Being charged with drunk driving in Wisconsin can be stressful and a burden. A conviction for an OWI charge will have serious consequences that affect your family, your career, and your driving privileges. Let's not get started on the financial burden. A second or subsequent conviction is a criminal conviction in Wisconsin. Penalties include mandatory jail time as well as an ignition interlock device (IID) being installed on every vehicle registered in your name. It is imperative that you contact a Wisconsin criminal defense attorney like Anderson & O'Connell, S.C. immediately to assist you in fighting your OWI charges.
Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) and Prohibited Alcohol Concentration (PAC) Citations
It is often the case in Wisconsin to receive two different citations when you are arrested for drunk driving. First, you will be issued a citation or charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant (OWI). Second, you will be issued a citation or charged with operating a motor vehicle with a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC) if the level of your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is greater than .08. A PAC charge does not depend on the level of your impairment like an OWI. Your ability to operate your vehicle does not make a difference in this case. The OWI and PAC citations give prosecutors two chances to get a conviction. However, even if you are convicted of both charges, you will only face penalties for, or be sentenced, on one of these charges.
Operating with a Restricted Controlled Substance
Another common OWI charge is operating a motor vehicle with a detectable amount of a restricted controlled in your blood. The key point is that the law only requires a "detectable amount" of a restricted controlled substance. It does not matter if you were under the influence of that substance at the time of your arrest if the blood test results indicate any amount of it.
Operating While Intoxicated (OWI)
OWI stands for operating while intoxicated. This is one of the main charges you will receive if a cop arrests you for drunk driving. In order to convict you of operating while intoxicated the prosecutor must prove that you were driving or operating a motor vehicle on a public highway and that at the time your ability to drive or operate that vehicle was impaired by an intoxicant. This is different than the companion PAC citation you likely received.
Unlike the prohibited alcohol concentration citation where the prosecutor must prove your blood alcohol limit was over a .08 at the time of driving, an operating while intoxicated citation requires the prosecutor to prove that your ability to drive was impaired. Your ability to drive must be impaired to a point where you can't safely operate the vehicle. It is not enough to show you have consumed an alcoholic beverage and drove. It must be shown that consumed a sufficient amount to impair your ability to drive.
Penalties for an OWI Conviction
There are a variety of Wisconsin OWI laws that if you violate carry significant penalties. These laws include:
- Operating while Intoxicated
- Prohibited Alcohol Concentration
- Operating with a detectable amount of a Restricted Controlled Substance
- OWI causing injury
- Absolute Sobriety
If you have been charged with an OWI you are likely wondering what sort of penalties you face. Wondering if you will face any jail time as a result of a conviction. There are serious consequences under Wisconsin law for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant (“OWI”). Those penalties are generally based on the OWI sentencing guidelines.
A first offense OWI conviction will include penalties such as a forfeiture and court costs in the amount of $750-$1000, revocation of your drivers license for six to nine months, and if your BAC was over .15, an ignition interlock for a period of one year. These penalties become more severe with subsequent convictions and will include jail time. A second offense OWI and greater carries with it mandatory jail time. In the state of Wisconsin, courts will generally follow the sentencing guidelines established for the judicial district they reside in. It is very important to speak with a knowledgable OWI defense attorney to assist you with your case. Often an attorney who specializes in drunk driving cases can get your penalties reduced.
Common OWI Charges
Defending Against an Operating While Intoxicated Charge
Defending against an operating while intoxicated charge often requires an aggressive defense. At Anderson & O'Connell, S.C. that means we explore every avenue. We always file a request to obtain any squad videos of your arrest. Often these videos will provide some insight as to how an individual performed on the field sobriety tests outside of what the officer reported. If you were pulled over for an equipment violation, or something other than erratic driving, how your performance on the FSTs is portrayed on the video is important.
Common OWI Defenses
- Challenging the stop - Drunk driving defense often starts with looking at whether or not the officer had a legitimate reason for making a traffic stop. If the officer lacks probable cause to make the stop we may be able to get evidence suppressed. Evidence such as the blood or breath test and the field sobriety tests.
- Attacking the field sobriety tests - Field sobriety tests must be conducted as the officer was trained. There are three standard field sobriety tests: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, the Walk and Turn, and the One Leg Stand. Each one of these tests presents the opportunity to attack the way the officer administered the test.
- Challenging the decision to arrest for an OWI - Just as the officer needed probable cause to initiate the traffic stop, he or she needs probable cause to administer the PBT and make an arrest for an OWI. Arguing that under the totality of the circumstances the officer lacked probable cause can result in evidence getting suppressed.
- Challenging the accuracy of the chemical test - Whether you took a blood test or a breath test a result over .08 BAC does not mean all hope is lost. Machines and laboratories can malfunction and make mistakes. A careful review of the records can lead to compelling arguments for a jury.
- Blood Alcohol Curve Defense - Just like the defense above, a BAC above a .08 is not the end of it. Successful arguments can be made that at the time of operation your blood alcohol level was lower than a .08. This drunk driving defense is based on the absorption rate of alcohol and the time of last drink.
- Time of operation/ no witness to driving - Believe it or not, many individuals are cited for an OWI even when the officer does not witness them driving or operating the vehicle. This is common when they find someone sleeping or passed out on the side of the road. In these circumstances the blood or breath test may not carry the same weight. In other instances a good OWI defense attorney can keep the results out all together.
Impact on a Wisconsin Driver’s License with an OWI Conviction
When charged with an OWI offense, you face a suspension and/or revocation of your driver’s license. For an OWI offense your license will be revoked upon conviction. However, your license may be suspended administratively prior to a conviction for six months.
Your license will be suspended 30 days after receiving a Notice of Intent to Suspend if you do not request an administrative review hearing. It will also be suspended if you lose the administrative hearing. If you are convicted of an OWI offense your license will be revoked. For a first offense OWI your license will be revoked for a minimum of 6 months. Your license can be revoked for up to 36 months for a third offense and above. In addition to a revoked license, you will be required to install an IID upon licensure with a BAC of .15 or more, second offense and above, and any refusal charges. Unfortunately you will not be able to "wait out" the IID.
What To Do When Charged With an OWI
First and foremost remain calm. A drunk driving charge can be, and often is, a strain on your life. Remember that not all OWI charges lead to convictions. Not all OWI charges are the same. It is important that you contact a Wisconsin OWI attorney immediately in order to discuss your case and get the process started.
Make sure to meet with your attorney to discuss the events leading up to your arrest as soon as possible. While the events are still fresh in your memory, inform him or her of everything you know. Provide them with your citation and court date. In first offense cases, a Wisconsin OWI lawyer will be able to appear on your behalf. It is also important to timely request a jury trial and discovery. Your Wisconsin OWI lawyer will be able to assist you and ensure each step of the process is completed.