The Wisconsin OWI Guide

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What is the difference between an OWI, PAC, DUI, DWI, OVI, OUI, OAWI, etc.?


These terms are all acronyms that refer to the offense commonly known as "drunk driving."  Different states have different names for the crime.  For example, in Texas, New York and a number of states the charge is known as DWI; California, Kansas, and many other states refers to a DUI; Maine and Massachusetts use the term OUI; Ohio uses OVI; Oregon uses the term DUII.  Wisconsin and other states' use the phrase operating while intoxicated or OWI (though many persons use the term DUI here as well).  Wisconsin law also uses the term PAC or prohibited alcohol concentration sometime known as a "per se" OWI.

 

I just got arrested for a State of Wisconsin OWI charge.  What happens now?

 

ISSUE ONE:  The Wisconsin Implied Consent (Administrative Suspension / Revocation) Proceeding:  Under Wisconsin implied consent law, any person who drives or operates a motor vehicle upon the public highways of Wisconsin is deemed to have given consent to one or more tests of his or her breath, blood or urine, for the purpose of determining the presence or quantity in his or her blood or breath, of alcohol, controlled substances, controlled substance analogs or other drugs, or any combination of alcohol, controlled substances, controlled substance analogs and other drugs, when requested to do so by a law enforcement officer following the person’s lawful arrest for OWI.

 

Pursuant to the this "implied consent" law, your Wisconsin license (or your right to drive in Wisconsin if you're not a Wisconsin licensed driver) was most likely suspended (test failure) or revoked (test refusal) from anywhere from six months to three years for failing or refusing a chemical test (breath, blood, or urine test).  This suspension / revocation typically starts 30 days following your OWI arrest.

 

Read your paperwork carefully.  If you would like to seek administrative review of the suspension / revocation (in hopes that the suspension / revocation is overturned), you or your attorney must request a hearing generally within 10 days of your arrest.  Keep in mind that this administrative review applies only to your implied consent administrative action and has nothing to do with the OWI criminal charge (see below).

 

 

ISSUE TWO:  The Wisconsin OWI Case:  Separate from the any suspension / revocation received for failing or refusing a chemical test is the offense of Operating While Intoxicated (OWI). 

 

Under Wisconsin law, you may not drive or operate a motor vehicle while:

(a) Under the influence of an intoxicant, a controlled substance, a controlled substance analog or any combination of an intoxicant, a controlled substance and a controlled substance analog, under the influence of any other drug to a degree which renders you incapable of safely driving, or under the combined influence of an intoxicant and any other drug to a degree which renders you incapable of safely driving; or

(b) You have a detectable amount of a restricted controlled substance in your blood. ["Restricted controlled substances" include most Schedule I controlled substances as well as cocaine and methamphetamine.]

(c) You have a prohibited alcohol concentration (.08% or greater alcohol content; however, if you have three or more OWI related convictions, suspensions, or revocations then operating with a alcohol content greater than .02% is prohibited).  This is sometimes referred to as "PAC" or a “per se OWI.” 

If you have not attained the legal drinking age (you are under 21 years of age), you may not drive or operate a motor vehicle while you have an alcohol concentration of more than 0.0 percent but not more than 0.08 percent.

Important:  The implied consent / administrative proceeding and the OWI case are completely separate from one another. 

 

Will my Wisconsin driver license be revoked / suspended?

 

RELATED TO ISSUE ONE ABOVE:  Your Wisconsin driver license (or your right to drive in Wisconsin if you do not have a valid Wisconsin license) may be suspended pursuant to implied consent law for failing (suspended) or for refusing (revoked) a chemical test for alcohol and / or drugs.  Again, you may attempt to overturn this suspension / revocation by seeking an administrative hearing within 10 days of your arrest.

