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Ever since the changes to Michigan’s drunk driving law in 1999, repeat drunk driving offenders have faced obstacles in getting their licenses back after revocation.  The driver had to go through annual review hearings to try to get their license back, provided they qualify.  Effective January 1, 2011, however, a new law, the DWI/sobriety court law, significantly changed these revocation hurdles.  It added a new section, MCL 257.304, to Michigan’s drunk driving law, which established new privileges, procedures, and corresponding sanctions for repeat offenders.  Most significantly, after an initial 45-day suspension, qualifying repeat offenders will be able to obtain restricted driving privileges with a breath-alcohol ignition-interlock device provided they have successfully participated in a  sobriety court program. 

The new law has a broad definition of what is a “prior offense.”  It requires the Secretary of State to issue a restricted license to an individual whose license was restricted, suspended, revoked, or denied because he or she either has (1) two or more convictions of driving while intoxicated (DWI) or visibly impaired under Michigan law, or (2) one conviction under Michigan law for one of those offenses, preceded by one or more convictions for violating a ‘substantially similar’ local ordinance or law of another jurisdiction.  A restricted license may then be issued after the individual’s driver’s license has been suspended for 45 days.  For this to occur, the judge assigned to a DWI/sobriety court must certify to the Secretary of State that the individual has been enrolled in a DWI/sobriety program and that an approved ignition-interlock device  has been installed on his or her vehicle.

            The restricted license remains effective until a hearing officer orders an unrestricted license. The hearing officer must then order an unrestricted license when the later of the following events occurs:  Court notification to the Secretary of State that the individual has successfully completed the DWI/sobriety program; the completion of the minimum license sanction that would have been imposed.  Both must occur. 

            The DWI/sobriety court law uses incentives to give the driver incentive to timely complete the DWI/sobriety program.   For example, the law provides that all required driver responsibility fees assessed by the Secretary of State be held in abeyance while the individual is participating in the program.  Further, the individual’s vehicle is exempt from forfeiture or immobilization while they are in the program.

 

What it means for drivers: 

 The law provides license sanction parity with last year’s “super drunk” law.  Now, “super drunks” and repeat offenders both have a 45-day hard suspension followed by 320 days of restricted driving with an interlocking device.  The law is also likely to encourage participation in a DWI/sobriety court by making it more rewarding to repeat offenders.  However, one problem is that the new law creates two classes of repeat offenders: those whose convictions occur in jurisdictions using DWI/sobriety courts and those whose convictions occur in jurisdiction without such courts.  The offenders unlucky enough to be arrested in the latter will have more harsh driver’s license sanctions.

 

Authored by: Barbara A. Assendelft