You face severe consequences if arrested for driving under the influence in Wisconsin. Wisconsin law establishes two separate drunk driving offenses—operating while intoxicated (OWI) and working with a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC)—both carry steep penalties.
As a result, if you are facing charges after a drunk driving arrest, you need to defend yourself by all means available. Depending on the circumstances of your case, this may involve asserting various constitutional rights.
Using Your Constitutional Protections When Charged with OWI or PAC
Your constitutional rights protect you during all phases of your drunk driving case—from the moment the police pull you over through the end of your trial. If the police, prosecutors, or the court violate your constitutional rights, this may entitle you to a dismissal, retrial, or other remedies. Since an OWI or PAC conviction can negatively impact all aspects of your life, it is essential to make sure that you assert your constitutional rights to the fullest extent possible.
The constitutional protections that apply in Wisconsin OWI/PAC cases include:
1. Your Constitutional Rights While Driving
When driving, the police cannot stop you for any reason. Under the Fourth Amendment, to conduct a traffic stop, the police must have “reasonable suspicion” that you have committed (or are in the process of achieving) a traffic offense or crime. If the police stopped you without reasonable suspicion, all the evidence they obtained due to your traffic stop may be inadmissible in court. Without admissible evidence, prosecutors won’t be able to secure a conviction.
Racial profiling is an example of a reason for a traffic stop that lacks reasonable suspicion. If the police pulled you over because of your skin color, you do not deserve to face any consequences due to your unconstitutional traffic stop.
2. The Protection Against Warrantless Searches and Seizures
The Fourth Amendment also prohibits the police from conducting warrantless searches and seizures in many cases. While there are some exceptions, the general rule is that the police need a warrant to search your vehicle. The exceptions include:
- Plain View – If the police can see into your vehicle through the glass or an open window, they can observe anything in plain view.
- Exigent Circumstances – If the police believe you may flee the scene with evidence in your vehicle, these “exigent circumstances” may justify a warrantless search.
- Consent – Finally, if you consent to a search (whether you realize you agree), the police can search your vehicle without a warrant.
If the police search for a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, this can also render any evidence inadmissible in court. Once again, if prosecutors don’t have proof they can use to prove that you were driving while intoxicated or with a prohibited alcohol concentration, you may be entitled to walk free.
3. The Privilege Against Self-Incrimination
The privilege against self-incrimination exists under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. You do not have to say anything prosecutors can use against you—even if asked directly by the police during an OWI/PAC stop.
Once the police place you in custody, they must read your Miranda rights. This well-known speech from movies and TV shows includes, “Anything you say can and will be used against you in court.” If the police fail to read your Miranda rights before interrogating you in custody, you may be entitled to keep anything you said out of your criminal trial.
4. The Constitutional Requirement for Probable Cause to Make an Arrest
Going back to the Fourth Amendment, the police must have “probable cause” to make an arrest. This is a higher standard than “reasonable suspicion.” While a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC), failure of the field sobriety tests (FSTs), stumbling, slurred speech, and impaired driving may all establish probable cause, if the police lacked probable cause, this can serve as a defense in your OWI or PAC case as well.
5. Your Constitutional Right to a Fair Trial
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution entitles you to a fair trial. This means you are entitled to know the evidence prosecutors intend to use against you in court. It also means that prosecutors must generally disclose any exculpatory evidence that they have in their possession. If prosecutors withhold evidence before your OWI or PAC trial, this violation of your Sixth Amendment rights may provide grounds to seek a dismissal.
6. Your Constitutional Right to a Trial By an Impartial Jury
In Wisconsin, you have the right to a trial by jury when facing an OWI or PAC charge. Under the Sixth Amendment, if you request a jury trial, the jurors who decide your fate must be impartial. If the court allows for a biased or discriminatory jury and you get convicted, this may provide grounds to challenge your conviction.
7. Your Constitutional Right to an Attorney
Finally, and most importantly, in many respects, you also have the constitutional right to an attorney. You can (and should) hire an attorney to represent you at all stages of your OWI or PAC case, from your initial appearance through your trial. Your attorney will be able to determine if police, prosecutors, or the court have violated your constitutional rights. If so, your attorney can take appropriate legal action on your behalf. Of course, this is in addition to asserting any other defenses you may have available.
Discuss Your Drunk Driving Case with an Experience Defense Lawyer in Madison, WI
Are you facing an OWI or PAC charge in Wisconsin? If so, we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information. To discuss your case with an experienced defense lawyer in Madison, WI, as soon as possible, call 608-257-0440 or request a free consultation online today.