People v. Miller: Multiple Punishments for OWI Offenses?

In the Michigan Supreme Court case of People v. Miller, the Court held that punishments for convictions for both operating while intoxicated and operating while intoxicated causing serious impairment of a body function violated the double jeopardy provision for multiple punishments.

The legislature did not intend for there to be a person to receive multiple punishments for operating while intoxicated and operating while intoxicated causing serious impairment.

Facts of the Case

The facts of the case are straightforward. Defendant Miller was driving a car with his girlfriend as a passenger. He had a blood alcohol content measured at .17. There was an accident, resulting in the girlfriend breaking her collar bone. Defendant was charged with one count of operating while intoxicated (OWI) and and one count of operating while intoxicated causing serious impairment of a bodily function (OWI-injury). A jury convicted him on both counts. Defendant was sentenced to nine months in jail and five years of probation based on both the OWI and the OWI-injury counts.

Defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals, on the grounds that convictions on both counts violated the double jeopardy provisions of Michigan and federal law. The Court of Appeals agreed with Defendant’s argument. The Court vacated the conviction of OWI, and sent the case back to the trial court for re-sentencing. The Prosecution filed for reconsideration but the Court of Appeals said no. The Prosecution appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

On Appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court

The Court agreed with the result of the Court of Appeals yet disagreed with the reasoning.

The law at issue in the case is called Double Jeopardy. Double Jeopardy means a person cannot be tried or punished twice for the same act. It is a bedrock principle in the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Michigan Constitution.

In this case, the Court was dealing with the multiple punishments provision of the Double Jeopardy law. A person can receive multiple punishments where a law explicitly authorizes multiple punishments, but not otherwise.

The question for the Court, therefore, was whether the Drunk Driving Statute allowed for the possibility of multiple punishments with OWI and OWI-injury.

The general rule is that a law must explicitly state the possibility of multiple punishments or else a court cannot sentence a person to multiple punishments.

The Court looked the drunk driving statute for guidance on whether the legislature expressed an intent to allow for multiple punishments.

The Court found there were instances in the statute where multiple punishments were explicitly allowed, such as with OWI-child endangerment. However, the statute does not explicitly authorize multiple punishments for OWI and OWI-injury.

The Court believed that because the legislature explicitly intended for multiple punishments with certain acts under the drunk driving statute and not others, the lack of explicit authorization for multiple punishment meant the legislature did not intend for there to be multiple punishments where not authorized. Had the legislature intended for the possibility of multiple punishment for operating while intoxicated and operating while intoxicated causing injury, it would have said so, as it did for other drinking and driving related crimes under the same statute.

What Can We Learn From the Case

This contains a good analysis of how to look at a statute and determine whether the legislature intended for convictions to result in multiple punishments. The statute on operating while intoxicated is lengthy and only gets lengthier. Read our annotated Drunk Driving Statute page for the complete text of the law. A good criminal defense lawyer will have read the entire law and will know it well.

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Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Attorney in Ann Arbor focusing on DUI law.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 2750 Carpenter Rd #2, Ann Arbor, MI 48108

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This case is captioned as People v. Miller, 498 Mich. 13, 869 N.W.2d 204 (2015)

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