 

 

RELATED TO ISSUE TWO ABOVE:  If you are convicted of the OWI charge, your license will be revoked (or your right to drive in Wisconsin if you don't have a valid Wisconsin license) for a six months or more depending on your OWI history.  This revocation is separate and distinct from the statutory summary suspension.  Talk to your Wisconsin lawyer to understand the revocation lengths you face.

 

 

Also keep in mind that your license can be suspended / revoked for a variety of reasons unrelated to a OWI e.g. excessive tickets, hit and run etc.

 

I have a Wisconsin commercial driver license (CDL).  What will happen to my CDL?

 

A Wisconsin OWI conviction results in a one year suspension of your commercial driver license regardless of whether you were driving commercially at the time.  A second OWI conviction will result in a permanent revocation of your CDL.

 

What happens if I get caught driving while my license is suspended / revoked?

 

Operating a vehicle while your license is revoked for an OWI / PAC conviction or suspended or revoked for an implied consent action is a criminal offense:  Operating While Suspended (OWS) or Operating After Revocation (OAR).  Penalties include fines, possible jail time, and a possible additional license revocation.  For a second offense expect at least five days jail; for a third offense expect at least 30 days jail.

 

The following aggravating factors can result in greater penalties:

  • Prior OWS or OAR convictions;

  • Prior record of unsafe driving;

  • Alcohol or drugs present while driving;

  • Attempting to elude a police officer while OWS / OAR;

  • An accident while OWS / OAR.

I really need to drive.  Will I be able to get a occupational / conditional / probationary license?

 

An occupational license may be available to you if your license is suspended and you had a valid Wisconsin Driver License at the time of your suspension.  An occupational license only allows you to drive to and from work or church or limited other places and during limited times of the day.  Total driving time is limited to 12 hours each day and no more than 60 hours per week.  If you operate outside those specific hours or for a purpose not permitted on the occupational license, you face arrest for operating after suspension OWS or revocation OAR. 

Often times, there is a significant waiting period before one is eligible for an occupational license.  Refer to the table below:

 

SUSPENSION / REVOCATION WAITING PERIOD FOR WI OCCUPATIONAL LICENSE
Chemical (Breath) Test Failure None
First Chemical Test Refusal 30 days from start of revocation
Second Chemical Test Refusal 90 days from start or revocation; however
12 months if two or more offenses in five years
Third Chemical Test Refusal 120 days from start or revocation; however
12 months if two or more offenses in five years
First OWI Conviction None
Second OWI Conviction 60 days; however
12 months if two or more offenses in past five years
Third OWI Conviction 90 days; however
12 months if two or more offenses in past five years
Fourth or More OWI Conviction 90 days; however
12 months if two or more offenses in past five years

 

Occupational licenses are not available to drive commercial vehicles.  Speak to your Wisconsin OWI lawyer about how to obtain an Occupational License. 

 

Is an OWI / DUI in Wisconsin a criminal offense?  A misdemeanor or felony charge?

 

In Wisconsin, a OWI is usually a misdemeanor crime.  However, a first OWI conviction is not considered a crime, so jail time is not possible.  However, if you commit an OWI with a child under 16 years of age in the car, even a first offense is now a misdemeanor crime.

 

A fourth OWI is a felony if the new offense is within five years of a prior OWI conviction.  A fifth or greater OWI offense is a felony charge.

 

What type of penalties might I face if I am convicted of an Wisconsin DUI charge?

 

Upon conviction of an Wisconsin DUI offense, a defendant can receive a variety of penalties including alcohol screening / treatment / education; attendance at a victims impact panel class; .  A range of minimum penalties is set forth below: 

 

WISCONSIN OWI CONVICTION TYPICAL WI OWI PENALTIES
FIRST OWI
non-criminal offense
  • six to nine month license revocation;
  • no jail;
  • several hundred dollars in fines, fees, and surcharges;
  • alcohol assessment.
SECOND OWI
(second offense in past 10 years)
misdemeanor
  • 12 to 18 month license revocation;
  • probation;
  • at least five days jail;
  • several hundred dollars in fines, fees, and surcharges;
  • ignition interlock device (IID) installed;
  • alcohol assessment.
THIRD OWI
misdemeanor
  • two to three year license revocation;
  • probation;
  • generally 30+ days jail;
  • over $1000 in fines, fees and surcharges;
  • ignition interlock device installed;
  • alcohol assessment.
FOURTH OWI
felony if the this offense is within five years
of a prior offense; otherwise a misdemeanor
  • two to three year license revocation;
  • probation;
  • generally 60+ days jail;
  • over $1000 in fines, fees and surcharges;
  • ignition interlock device installed;
  • alcohol assessment.
FIFTH / SIXTH OWI
felony
  • two to three year license revocation;
  • probation;
  • generally six months or more jail with a prison sentence possible;
  • over $1000 in fines, fees and surcharges;
  • ignition interlock device installed;
  • alcohol assessment.
CAUSING INJURY WHILE OWI₁
misdemeanor
  • one to two year license revocation;
  • generally 30+ days jail;
  • several hundred dollars in fines, fees and surcharges;
  • alcohol assessment.
Note 1:  Causing great bodily harm while OWI is a felony with much greater penalties possible.
Note 2:  If you're OWI with a passenger that is either younger than 16 years of age or pregnant, expect fines, fees, jail, suspensions, and revocations to double.  A first offense OWI with a child under 16 in the car is a misdemeanor crime.
Note 3:  OWI convictions typically result in six demerit points.
Note 4:  If you're under 21 and are charged under Wisconsin's zero tolerance law (BAC at or between 0.01%  and 0.07 %), you face a $200 fine and a 90 day license suspension.
Note 5:  For a seventh, eighth, or ninth conviction you generally face at least a three year prison sentence.  A 10th conviction generally results in at least a four year sentence.

Will my defense lawyer be able to plea bargain / negotiate my Wisconsin OWI charge down to another (lesser) offense?

Possibly.  Plea bargaining and charge reduction are two areas that any experienced Wisconsin OWI lawyer would discuss with the prosecutor on the client's behalf. 

Will an Wisconsin OWI go on "my driving record?"

Yes.  An OWI conviction will go on your Wisconsin driving record and will stay on your record forever. 

Just how much jail / prison time will I have to do if I am convicted of an OWI in Wisconsin?

The amount of incarceration (jail or prison) received will depend on a number of factors, including (but not limited to) the following mitigating and aggravating factors:

OWI MITIGATING FACTORS OWI AGGRAVATING FACTORS
Older prior OWI offenses Recent OWI offenses
Seeking treatment early (before conviction) No recognition of substance abuse problem
Good driving record OWI while license is suspended / revoked
Cooperative with police Resisting arrest / uncooperative with police
Low BAC High BAC
No evidence of bad driving Poor driving; collision; accident
  Injuries / property damage involved
  Child under 16 / pregnant woman in car
  Use of controlled substances with alcohol

 

I am licensed to drive in a state other than Wisconsin and I was cited for a OWI in Wisconsin.  Will my driver license be suspended?

Wisconsin only has the authority to suspend your right to drive in the State of Wisconsin.  Wisconsin is not a member of the "Driver License Compact" which is an agreement between most states to share information on DUI / DWI and other traffic convictions.  However, your home state may very well learn of the conviction.  If it does, it will suspend or revoke your license for the length of time as if you were convicted of the DUI / DWI in your home state.  This also works in reverse.  If you're a Wisconsin licensed driver and you are convicted of a DUI / DWI in another state, Wisconsin will revoke your license if it learns of the conviction.

Will I have to install an Ignition Interlock Device on my car?

 

An ignition interlock device (IID) is a breath alcohol measurement device that is connected to a motor vehicle ignition.  In order to start the motor vehicle, a driver must blow a breath sample into the device which then measures alcohol concentration.  If the alcohol concentration exceeds the startup set point on the interlock device, the motor vehicle will not start.

