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What You May Not Know About OWI Charges

Most people who drink and drive believe that they are capable of driving home safely. When you begin swerving across the centerline or are consistently driving over the rumble strips near the ditch, you may see red and blue lights flashing in the night behind you. Your heart skips a beat because you are terrified of the possibility that your life may change for the worse–all over a couple of beers at the bar with your buddies.

Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) charges, also known as DUI or DWI to some, can carry serious consequences. It may be surprising that nearly 95 percent of first OWI offenders do not seek out legal help while 99 percent of second time offenders do seek out help. However, even your first OWI offense can cost you tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.

The reason so few first time offenders actually seek out legal help is most likely due to the fact that Wisconsin is the only state where your first OWI is not a criminal offense. However, this does not mean that the fines and penalties should be taken lightly. They are, and they include (but are not limited to):

  • A Suspended driver’s license (of anywhere between 6 and 9 months)

  • A fine ranging between $150 and $300

  • A possible OWI surcharge of $365

  • A mandatory Alcohol and Other Drug assessment

  • Instillation of an ignition interlock device (if your BAC is over .15 percent)

  • Increased insurance rates and SR-22 verification for “High Risk” drivers

  • A license reinstatement fee after suspension of $200

  • Negative bias from future employers and human resource officers.

  • A travel ban to Canada and potential issues traveling to anywhere in the European Union

Each additional OWI charge exacerbates these penalties. They carry an even heavier weight as they are now criminal offenses and will often include jail time. Additionally, certain circumstances may result in your legal limit being reduced from .08 to .02 percent. For most people, that is one drink or less, basically requiring absolute sobriety while driving.

Aside from the penalties listed above, you will face a number of additional challenges dealing with the Department of Transportation (DOT). For example, if you are accused of an OWI, you will only have 10 days to file a response to DOT for the Administrative Notice of Intent to Revoke paperwork you received. If you fail to do so within those 10 days, your license will be revoked for six months, automatically. If you refuse a Breathalyzer or field sobriety test, the penalties can likewise be stiff if the proper paperwork is not filed with the DOT within that same 10-day window. Proof of installation of an ignition interlock device must also be submitted to the DOT for every vehicle listed in your name. Lastly, if you do lose your license, you may be able to qualify for an occupational license issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles to allow you to drive for work and limited other purposes. An experienced OWI attorney can help you determine whether you are eligible for this license.

People charged with OWIs can sometimes fight the charges. For example, mistakes happen. Even the police make mistakes, and when they do, you may not have to pay the price. Police procedural errors during an OWI investigation can lead to erroneous blood test results or even a false field test interpretation. Detaining a driver longer than reasonable, pulling over a driver with no reasonable suspicion, or improper field test administration have the potential to call your OWI charge into question.

For all of these reasons, it is important to seek the help of someone who knows how to navigate these muddy waters. Doing so may lead to the mitigation or complete elimination of the charges against you. You can save thousands of dollars and evade harsh penalties, restrictions, and countless hours of stress and worry.

Of course, it is best to never drive drunk. If you are unsure whether or not you are sober enough to drive, it would be safe to assume that you are not. Call an Uber, Lyft, or cab. Designate a driver before going out. Call a friend to come pick you up. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t become a statistic.

Some sobering facts:

  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol-related crashes were responsible for over 10,000 deaths in the United States in 2015, an increase of 3.2 percent compared to the previous year.1

  • Alcohol-related crashes killed 190 people in Wisconsin and injured another 2,900 in 2015.

  • Wisconsin had approximately 24,000 convictions for OWI offenses in 2015.

  • In Wisconsin, there were over 5,000 alcohol-related crashes in 2015. An average of one person was killed or injured in an alcohol-related crash every 2.9 hours.

  • In 2015, Alcohol-related crashes accounted for 4.3 percent of all crashes that occurred in Wisconsin.

  • In Wisconsin, 3.1 percent of people reported driving after drinking too much compared to the national average of 1.9 percent.3

Whether it is your first, fifth, or tenth OWI charge, you will want an experienced OWI attorney to help you navigate, mitigate, or eliminate the charges set against you. Call Levine Eisberner LLC for a free consultation at 1-888-367-8198.


  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “The Economic and Societal Impact Of Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2010.” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, May 2014, DOT HS 812 013.

  • Wisconsin Department of Transportation,

  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2012

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