Avoiding DUI / OWI charges this Spring & Summer

Warmer weather means the days are longer, and time with friends and family usually involves holidays, baseball games and tailgating, festivals like Summerfest, parades, and a drink (or more likely, a few). Unfortunately, even responsible people can make a mistake in judgment and end up getting pulled over for suspected drunk driving.

As Wisconsin weather comes into its glory, we at Mastantuono & Coffee like to take a moment to remind everyone to exercise good judgment. But in case you end up pulled over after having a few, we want to remind everyone of their rights. Whether you had a close call this year, are currently facing a DUI or OWI charge, or are planning to go out and enjoy a party or two, allow us to offer some free legal insight before making your next move.

What's the difference between DUI and OWI anyway?

This is a very common question, but the answer isn’t all that exciting: OWIs and DUIs are essentially the same charge with different names. Wisconsin uses the term “OWI” (operating while intoxicated), whereas Illinois uses the more commonly recognized “DUI” (driving while intoxicated).

Penalties for DUI/OWI

No matter which term you use, the terminology isn’t half as important as what a DUI/OWI charge could impact in your life. Left unchecked, a DUI/OWI charge could lead to one or several of the following penalties (assuming this is your first offense):

  • $150-$300 in fines, plus all of the mandatory fees and surcharges, which send the total well over $800
  • A 6 to 9 month driver’s license revocation, or a 1-year license revocation if you refuse to take the breath or blood test
  • A 1-year ignition interlock device (IID) requirement if your test result was over .15 (the legal limit is still .08), or if you refuse to take the breath or blood test
  • A mandatory alcohol and other drug abuse (AODA) assessment and complete the recommended treatment

What if this isn't my first offense?

Each time you repeat a criminal offense, the penalty for that offense increases. In Wisconsin, the penalties are as follows for second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth DUI/OWI offenses:

  • 2nd offense: 5 days to 6 months in jail, $300-$1,100 in fines, 12-18 months license revocation, and mandatory IID installation
  • 3rd offense: 45 days to 1 year in jail, $600-$2,000 in fines, 2-3 years license revocation, and mandatory IID installation
  • 4th offense: 60 days to 6 years in jail/prison, $600-$10,000 in fines, 2-3 years license revocation, and mandatory IID installation
  • 5th or 6th offense: 6 months to 10 years in jail/prison, $600-$25,000 in fines, 2-3 years license revocation, and mandatory IID installation

What do I need to know after getting stopped for drunk driving?

Getting pulled over is a scary and stressful experience — especially if you had a beer with your dinner. But no matter how panicked you feel when that police officer walks up to your window, remember that you have rights, including these:

1. The right to remain silent

From the moment that the officer comes to talk to you, he is looking for signs you’ve been drinking – from the smell of alcohol, to bloodshot eyes, to slurred speech. At that moment, you have a choice – to answer his questions or not.

If the officer asks you whether you’ve been drinking, you can answer or politely say, “I will not be answering any questions.” It’s important to know that the officer will likely use your answers against you either way.

2. The right to refuse tests – but know it could cost you

Most people don’t think about whether to refuse tests before they’re pulled over for drunk driving. We know because the most common thing a client with a first offense says is, “I took the tests. What that a mistake – should I have refused?”

When you’re on the side of the road, the officer will usually have you do the field sobriety tests (walk and turn, one-leg stand, and an eye test known as HGN), and may ask you to blow into hand-held breath test. All of these tests are used for the officer to decide whether to arrest you.

If you are arrested, you will be taken to the station or a hospital and asked to give a breath or blood sample. While you have the right to refuse the tests are this stage, you will be given a refusal violation.

A refusal conviction carries a very significant penalty: you can’t get an occupational driver’s license for between 30 days and 1 year. That means you can’t drive for any reason during that time, and if you do, it is a crime carrying up to 1 year in jail. 

3. The right to challenge your case

If you are arrested and charged, you want to have a criminal defense attorney on your side as soon as possible. Not only can a good lawyer look out for your interests, but they can also fight to get your DUI/OWI penalties reduced or dismissed altogether.

Your first chance to challenge the case expires as quickly as 10 days after you are ticketed. If you took the tests, you can challenge the DMV’s ability to suspend your license, which is not part of the court case. This is the first chance for an experienced attorney to get a thorough look at your case.

If you refused to take the tests, you need to demand a hearing on whether you improperly refused. This is important because a refusal carries harsh license suspension penalties if you are found to have improperly refused, including a period when you can’t get any driver’s license.

Stay safe out there, folks

All of us here at Mastantuono & Coffee hope you enjoy the short bit of warm weather we get here in Wisconsin. Drive safe, drink responsibly, and don’t hesitate to call us if you find yourself in a legal jam.

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