Most people in Grand Rapids use the terms “drunk driving,” “OWI,” and “DUI” interchangeably. Unless you get charged with one of these crimes, it can easily seem like DUI and OWI both mean driving under the influence. So they must be the same crime with the same elements and potential punishments.
The truth is, OWI and DUI are not exactly the same. Michigan is one of just a handful of states that charge drunk driving as OWI. This was a deliberate decision that expands the number of people who can be convicted.
The usual DUI law
As you probably know, DUI stands for “driving under the influence.” In other words, the prosecution must prove that someone charged with DUI was driving their vehicle while over the legal limit for alcohol. Someone sitting in their car with the engine turned off or in the back seat cannot commit DUI.
Operating, not driving, in Michigan
This is where OWI comes in. OWI stands for “operating while intoxicated.” By substituting the word “operating” for “driving,” the OWI statute opens up ways you can be charged. It can mean being in control of the vehicle or having the ability to be in control. For example, you can be charged with OWI even if you were not driving and your car was not turned on if the prosecutor can prove that the keys were in your hand, pocket, or otherwise easily accessible.
Thus, you are more at risk of getting charged with drunk driving in Michigan, even if you were not driving and not posing a danger to anyone. Having excellent criminal defense representation is essential to avoid an unjust conviction.