In every state of the country, driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a crime. However, not all DWI charges are created equal. The severity of the charge and the accompanying penalties depend on a number of factors, which we’ll discuss below.
What is a DWI?
Before diving into the differences between a misdemeanor and felony DWI, let’s first review what exactly a DWI is.
A DWI is typically defined as operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Impairment can be difficult to prove, however, so most states also have “per se” laws that make it illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.08% or higher.
In other words, if you are caught driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher, you will be charged with a DWI, regardless of whether or not alcohol physically impaired your ability to drive.
Drugs can also lead to a DWI charge. If you are caught driving while under the influence of illegal drugs, or even legal prescription medications, you can be charged with a DWI. Finally, most people don’t know that you can get a DWI without consuming any psychoactive substance whatsoever. Extreme emotional distress or fatigue can also lead to a DWI charge.
A misdemeanor DWI is the less serious of the two charges. They carry lighter penalties and are typically reserved for first-time offenders or those whose BAC was below a certain level. In multiple states, a DWI is only considered a misdemeanor if your BAC is below 0.15%. In others, it is only a misdemeanor if it is your first offense.
The penalties for a misdemeanor DWI typically include a fine, probation, and mandatory attendance at a drug and alcohol education class. You may also have your license suspended for a period of time.
A felony DWI is a more serious charge that comes with harsher penalties. Across the countries, felons have a harder time finding employment and housing, which is why a felony DWI can profoundly affect your life.
Factors to consider
Several factors will determine whether or not your DWI charge is a misdemeanor or felony.
As mentioned above, a DWI is only considered a misdemeanor in some states if it is your first offense. If you have been convicted of a DWI before, you will automatically be charged with a felony.
The number of previous offenses can also play a role. A second DWI is still considered a misdemeanor in some states, while a third is a felony. Note that this only applies to DWIs detected during traffic stops or minor accidents like driving off the road.
If a pedestrian or the other driver is killed or seriously injured, you will be charged with a felony DWI, regardless of your previous record.
Your BAC level is another important factor to consider. If alcohol is involved, a DWI is only a misdemeanor if your BAC was below 0.15%. If it were higher than that, you would be charged with a felony.
It’s important to note that this only applies to alcohol. If drugs are involved, no set BAC level determines whether or not the charge is a misdemeanor or felony.
Instead, the driver will undergo a urine or blood test to determine the level of drugs in their system. If the level is high enough to indicate impairment, they will be charged with a felony DWI.
If you were driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher, you would be fined and have your license suspended for at least 90 days. If you drive drunk again during that time, you will have your license permanently revoked.
In addition, you may have been required to install an ignition interlock device in your car. This is a breathalyzer that you must blow into before the car starts. Your charge might be upgraded to a felony if you are caught driving without one.
How to fight a DWI case in Wisconsin
If you have been charged with a DWI, you may be feeling scared and overwhelmed. The good news is that you have options, and there are ways to fight the charges. The first step is to contact a Wisconsin criminal lawyer who can review your case and help you determine the best course of action.
Your lawyer will also be able to tell you what to expect in terms of the penalties you are facing. It may be possible to have the charges reduced or even dismissed in some cases. Here are the most common instances where this can happen:
The arresting officer did not have a valid reason to pull you over in the first place
The first case is if the officer who arrested you did not have a valid reason to stop your vehicle. This is called an illegal stop or an unconstitutional stop, and it can be grounds for having the charges against you dropped.
For an officer to pull you over, they must have probable cause. They must have a reasonable belief that the driver has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime. Even if you blow over the legal limit if the officer did not have a valid reason to stop you, the charges against you may be dropped.
The officer did not read you your Miranda rights
If you fail the field sobriety tests or the breathalyzer test, you will be placed under arrest and read your Miranda rights. These are the rights that you have when you are in police custody.
You have the right to remain silent, and anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You also have the right to an attorney, and if you cannot afford one, the state will appoint one for you.
If the officer does not read you your Miranda rights and you can prove it, the court may exclude anything that you said after you were arrested from being used as evidence against you.
The breathalyzer test was not administered properly
Although breathalyzers are generally accurate, some factors can affect the results. If the machine was not calibrated correctly or maintained properly, the results might be inaccurate. The officer who administered the test must also be certified to do so. If they are not, the test results may not be admissible in court.
Contact Vandel Heuvel & Dineen for help
If you’re looking for an expert in criminal law in Wisconsin, look no further than Vandel Heuvel & Dineen. Our criminal defense lawyers have experience handling all cases, including DWI/DUI cases.
Don’t give up on your constitutional rights. Fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation.