While a first operating while intoxicated (OWI) offense is classified as a traffic violation in Wisconsin, rather than a criminal matter, it still carries a number of serious penalties that have the potential to impact your day-to-day life. In addition, a first offense can be used against you should you ever be charged with a similar crime in the future. For this reason, any person charged with drunk driving is strongly encouraged to contact a qualified Wisconsin OWI defense attorney to fight his or her charge.
One of the initial questions many people ask after being arrested for a first OWI is “will I go to jail?” Fortunately, the answer to this is no (unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as causing an accident and an injury while under the influence or transporting a minor under the age of 16 at the time of the incident—these are treated as criminal offenses).
If convicted of a first offense, you could be sentenced to a fine ranging from $150-$300 (plus $365 in OWI surcharges) and a six- to nine-month license revocation. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) was .15% or higher, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle as a condition of your driver’s license reinstatement. This device measures your BAC before allowing you to start the vehicle, and the costs of installation, maintenance and rental must be paid for out of pocket.
If a minor was in your vehicle, the penalties for a conviction are increased. Your potential sentence could include $300-$1,100 in fines, installation of an ignition interlock device for 12-18 months, and between five days and six months behind bars.
To reduce your risk of a subsequent offense, the court will also order you to attend an Intoxicated Driver Program and undergo a risk assessment. Depending on the results of your evaluation, you may be required to seek further treatment.
People accused of drunk driving typically receive two charges. The first is for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. The second is for operating a vehicle with a prohibited alcohol concentration or PAC. If your blood or breath test comes back above the legal limit, you’ll receive this citation. PAC in Wisconsin in .08 for first, second, and third offenses. It is .02 for fourth and subsequent offenses.
Wisconsin law doesn’t use the phrase “actual physical control,” but the question of control of a vehicle is the same. In Wisconsin, the phrase is “operating a motor vehicle,” which includes driving on any public premises like roads, parking lots, fields, etc. It also includes sitting in the driver’s seat in a parked but running vehicle.
If you were pulled over and failed a breath or blood test, you will receive a Notice of Intent to Suspend Your License. You must file the administrative review request (the yellow form) within ten days of the Notice Date to request an administrative hearing to review your license suspension. We recommend all of our clients do this. If you work with Tracey Wood & Associates, we can file the form on your behalf, and you do not need to attend the hearing with us unless otherwise instructed.
For the next 30 days after the Notice Date, the form will be considered your temporary driving permit. After those 30 days, you could lose your driver’s license if you don’t request an administrative review, or you lose your administrative review hearing. Even then, you could still be eligible for an occupational license.
You have ten days from the date on your citation to request a refusal hearing if you decline to take a breath or blood test after your arrest.
If you do not submit the administrative review request or if you refuse a breath test and fail to request a refusal hearing, your license will be suspended for at least one year. If you have prior OWI charges on your record, your license could be suspended for three years.
The administrative hearing only considers your license suspension. The result of the administrative hearing does not impact the outcome of your OWI case. If you decide to work with Tracey Wood & Associates, your attorney will attend the administrative hearing on your behalf and meet with a representative from the Department of Transportation to argue that your license should not be suspended. The results from the hearing typically take one business day. If you won, you keep your driving privileges. If you lost, you lose your driving privileges 30 days after the Notice Date on your Notice of Intent to Suspend Your License. If you lose, your attorney will advise you on how to apply for an occupational license. However, if you have two or more license suspensions within the past 12-month period, you may not be eligible for an occupational license.
If this is your first OWI, you can apply for an occupational/hardship license right away. This allows you to travel to and from work. If you have prior OWI charges, there is a 45-day waiting period before you are eligible to apply for an occupational license.
You will be required to show proof of insurance in order to receive an occupational license. To do so, you must request an SR-22 form from your insurance provider. This means your insurance provider will probably raise your insurance rates and could change your coverage.
With an occupational license, you can drive to and from work or for “homemaking” purposes. There are some limits on the amount of time you can drive – no more than 12 hours per day and 60 hours per week.
At Tracey Wood & Associates, our attorneys know Wisconsin’s OWI laws inside and out—and it shows. Our firm has helped a number of clients successfully fight both their administrative and drunk driving court charges in an effort to avoid the consequences associated with a first OWI offense.
Fighting an OWI is possible, but you need to act swiftly. To get started, please complete our online form now to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation.