Michigan Criminal Law: Traffic Offenses; OWI/OUI’s: Vehicle Owner’s Responsibilities

Under Michigan law, while the actual operator’s potential charges may be serious, the owner/controller of the vehicle who “knowingly” authorizes or permits 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 “knowingly” 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).

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.
We represent clients throughout Michigan on traffic offenses and all types of criminal charges. Our experienced trial attorneys are here to assist you with your legal needs. For a free initial consultation, please call our Lansing office at (517) 507-5077. Drive safely.

*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.
**Please note this post is only general legal advice. Circumstances may vary. If you need specific legal advice for your particular circumstances, I encourage you to 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.