 

You generally will have to install an ignition interlock device in your car if you are convicted of a second or greater OWI offense in the State of Wisconsin or if your BAC was 0.15% or greater on a first offense.  Talk to your Wisconsin lawyer about whether the IID requirement applies to your situation.

I have a Wisconsin commercial driver license (CDL).  What happens to my CDL?

A Wisconsin OWI conviction results in a one year suspension of your commercial driver license regardless of whether you were driving commercially at the time.  A second OWI conviction will result in a permanent revocation of your Wisconsin CDL. 

 

A breath test refusal also results in a one year CDL suspension.  A second refusal (when there's a prior OWI incident) will result in a lifetime CDL revocation.

 

You cannot get an occupational permit to driver a commercial vehicle.

What will an Wisconsin OWI do to my insurability?

If your insurance company finds out about your OWI one of two things are likely to occur.  Either your Wisconsin insurer will raise your rates or you may be cancelled or non-renewed.  Your insurance company will learn of your OWI if you have to file an SR-22.

What is an SR-22?

An SR-22 is a form from a Wisconsin licensed insurance company certifying that you have purchased liability insurance that meets the minimum required coverage limits.  The SR-22 provides proof to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DMV) that you are insured.  If you cancel your insurance or the insurance company cancels your policy before your suspension period is over, the company must notify the DMV that the certificate is canceled. 

You will be required to file an SR-22 if you are convicted of a second or greater OWI offense or if you apply for an Occupational License (even if its a first OWI conviction).  The SR-22 must generally be maintained for three years.

My OWI involved an accident.  Do I need to file an accident report?

If you are involved in a vehicle accident in Wisconsin whether or not it involved a OWI, you must file a Driver Report of Accident (unless a law enforcement officer completed a Wisconsin Motor Vehicle Accident Report) under the following circumstances:

  • There was damage of more than $1000 to any one person's property; or

  • There was property damage to government property (other than a motor vehicle) in an amount of $200 or more; or

  • Anyone was killed or injured in the accident.

Are there special concerns for licensed pilots who get an Wisconsin OWI?

 

Yes.  The FAA has special reporting requirements for certain Motor Vehicle Actions including Wisconsin OWI convictions and certain administrative (implied consent) suspensions and revocations.  Learn more here.

I missed my Wisconsin court appearance.  What do I do now?

Failing to appear (FTA) for court is to be avoided.  When you miss a court appearance, bad things happen.  At a minimum, the Wisconsin court typically issues a warrant for your arrest (known as a bench warrant).  Talk to an lawyer as soon as possible.  Often, your only option is to turn yourself in on the outstanding warrant.  A new court date will then be scheduled.

Can I represent myself in court on my Wisconsin OWI and other criminal charge(s)?

Yes.  You have a constitutional right to represent yourself on any criminal charge no matter how serious including a Wisconsin OWI charge.  Keep in mind that Wisconsin Operating while Intoxicated defense is a complex area of the law as shown by the information in this website.  If you cannot afford to hire your own attorney, you definitely should apply for court appointed counsel to represent you.  You have no right to court appointed counsel at the administrative review hearing.

Copyright 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009


Websites, including this one, provide general Wisconsin OWI / DUI information but do not provide legal advice or create a lawyer / client relationship.  General information cannot replace legal advice specific to your case, problem, or situation.  Consult qualified Wisconsin Drunk Driving - DWI - OWI lawyers / attorneys for advice about any specific problem or Wisconsin OWI / DUI charge that you have.  Wisconsin lawyers are governed by the Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct.  This website may be considered an advertisement for services under these Rules.  Information contained in this website is believed to be accurate but is not warranted or guaranteed in any way.  No lawyer associated with this website is specialized or certified in any way.  This site is not a solicitation for attorney services; rather, it is purely informational.  WI OWI FAQ's.

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