Only the government can charge an individual with a crime. Many times the crime is reported to the police or the police investigate the crime. The investigating officers then turn the case over to the prosecutor’s office (or local city attorneys).

A person can only be charged with a crime that is a violation of a written statute or ordinance (law). This means that if there is no law prohibiting the act, then a person likely will not be charged with a crime. However, not knowing the law is no excuse for committing a crime.

For example, when an emergency vehicle is stopped by the side of the road, the law says that other drivers must slow down and/or move over a lane. If a driver does not slow down or move over, it is a misdemeanor, and a person cannot claim in their defense that they did not know the law.

There are several types of criminal cases. In any type of criminal case, you should hire your own lawyer, if you can afford one. The most common reasons people call us include:

We also represent people in the following types of criminal law cases:

  • Criminal Sexual Conduct (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th degree)
  • Murder, Negligent Homicide, Manslaughter (voluntary or involuntary), Felonious Murder
  • Medicare/Medicaid Fraud

Traffic Offenses

Traffic offenses are civil infractions or violations of civil law. Generally speaking, a traffic offense will carry civil fines as well as points on your driving record. Points on your driving record can cause your insurance rates to go up. Having too many points can cause more severe penalties – up to and including the loss of driving privileges. Some traffic offenses are misdemeanors and carry the possible penalty of jail.

For example, a traffic offense of speeding one to five miles per hour over the speed limit puts two (2) points on your driving record. If a person gets 12 points on their record within any two-year period, then the Secretary of State will suspend their license.

Below are examples of some common offenses and their point value:

Speeding  up to 10 mph over limit
11-15 mph over limit 3
15 mph over limit  4
Red Light (ignoring traffic control signal) 3
Careless Driving 4
Reckless Driving – MCL 257.626 6








In addition to being a “points” violation, reckless driving is also a misdemeanor, which can include punishment of up to 93 days in jail and a mandatory suspension of your driver’s license.

For a complete list of Michigan traffic violations, click here.

Drunk or Impaired Driving Offenses

OWI – Operating While Intoxicated

A person who is found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood and is driving may be subject to penalties. It may be referred to as “driving while intoxicated,” “operating while intoxicated” (OWI), “drunk driving,” or the reduced charge “driving while visibly impaired” (OWVI). See below for an explanation of impaired driving.

The law, MCL 257.625, is called Operating While Under the Influence (OWI) of Alcohol, Liquor or Controlled Substance. The first time someone receives an OWI, the punishment may include a 30-day license suspension or 180-day license restriction, up to 93 days in jail, community service, probation and/or fines and costs.

Each time a person breaks this law, the punishment is more severe. This table shows how the punishment increases with each offense.

Offense Consequences
1st Restricted license* (30 or 180 day)
2nd Suspension, restriction or revocation of license depending on the time between offenses*
3rd Felony: Revoked license, depending on the timing of offenses, and mandatory jail time of at least 30 days.


*License Penalties

  • Restricted: A restricted license means the person has restrictions on when and where they can drive. Usually they are only allowed to drive to and from work (or school), treatment and court.
  • Suspended: Suspension means that the person is not allowed to operate a vehicle (drive), either theirs or someone else’s, for the stated period of time. (See driver’s license appeals below.)
  • Revoked: When a license is revoked, the person loses his or her license permanently and can never legally drive again. (See driver’s license appeals below.)


A person who is found driving while under the influence of alcohol can be prosecuted via two methods:

  • A blood alcohol level in excess of 0.08 (as determined by breathalyzer test or blood test) or where the influence of alcohol is impairing their ability to operate their motor vehicle.
  • A person that refuses a breathalyzer test may have their blood drawn. A blood alcohol level that exceeds 0.08 is enough for an OWI conviction.

Practice Note: Refusing a breathalyzer cannot prevent a criminal charge. An individual can be charged with refusing a breathalyzer, which involves a mandatory license suspension for one year.

OWVI - Impaired

A person who is found driving with a blood alcohol level below 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood can be cited with operating while impaired. Prescription medications, such as painkillers, can also impair driving. A person may be cited for driving while impaired due to medication. The penalty for impaired driving is usually less than for drunk driving.

