OUI’s and Owner Responsibility…Pick your Designated Driver wisely….

**Hypoth148138443_4e3998a4cd_zetically, a group of friends, including the owner of a vehicle, decide to go out and enjoy an evening at a nice restaurant followed by a trip to their local, favorite bar for a few drinks. These friends make a smart choice; they pick a designated driver. Unfortunately, this “designated driver” could not resist the temptation of a few cold ones and a glass of wine prior to driving home.*
Could the owner of the vehicle be held responsible if the selected designated driver gets charged with operating the vehicle while intoxicated or impaired?
The answer is yes, absolutely. Under Michigan law, while the actual operator’s potential charges may be serious, the owner/controller of the vehicle who “knowingly permits” or “knowingly authorizes” the operator to drive their vehicle while impaired or intoxicated could face criminal charges as well.

Anyone charged, of course, is presumed innocent. The prosecutor would need to prove the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt if the matter proceeded to trial. Simply because a person is charged does not mean that ultimately, they will be convicted.
Owners and operators may be charged if they allow someone to operate their vehicle while intoxicated or impaired. As noted in MCL 257.625 (2):
The owner of a vehicle or a person in charge or in control of a vehicle shall not authorize or knowingly permit the vehicle to be operated upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of motor vehicles, within this state by a person if any of the following apply:
(a) The person is under the influence of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, other intoxicating substance, or a combination of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance.

(b) The person has an alcohol content of 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath, or per 67 milliliters of urine or, beginning October 1, 2018, the person has an alcohol content of 0.10 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath, or per 67 milliliters of urine.

(c) The person’s ability to operate the motor vehicle is visibly impaired due to the consumption of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance, or a combination of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance.

The consequences for a conviction for the owner or controller of the vehicle depend on the underlying charge for operator of the vehicle. MCL 257.625 (10) explains the list of possible maximum penalties in terms of jail/prison and fines.

If, for example, the intoxicated operator caused a death, the person who permitted the operator to use the vehicle may be charged with a felony “punishable by imprisonment for not more than 5 years or a fine of not less than $1,500.00 or more than $10,000.00, or both.” MCL 257.625 (10)(b).

Granted, this charge is not as serious as the charge for the alleged operator at the time. The alleged operator would have been charged with a felony “ punishable by imprisonment for not more than 15 years or a fine of not less than $2,500.00 or more than $10,000.00, or both,” see MCL 257.625 (4)(a), or “not more than 20 years or a fine of not less than $2,500.00 or more than $10,000.00, or both” if the deceased was a “police officer, firefighter, or other emergency response personnel.” MCL 257.625 (4)(c). Ultimately, a bulk of the liability will fall on the operator of vehicle; however, a felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison against the owner/controller is still a serious offense.

However, more likely, an owner or controller of the vehicle will be charged with a misdemeanor, “punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not less than $100.00 or more than $500.00, or both.” MCL 257.625 (10)(a).

Possible jail and fines are only a few of the potential sanctions if convicted. MCL 257.625 (10) lists only some of the possible sanctions, monetary and otherwise, if person is convicted.
Obviously, the prosecutor would need prove the “authorize or knowingly permit” portion of this charge against the owner/person in charge of the vehicle. This would be a key issue. However, they may prove this circumstantially. This question is ultimately a question of fact that may not be resolved until a trial.

Further, if there is evidence that the group of friends had selected the driver in advance, it would be challenging to claim that the hypothetical designated driver was driving the vehicle without the owner’s permission.

The bottom line is very straightforward; pick your designated driver carefully if you want someone to drive your vehicle for a night out. If the “designated driver” may want to partake and will struggle with refusing alcoholic beverages, it may be time to pick someone else. Otherwise, the owner/controller of the vehicle may be charged criminally if they “knowingly authorize or permit” their intoxicated or impaired driver gets charged. Of course, taking a cab or using alternative modes transportation may help avoid these issues.

If you need specific legal advice for your particular circumstances, we encourage you to privately consult with a lawyer. Our office frequently handles this types of matters. For a free initial consultation, please contact us at (517) 507-5077. Drive safely.file000244831962
*Please note that this discussion is only focused on one potential component of a situation involving allowing a intoxicated or impaired operator to use another person’s vehicle; it does not explore the possible civil issues (i.e., the owner could be sued through the civil courts if, for example, the operator gets in accident) or the possible administrative (i.e., there could be significant license sanctions if convicted) sanctions.

Our experienced trial attorneys fight hard for our Michigan clients. We represent clients statewide. For a free initial consultation, feel free to contact us at (517) 507-5077.

For more information on other traffic offenses, such as Operating While Intoxicated, click here.
For information on additional Michigan Traffic offenses such as operating on a suspended/revoked/denied license, click here.

Anyone charged, of course, is presumed innocent. The prosecutor would need to prove the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt if the matter proceeded to trial. Simply because a person is charged does not mean that ultimately, they will be convicted.
If you need specific legal advice for your particular circumstances, I encourage you to privately consult with a lawyer. Circumstances may vary significantly. If you need specific legal advice, please privately consult with a lawyer.
If you are charged with an offense and cannot afford to pay for your own defense, the court may appoint you an attorney payable at the public’s expense. You have a right to counsel.