The best advice to anyone who drives is not to drink at all. That saves you from being arrested for OWI (operating while intoxicated), potentially losing your license and having a criminal record. But for the sake of the odd time that you have a drink or two and head home in your own car, you do need to know what could happen next and how you should deal with it.
Having the odd drink does not make you necessarily unfit to drive, but everyone responds to alcohol differently. Some people may find it hard to concentrate even if they have only had a very little alcohol, while others may have a blood alcohol level well over the limit and still behave as if they are in full control of their vehicle.
The OWI process starts if you are stopped by police
A police officer may justifiably stop you when driving for a number of reasons. Your driving may seem erratic; you may not have all your lights on or working if at night; it may be a routine stop to check driver licenses and driver registration. In most cases, he or she will notice how you respond and become suspicious if your speech is slurred, your breath reeks of alcohol or your responses seem sluggish. They may then ask if you have been drinking. Should you tell the truth? If you have had a drink and you think that the officer noticed it, it is best to be honest and say that you have had a drink. Be courteous and co-operative. Having admitted that you have had a drink, you will probably be asked to complete a field sobriety test.
The field sobriety test
If you are asked to complete a field sobriety test, you do not legally have to agree. There are many reasons why attorneys caution drivers about these tests. They tend to be subjective and difficult to measure with any accuracy. They do not take into account the degree of physical athleticism of the person tested. Tests can be influenced by fatigue and any medication taken. However, if you are feeling alert and physically able to follow instructions out of your car, then by all means agree to do them. Bear in mind that if you fail any of the tests, you could be asked to accompany the officer to the nearest police station and complete a chemical test for alcohol. If you complete the tests well, then most likely you will be allowed to proceed.
The preliminary breath test
The preliminary breath test (PBT) is a hand held on- the spot test for alcohol that may or may not be used on you. You do have the option of refusing, but if you do refuse, you could receive a ticket for refusing a PBT and a fine. If the officer suspects that you are OWI, you will probably then be arrested and taken to a police station for a further test and questioning. PBTs are not admissible in court because of their poor record of accuracy.
The chemical test for blood alcohol
If the OWI procedure has advanced to the stage that you are taken to a police station, you will be asked to take a chemical test for blood alcohol. In most cases across Michigan, this is the breathalyzer. It is a criminal offense to refuse to take this test, although unless you are unconscious, police cannot force you to take it. If you do refuse to take the test, you will face a separate charge against you which is independent of any OWI charge. Your driving license will also be suspended immediately. This will happen even if you are not charged with OWI. It means that you will have to fight to get your license reinstated and will probably spend one night at least in jail. It is best to go along with the test, but take notice of any irregularities as these can work later in your defense if you are charged.
What next after a charge of OWI?
If your blood alcohol level (BAC) is over 0.08% (or less if you are a commercial driver or a minor), you will probably be charged with OWI. Even if your BAC is less than that, you may still be charged with OWI based on field sobriety tests or other responses, but it will be harder for prosecutors to prove that you were OWI itself.
At this stage, you need to be as calm as possible and contact a criminal defense/ OWI attorney as soon as possible. An experienced OWI attorney at Abood Law can be contacted in Birmingham at 248.549/0000 or East Lansing at 517.332.5900.