By Attorney Nicole Masnica
Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or even certain prescription medications is a serious offense, and a conviction for such an offense may result in a number of significant consequences. An OWI conviction can carry mandatory fines, time in jail or prison, revocation of your driving privileges, installation of an ignition interlock device, and required addiction counseling.
While drunk driving is commonly referred to as “driving under the influence” or DUI, in Wisconsin, it is known as “operating while intoxicated” or OWI. Being pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving can be a frightening experience, and many drivers do not know what to expect. Whether this is the first time you have been arrested for OWI or you have previously been arrested or convicted, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine how to minimize the consequences you may face.
Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) and OWI Laws in Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, those suspected of operating under the influence may be charged with two different offenses stemming from the same act of driving: operating while intoxicated and operating with a prohibited alcohol concentration or with a restricted controlled substance in your blood.
This means that even if it may be difficult to prove that your driving was actually impaired by your consumption of alcohol or another drug, if your blood alcohol content exceeds the legal limit or if you have certain chemical compounds in your blood establishing that you recently consumed an illegal substance such as marijuana or opiates, you can still be charged with a crime. Moreover, you may be charged with an OWI even if the substance that allegedly caused impairment is prescribed by a doctor.
Know Your Rights
If you are pulled over, and the officer suspects you are under the influence, you will likely be asked to complete a series of physical and mental tasks known as field sobriety tests (FSTs). If an officer asks you to perform field sobriety tests, it is your right to refuse to do so. However, a refusal to participate in field sobriety testing combined with other facts may give an officer probable cause to arrest you for OWI, and the fact of your refusal can and will be used against you if the matter proceeds to trial.
If the officer believes you are impaired from alcohol, you may also be asked to submit to a chemical test of your breath, blood, or urine. A preliminary breath test (PBT) is often the first test you will be asked to submit to following the FSTs, and this typically occurs on the roadside. While these test results are not admissible at trial, they are used to assist the officer in determining whether there is probable cause to arrest you for impaired driving.
If you are arrested under submission of an OWI, you will be taken to either the police department for a more accurate test of your breath with an intoximeter or to a hospital for collection of your blood or urine. Ahead of the test, an officer will read you the form known as the “Informing the Accused.” You will be asked whether you consent to the requested testing, and informed that if you refuse to voluntarily provide a sample, your driver’s license will be suspended. Further, refusing to consent does not mean that the officer may not continue with the testing, only that he or she will have to contact a judicial official to obtain a warrant. Any refusal is treated as a conviction for counting purposes if you were to get an OWI charge in the future.
First time offenders can face penalties such as driver’s license revocation ranging from six to nine months and a $150 to $300 fine. Any subsequent conviction will result in even higher fines, longer license revocations, and mandatory jail or prison time. More severe penalties apply if the driving results in injury to another, if a child is in the vehicle, or if one’s blood alcohol content far exceeds the legal limit.
Depending on the facts of your case, your county of residence, and the location of the arrest, there may be options such as treatment courts to lessen the amount of time you spend confined as a result of any conviction.
Contact a Milwaukee OWI Attorney Today
At Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP, we understand that an arrest for OWI can have a massive impact on your life, your driver’s license, and your reputation. We can help you understand the best steps to take following an arrest, and we will provide you with the legal representation you need throughout the course of your case. Contact our Milwaukee, WI drunk driving defense lawyers today at 414-271-1440.