Do you need a doctor to remove a swollen appendix? If the answer is “Yes,” then you’ve already answered the question posed in the title to this Q & A. Certainly an OWI(Operating While Intoxicated) — Wisconsin’s abbreviation for “DUI,”which means”driving under the influence”) — is not as potentially life-threatening as an appendix that is about to burst. However, the consequences of being found guilty of an OWI can be far reaching and devastating — financially as well as emotionally & psychologically.
Wisconsin is still the only state in the U.S. in which a 1st Offense OWI is still not a criminal law violation. However, it’s like a traffic ticket on steroids. Conviction for a 1st OWI will result in the loss of a driver’s license for up to 9 months, requiring the driver to obtain a temporary limited-use license called an “occupational” license. If the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is .15 or higher, the driver will be ordered to have a breathalyzer, known as an “ignition interlock device”or “IID” installed in any vehicle registered to the driver (or that he/she intends to drive). This device will often be required for 9 to 12 months, at a total cost of approximately $1000. There is a significant fine, that, with costs and fees, will also approach $1000. Finally, any conviction will require the driver to complete an alcohol assessment (costs around $300), and to participate in some counseling/treatment — usually group therapy sessions (cost varies depending upon provider).
The difference between a criminal offense and a non-criminal offense is that a criminal (OWI) offense will result in confinement in a jail or prison upon conviction. Our legislators have made incarceration mandatory for any criminal OWI. A criminal OWI is either any second or subsequent offense, or a 1st offense that involves injury or death, or in which there is a child in the vehicle driven by the intoxicated driver. Absolute minimum jail terms start at 5 days for 2nd offense convictions with low blood alcohol concentrations (close to the legal limit of .08). Maximum jail sentences range from 6 months for an unenhanced 2nd offense to 12 ½ years in prison for the most habitual felony offenses.
Most often, the loss of driving privileges is the most devastating penalty for a driver convicted of OWI; because, except for a few urban areas, Wisconsin has very scant public transportation. For the holder of a CDL, a conviction can mean the end of a career, but any 2nd or subsequent offense conviction will result in the complete loss of driving privileges for at least 45 days. That means 45 days without even a temporary/limited occupational license. For anyone outside of one of the few cities with public transportation, this could mean the loss of a job or the inability to provide transportation to children or elderly family members. Revocation of the driving privilege can last up to 3 years. In addition, the ignition interlock device itself can be a deal-breaker — especially if a driver’s job requires him or her to drive customer’s or business contacts. These devices require the driver to blow into a tube to start the vehicle, and then blow approximately every 15 to 20 minutes to keep the vehicle running.
Experienced trial lawyers working in criminal and OWI defense can spot issues that may result in the case being dismissed or reduced to something less debilitating than an OWI. At Bednarek Law Office, LLC, we alway prepare every case as if it is going to jury trial. This is the only way to achieve a good result without actually having to go to trial (if the client chooses not to). We always, aggressively, file pre-trial motions to suppress illegally obtained evidence, or to prevent the use of a prior offense for the enhancement of a current offense (this is known as “collateral attack”).
If you think you will be able to competently defend yourself in an OWI, you, unfortunately are engaging in wishful thinking. Prosecutors are also trained lawyers who have usually handled dozens or hundreds of these cases before. They too know the rules of evidence and the constitution. It may even seem like the judge and the lawyers are speaking a different language. That is because they are. Law is a set of rules and principles, but it is also a language unto itself. At a minimum, your lawyer is your translator, your guide, and your protector. Choose wisely, but, always choose representation over trying to do it yourself.