Offense Consequences
1st Restricted License
2nd Revocation of license if second offense occurs within 7 years
3rd Mandatory jail and loss of license

Zero Tolerance – under 21 – MCL 257.625 (6)
Minor in Possession

Any person under the age of 21 who is a) operating a motor vehicle and b) has any trace of alcohol in his or her system has committed a crime. There is a zero tolerance policy for those below the legal drinking age. The person will be prosecuted if their blood alcohol content is .02 grams per 100 milliliters or higher.

Multiple Offenses and Enhanced Sentencing

Each time a person faces drunk or impaired driving charges, the penalty, or sentencing, will be more severe. For example, by the third offense, the crime is considered a felony and can mean up to five years in jail. Any future offenses will also be treated as felonies and likely will include jail time.

If a person is “Super Drunk” – anything over 0.17 – enhanced penalties will apply even for a first offense.

Note: A drunk or impaired driving charge stays with you for the rest of your life. For example, if you have two such offenses in your 20s, the next one, even if it is 20 years later, is your third. It is a felony and you could go to jail.

Driver Responsibility Fees

In addition to the other penalties, the Secretary of State’s office may impose extra charges when the person renews their driver’s license. These are called driver responsibility fees, and they are in addition to the court costs, fines and penalties. In the first two years after a first drinking and driving offense, these additional charges may apply (see chart below).

Offense Consequences
OWVI  $500 added as driver responsibility fees (2 years)
OWI $1,000 added as driver responsibility fees (2 years)



Misdemeanors are punishable by a minimum of 93 days up to a maximum of up to one year in jail. Some examples of misdemeanors include the following:

  • Assault and Battery
  • Failure to yield to an emergency vehicle
  • Driving while license suspended – MCL 257.904

In addition, some local ordinances carry misdemeanor charges if they are violated


Felonies can be very serious crimes, and include: murder, manslaughter, criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, larceny and embezzlement. They are punishable by a sentence of two years or more in jail.

A felony can be charged by the local or state government in Circuit Court. Also, the federal government may bring federal charges if they relate to a federal statute such as Medicare/Medicaid Fraud or other violations of federal laws.

There are many steps to the criminal proceedings in a felony case:

  1. Arrest/Jail
  2. Bond
  3. Arraignment* in District Court
  4. Preliminary Examination (in District Court)
  5. Arraignment* in Circuit Court
  6. Motion(s) to Quash (optional)
  7. Pre-Trial
  8. Jury/Bench Trial**
  9. Sentencing

* Arraignment is a procedure at which the charges are read to the accused in open court.

**A bench trial is a trial in front of a judge without a jury.

Driver License Appeals

If a license is suspended or revoked, the person can schedule a hearing before the DLAD (Drivers License Appeal Department), and make an appeal to get their license back. The DLAD is the prosecution wing of the Secretary of State.

If the DLAD appeal is refused, the next step is to appeal to the circuit court. The court may give the person’s license back if the person can show hardship. An example of hardship is if the person is the sole wage earner of the family and needs to drive to work. Sometimes a revoked license will be given back, but with restrictions.

It is highly recommended to have an attorney with you for an appeal.

Criminal Investigation

Prior to being charged with a felony, a person may be contacted by the local law enforcement investigating the crime. Note: If you are contacted by a local law enforcement agency for questioning, we strongly suggest that you contact an attorney right away as you may be the target of the investigation. You should not speak to the law enforcement agency without your own attorney present at the meeting.

Probation Violations

Probation violations are separate crimes. Any violation of the terms of your probation can be considered a crime. For example, a person with an OWI conviction might be on probation for one year and is not allowed to drink alcohol during that time.

If, during the probation period, the person who is on probation is pulled over for another drunk driving offense, there might be a new charge for OWI 2nd offense. In addition, the person may have violated their probation in the OWI 1st offense case, and they would then be charged with a probation violation as an additional crime, and could be sanctioned to jail or any other penalty that the court deems appropriate.