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I’ve been charged with OWI. What does that mean?

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The charge of “operating a vehicle while intoxicated”, or OWI, is a common one in Wisconsin. Using 2015 figures, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Division of Motor Vehicles said that 448,624 drivers had one OWI conviction, 131,597 had two and 52,002 had three.

If you were arrested for OWI, you likely received two charges: OWI and having a “prohibited alcohol concentration,” or PAC. The first charge, OWI, alleges that your ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol. The second charge, PAC, alleges that your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was over the legal limit.

The blood alcohol concentration limit in most cases is 0.08 percent. This means you can still be charged with OWI without a PAC charge if you have a BAC of below 0.08 percent but still fail field sobriety tests like following an object with your eyes.

The law covers vehicles such as cars, trucks, tractor-trailers, snowmobiles, motor boats, all-terrain vehicles and utility vehicles.

Lower BAC in some cases

The BAC is 0.08 percent for adults who do not have prior OWI convictions. It is 0.02 percent for anyone under 21. It is 0.04 percent for those who hold a commercial driver’s license.

Wisconsin also has an implied consent law that means if you’re using a local, state or federal road, you agree to take a blood alcohol test if an officer has a reason to think you are driving under the influence. The penalty for refusing to take the test is a one-year license suspension.

Penalties go up in some cases

Penalties for your first OWI include a fine of between $150 and $300 with a surcharge that likely will be over $300, your license will be suspended for between six and nine months, your insurance rates will go up and if your BAC is more than 0.15 percent, an ignition interlock device that stops you from starting your car if you have any alcohol in your body may be required.

Fines are increased depending on your BAC. Fines and jail time are increased if you have a child in the car when arrested.

Since there are two charges involved with most cases – OWI and PAC – you could be charged with drunk driving despite not actually driving. If you’re in a car and have the controls needed to drive the car under your control, you could face charges. You could also face charges if there is a reliable witness who says you were driving or operating the vehicle.

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Mays Law Office, LLC

6405 Century Avenue
Suite 103
Middleton, WI 53562

Phone: 608-535-4719
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