Operating While Intoxicated (OWI)


Under Wisconsin law, municipal courts can and do process certain first offense "drunk driving cases.” Over time, Wisconsin’s OWI law has had significant revisions. The latest is 2009 Wisconsin Act 100. Additional modification can be expected in the future. An already harsh law was made more harsh for obvious and legitimate public policy reasons. OWI includes not only alcohol, but also prescription medication beyond the therapeutic level, as well as any detectable level of illegal drugs.

Under current law, many first offense OWI’s are treated as a civil forfeiture matter. Alternative citations are issued out of the standard drunk driving arrest: (a) one citation for operating while intoxicated; and (b) a second citation for operating with prohibitive blood alcohol content. In situations where the arrested individual refuses to take the required chemical test for blood, breath, or urine, an OWI citation and companion refusal will be issued pursuant to Wisconsin’s Implied Consent Law.

Under current law, a second offense in ten years or a third offense lifetime, or first offense with a child under 16 as a passenger, results in a criminal prosecution. In a criminal action, the County District Attorney will prosecute. If there is a conviction in the criminal OWI case, substantial jail time will be assessed, together with a large fine.