In Wisconsin, the consequences of getting arrested for drunk driving can be severe. Even “standard” first-time drunk driving charges carry substantial penalties, and having a conviction on your record for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) can negatively impact many aspects of your life.
But, the consequences are even more severe if you cause an accident while driving drunk.
If you cause an accident while driving drunk, the penalties that are at stake depend on the consequences of the accident. Wisconsin law establishes three separate offenses for OWI accidents: (i) causing injury while OWI; (ii) causing great bodily harm while OWI; and, (iii) homicide by OWI. These are felony charges in many cases, and convictions carry mandatory jail time.
Criminal Charges for OWI Accidents in Wisconsin
Each of these offenses carries its own set of penalties, and each offense has its own “elements” that prosecutors must prove in order to secure a conviction. Here is an overview of the charges you may be facing if you have been accused of causing a serious or fatal accident while driving drunk in Wisconsin:
1. Causing Injury While OWI
Causing an accident that results in any level of injury elevates the risks of facing an OWI charge in Wisconsin. If convicted, you could face a $2,000 fine and up to a year of jail time—with a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days.
2. Causing Great Bodily Harm While OWI
If the accident results in “great bodily harm,” you can be charged with a Class F felony. These felonies carry up to a $25,000 fine and 12.5 years of imprisonment.
What constitutes “great bodily harm”? Section 939.22(14) of the Wisconsin Statutes defines “great bodily harm” as “bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ or other serious bodily injury.” As you can see, this is extremely broad, and this breadth allows prosecutors to pursue Class F felony charges in many cases.
3. Homicide By OWI
If you are involved in a fatal accident while driving under the influence, you can be charged with homicide by OWI. Under Section 940.09 of the Wisconsin Statutes, homicide by OWI is a Class D felony in most cases. However, it can be elevated to a Class C felony for individuals who have prior criminal records. As a Class D felony, homicide by OWI carries up to a $100,000 fine and 25 years of imprisonment. Repeat offenders facing Class C felony charges can be sentenced to as many as 40 years behind bars.
Defending Yourself Against an OWI Accident Charge in Wisconsin
Due to the severe consequences of getting convicted of causing injury or death while driving under the influence in Wisconsin, if you are facing an OWI accident charge, you need to defend yourself by all means available. This starts with putting an experienced OWI defense lawyer on your side. When you hire an experienced lawyer to represent you, your lawyer will examine all potential defenses and put together a trial strategy focused on protecting you to the fullest extent possible.
While there are several potential defenses to OWI accident charges in Wisconsin, the defenses you have available will depend on the facts of your case. With this in mind, some examples of defense strategies your lawyer might be able to use to protect you include:
- Challenging the Prosecution’s Evidence that You Caused the Accident – Even if you were involved in an accident while driving drunk, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you caused the accident. If prosecutors cannot prove that you caused the accident, then you do not deserve to be held accountable for any serious or fatal injuries that resulted from the collision. Since the prosecution has the burden of proof, you don’t need to be able to prove that the accident was someone else’s fault—you just need to be able to convince the jury that prosecutors haven’t proven that you caused the accident beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Challenging the Prosecution’s Evidence that You Were Intoxicated or Impaired – Your lawyer may also be able to fight your OWI accident charge by challenging the prosecution’s evidence that you were intoxicated or impaired. There are several ways to fight an “ordinary” OWI charge, and all of these are potential defenses to OWI accident charges as well.
- Challenging the Admissibility of the Prosecution’s Evidence – Even if the evidence shows that you caused an accident while driving drunk, prosecutors still won’t be able to secure a conviction if their evidence is inadmissible in court. If you have grounds to keep the prosecution’s evidence out of court (i.e., because the police violated your Fourth Amendment rights), this could save you from a conviction as well.
- Asserting Other Constitutional and Procedural Defenses – Along with challenging the admissibility of the prosecution’s evidence, there are several other potential constitutional and procedural defenses to OWI charges filed in the Wisconsin courts. If prosecutors violate your right to a speedy trial, if there are issues with the jury selection process, or if any of a variety of other issues arise during your case, these could all potentially serve as grounds for acquittal.
- Negotiating a Plea Bargain if Necessary – Finally, if the cards are stacked against you, you may be able to minimize the consequences of your OWI accident by negotiating a plea bargain. Your lawyer can help you decide if this is in your best interests; and, if it is, your lawyer can negotiate with the prosecutor’s office on your behalf.
Discuss Your Wisconsin OWI Accident Case with an Experienced Defense Lawyer
Are you facing an OWI accident 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 confidence as soon as possible, call 608-257-0440 or tell us how we can reach you online now.