Drunk Driving Attorney Madison WI

Madison Wisconsin Criminal Defense Lawyer | DUI & DWI Attorney

Robert T. Ruth has been a Wisconsin drunk driving defense lawyer since 1993. He has successfully represented people accused of drunk driving in counties throughout the state of Wisconsin. There are many potential challenges to a Wisconsin drunk driving charge, so it pays to retain an experienced Wisconsin drunk driving attorney to review your case.

Madison DWI Lawyer - Madison DWI Attorney

Drunk driving is generally two separate offenses. It is like a fishing lure with two hooks. If they don’t catch you with the first hook, they will try to catch you on the second. The first offense is operating under the influence of an intoxicant. For this offense, the bottom line is whether your ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two. The prosecution may use your breath or blood test result to try to prove impairment, but a threshold is not necessary to the charge. A police officer may conclude that you are too impaired to drive and arrest you for OWI even though you are below the legal limit.

The second hook for the prosecution in a WI drunk driving case is the charge of prohibited alcohol concentration. For this charge, impairment is not the issue; the issue is strictly the amount of alcohol or restricted controlled substance in your system at the time of the driving. If you are above the legal limit, it does not matter how well you handle yourself, you will face a charge of operating with a prohibited alcohol concentration.

Madison Refusal Lawyer

Wisconsin follows what is known as the implied consent law. Under this law, when a driver applies for and receives a driver’s license, that person agrees to submit to a chemical test of his or her blood, breathe or urine under certain conditions. In other words, the chemical test is a condition of the driver’s license. If the conditions for a chemical test are met and the person refuses to submit to the chemical test, there is a punishment, which includes the revocation of the driver’s license.

Under the current implied consent law in Wisconsin, a law enforcement officer may request chemical testing if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person operated a motor vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant in violation of Wisconsin law or a local law in conformity with Wisconsin law, or violated any of several other alcohol related driving offenses.

There are several defenses to a refusal charge and several important strategic issues related to a refusal. The accused in a refusal case is not entitled to a jury trial on the refusal. The principal punishment for a refusal, however, is revocation of the driver’s license. A refusal in Wisconsin does not carry the possibility of a jail sentence. This may make a big difference in a second offense or greater case, because the second offense OWI carries a mandatory jail sentence. It does not help in a first offense, however, because the first offense OWI in Wisconsin does not include a jail sentence. In fact, on a first offense, the license revocation for a refusal is worse than the revocation for the OWI first. Because of the complexity of how a refusal case may play into an OWI case, it pays to have a qualified Wisconsin drunk driving defense lawyer review the specifics of any refusal case.

Where to Start?

The drunk driving laws seem to just get harsher in Wisconsin. Yet, there are still defenses that beat the charge outright or substantially reduce the damage. My approach to a WI drunk driving charge is to first evaluate the case for every possible defense. Was the stop constitutional? Was the arrest constitutional? Is the any evidence that should not be admitted at trial? Is there evidence to support all of the elements? Is there a challenge to any prior offense? If there is a defense, I pursue it vigorously. If there is no reasonable defense to the charge, however, and unfortunately that is often case, the next step is to work toward minimizing the damages. Do not be fooled into thinking that the right lawyer will beat any case. The fact is the vast majority of drunk driving cases end in a guilty or no contest plea. Still, there are many approaches to a WI drunk driving case that substantially reduce the impact of a conviction.

The bottom line is that the only way to find out if your case has a legitimate defense is to have it reviewed by a qualified dui defense lawyer. And, if it turns out that there is no reasonable defense to the charge, a good dui lawyer is indispensable at settling the case on the best possible terms.


The penalties for driving under the influence of an intoxicant and driving with a prohibited alcohol concentration were made harsher effective July 1, 2010. Here is a summary of the changes that apply to violations that occur on or after July 1, 2010.

A fourth offense Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) is a felony if it occurs within five years of an earlier offense.

Ignition interlocks devices (IIDs) are required for repeat offenders, all refusals and first-time offenders at or above a 0.15 blood alcohol level. IIDs are required for every vehicle owned by or registered to the offender, unless the vehicle is specifically exempted by the court.

IIDs must be ordered for a minimum of one year. For operating privilege, restriction begins when offender is issued an occupational license or reinstates operating privilege (cannot "wait out" IID anymore).

First offense OWI is a misdemeanor if a child under 16 is in the vehicle.

During the IID order, the Prohibitive Alcohol Concentration (PAC) is 0.02.

Wisconsin OWI Sentencing Guidelines

The State of Wisconsin is divided into ten judicial districts. Each judicial district adopts advisory guidelines for OWI cases in that district. This guideline procedure was held constitutional in State v. Jorgensen, 2003 WI 105, 264 Wis.2d 157, 667 N.W.2d 318. The guidelines are not mandatory in each case. Some judges follow the guidelines rigorously, other are more flexible. A link to the various guidelines for each district are set forth below:

Do I have to have a blood/breath alcohol content of .08% or more to be charged with drunk driving?

No. In Wisconsin, what most people call "drunk driving" actually consists of two separate charges, operating while intoxicated (OWI) and operating with a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC). To be convicted of OWI, the prosecutor must prove that you operated a motor vehicle on a public highway or other prohibited place while "under the influence" of alcohol, drugs or both. A driver is considered "under the influence" when his or her ability to operate a vehicle is "impaired" by alcohol, drugs, or both. Impairment, however, does not necessarily depend on a BAC of .08% or greater. For example, someone who has a relatively low tolerance for alcohol may suffer impairment with a BAC of .07%.

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