawyer Says Field Sobriety Tests Are Not Mandatory


Are you required to submit to field sobriety tests during an OWI investigation in Grand Rapids, Michigan if a police officer asks you to?  Believe it or not, there is no penalty for politely saying, no. Whether you live in Allegan, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Ottawa, or Barry county, "Call Ed Instead!"  


[Non-Attorney Spokesperson]