Michigan’s Zero Tolerance Laws: Minors Beware

In Michigan, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level exceeding .08. However, if you are under 21 years of age, it is a crime for you to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level as low as .02 or higher. That’s right, the “zero tolerance” law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from operating a motor vehicle with “any bodily alcohol content.” Presumably, if the underage driver’s blood alcohol level exceeds 0.08, the underage driver will be charged with the more serious offense of Operating While Intoxicated (OWI). In the event that an underage driver is charged with OWI, a court is not permitted to dismiss the more serious charge, although a prosecutor maintains that ability in plea negotiations.

Oddly enough, the only exception to this strict rule is if the underage driver can prove that the presence of alcohol is from a “generally recognized religious service.”

Since Windsor, Ontario is just across the Detroit River, and due to the fact that the legal drinking age in Canada is 19, the zero tolerance law is problematic for underage motorists legally consuming alcoholic beverages in Canada returning to Michigan. While crossing the border, the underage motorist transforms from a legally sober driver to a legally intoxicated driver.

The penalties for a first offense “zero tolerance” violation is limited to community service for not more than 360 hours and a fine of not more than $250.00. This is a non-jailable offense meaning that there is no possibility of imprisonment for a first offense. However, a second offense within seven years carries a maximum of 60 days community service, a fine of not more than $500.00 and/or imprisonment for not more than 93 days.

Notwithstanding that a first offense carries no possible jail sentence, the charge must be treated seriously because a conviction counts towards repeat offender laws. By way of example, even with no prior OWI convictions, a 22 year old with a prior “zero tolerance” violation may face being charged with OWI 2nd. Thankfully, the drunk driving statute states, however, that only one prior “zero tolerance” violation may be used for enhancement. As such, even if the same 22 year old had two prior “zero tolerance” violations, the prior charges could not be used to support a felony charge of OWI 3rd.

Not only is it illegal to drink or possess alcohol in Michigan when you are under 21 years of age, it is also illegal to drive a motor vehicle with any amount of alcohol in your system. If you find yourself facing a zero tolerance violation, take this charge very seriously even though this is an offense where jail is not a penalty. Call the experienced DUI lawyers at SMDA to a free consultation. Let our knowledge and expertise work for you.

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