Skip to Main Content

What’s the difference between an OWI and OWVI in Michigan?

Although many states use the phrase driving while impaired or intoxicated to describe drunk driving offenses, Michigan uses different terminology. Those accused of drunk or drugged driving will face charges known as operating while intoxicated or OWI charges. However, the state can also pursue charges for operating a vehicle while visibly impaired (OWVI).

Depending on your situation and circumstances, you or someone in your family could have to deal with OWI or OWVI charges in the near future. Understanding how law enforcement and judges differentiate between these charges, as well as their potential consequences in the event of a conviction or guilty plea, can help you make better decisions about any criminal defense strategy you may employ.

An OWI is a serious criminal offense

Of the two primary categories for impaired driving in Michigan, the OWI offense is the more serious charge. An OWI is the result of someone driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher or driving while under the influence of controlled substances. Prescription medication, as well as illicit and illegal drugs can result in OWI charges.

However, law enforcement may, instead, charge someone under the influence of a Schedule 1 prohibited substance or cocaine with a charge known as OWPD. Those under the influence of alcohol and drugs could face a combination of criminal charges.

What constitutes an OWVI?

An OWVI is the lesser of the two main charges used in impaired driving cases in Michigan. Law enforcement may charge somebody with an OWVI if they don’t have a chemical test confirming the presence of an illicit substance or an illegal amount of alcohol.

Those who have only had one or two drinks could find themselves charged with an OWVI, even if their BAC isn’t technically over the legal limit. There doesn’t need to be proof of illegal intoxication, only that a person was driving in an unsafe manner.

In other words, An OWVI only requires that law enforcement officers witness visibly impaired driving by the person they then arrest and charge with an OWVI.

How does Michigan penalize impaired driving offenses?

You might think of that a basic OWI charge is not concerning enough to warrant a criminal defense. However, it can carry significant consequences. You will have to deal with a criminal conviction on your record that can impact your job prospects.

As if that isn’t bad enough, you could face up to 93 days in jail, as well as a fine of as much as $500 for a first offense. Depending on whether your charge was an OWVI or an OWI, you could lose your license for anywhere from 90 to 180 days. Any subsequent impaired driving charges will carry more penalties., such as the risk of forfeiting your vehicle or needing an ignition interlock device.

Those increasing penalties are one reason why it makes good legal sense to avoid a conviction even for a first offense.