Substance Abuse Assessments and OWI Offenses

For individuals in Michigan convicted of Operating While Visibly Impaired, Operating While Intoxicated, or Operating with a High BAC, the legislature requires the completion of a substance abuse assessment prior to sentencing. MCL 257.625b(5). Often this is approached as just one more requirement in a long list of conditions placed upon an individual convicted of operating a motor vehicle with drugs or alcohol. By changing the approach and viewing it as a tool for sentencing mitigation, defendants can use a legislative requirement to showcase rehabilitation before a criminal sentence begins.

Substance abuse assessments are evaluations used to assess potential addiction issues and establish a treatment plan based on an individual’s needs. A treatment plan could include inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, substance use classes, or participation in support groups. The results of assessments are often used by probation to justify keeping an individual on court supervision to monitor compliance with any recommended programming. In reality, the law provides the court with discretion to order any substance abuse programming recommended as part of the substance abuse assessment for OWI and OWVI cases. MCL 257.625b(5). Additionally, new law enacted in March 2021 creates a rebuttable presumption that defendants convicted of a non serious misdemeanor, such as an OWI without injury, should receive a nonjail and nonprobation sentence. MCL 769.5(3).

So, what does this mean for defendants? Completing a substance abuse assessment as early as possible is the best way to prepare for using your assessment as a sentencing mitigation tool. Sentencing mitigation merely means presenting facts and circumstances to argue for reducing the severity of a criminal sentence. At the end of the day, a criminal sentence is working to achieve a goal: rehabilitation, punishment, deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, or restitution. For OWI offenses the goal is often rehabilitation and deterrence: how can the court ensure the defendant’s behavior is changed and they will not reoffend? If a defendant can showcase that rehabilitation is already happening without the requirement for court supervision this can be presented at sentencing to argue that the goals of rehabilitation and deterrence are already accomplished and additional oversight is unnecessary.

As always, each criminal case is unique and the specifics of each case should be discussed with an attorney. Work with your attorney to determine how early completion of a substance abuse assessment may be used in your case.