Understanding OWI laws in Michigan - WNEM TV 5

Understanding OWI laws in Michigan

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)
MILLINGTON, MI (WNEM) -

Thankfully no one was hurt when a suspected drunk driver crashed through a fence and into a parked truck over the weekend.

Many questions remain about why that driver was behind the wheel in the first place.

The Lapeer County man accused of causing the crash in Millington was arrested for operating while impaired. It was his third offense.

"Answering that question is complicated," said Joseph Barberi, attorney.

Barberi has been a fixture in Mid-Michigan courtrooms for 42 years. He said he has seen plenty of people who have committed the same impaired driving offense again and again.

"When I was a prosecutor I tried cases where somebody would have their sixth, their seventh offense. And keep in mind the secretary of state can take somebody's license away from them. And that doesn't mean once they're out of jail or out of prison they can't jump behind the wheel when they're intoxicated with no driver's license and cause a serious injury," Barberi said.

He said the state rules typically allow judges to sentence someone convicted of operating while impaired to anywhere from less than a year to five years behind bars. However, the judge cannot take away driving privileges. Only the secretary of state can do that.

In the case of property damage accidents, like the one in Millington over the weekend, you're looking at jail time on the lower end if at all.

Barberi said unfortunately the only way the revolving door stops is if the worst happens.

"If somebody gets seriously injured or dies then somebody is going to likely go to prison. And that's typically when it becomes a prison offense as opposed to a jail term," Barberi said.

He said it's tough for the justice system to decide who to take a chance on.

"It is just a fabric of our life that allows people to openly consume alcohol and sometimes it mixes with driving. There isn't a good answer to give to anybody for a senseless death, whether it's a first offense or a third offense," Barberi said.

He said although a judge can't take away someone's license, he can take away their vehicle.

In the case of the suspect involved in the Millington accident, if he is convicted of a third OWI part of his sentence could include the court taking his car.

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