Michigan's Zero Tolerance Law

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The "zero tolerance" law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from operating a motor vehicle with "any bodily alcohol content" defined as a blood alcohol level in excess of 0.02 but less than 0.08. If the underage driver's blood alcohol level exceeds 0.08, presumably 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.

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."

This 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. There is no possibility of imprisonment for a first offense. 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.

Even though a first offense carries no possible jail sentence, the charge must be treated seriously because a conviction counts towards repeat offender laws. Thus, a 22 year old with a prior "zero tolerance" violation may face being charged with OWI 2nd. 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.

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