OWI Information

OWI law is complex.  The following is only general information applicable to most offenses.

If you are reading this, you have most likely been charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI).  You will have received paperwork from the police officer entitled Notice of Intent to Suspend or Notice of Intent to Revoke. It explains that you have 10 days to request an administrative review hearing. If it is not submitted within 10 business days of its receipt, you will lose the right to have a hearing to determine whether or not your drivers license will be administratively suspended. Without a hearing, your license will be suspended or revoked. Stop reading. Go get your paperwork. Fill it out. Drop it in the mail. Now.  Come back and read more when you are through. You can bring  the form with you for your first initial consultation as long as the deadline can still be met.

Although the paperwork you received at the time of arrest operates as a temporary driver’s license for 30 days, having your attorney represent you at the administrative review hearing allows the opportunity to potentially allow you to drive while your case is pending. It is possible your attorney may win the administrative review hearing. Even if the  hearing officer sustains the administrative suspension, your lawyer may be able to get the court to suspend that administrative order pending circuit court review or resolution of your case.

If you have been  charged with a first offense, your lawyer may enter a not guilty plea by a letter to the court.  This is because under most circumstances a first offense is a civil, not a criminal offense.  A first offense may be a criminal  offense if there is a child in the car under sixteen years of age or someone is hurt  as a result of driving under the influence.

All criminal offense OWIs require an appearance in court to enter a not guilty plea. Second and third offenses are misdemeanor charges. Fourth offenses are misdemeanors unless the person has a conviction for OWI in the preceding five years, in which case it is a felony. Fifth offenses and higher are felonies.

There are mandatory minimum jail terms associated with all criminal OWI  convictions. There are sentencing guidelines applicable to all OWI convictions. The following link will take you to the guidelines for each district. The guidelines are at the bottom of the page of local court rules here.


Every analysis of an OWI defense begins with the stop. Did the police have a “reasonable suspicion” (must be more than a hunch) that there was some type of violation forming a basis to stop  the vehicle? Expired registration, improperly displayed  license plates, or a defective brake light are just a few of the many bases upon which the police can lawfully stop a vehicle without any evidence of impaired driving.

Did the police have a reasonable suspicion that the driver had been drinking? Evidence of impaired driving could be weaving, going slower than regular traffic, improper lane change, driving on the curb, or making an improper turn. Other circumstances can also be indicators of impaired driving.

Did the police officer have a basis to request that the driver perform field sobriety tests? Odor of intoxicants, glassy eyes, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, problems with producing  requested documents, confusion are just some of the indicators an officer can use to request field sobriety tests.

Did the police officer properly administer the field sobriety tests? There are three standard field sobriety tests. One leg stand, walk and turn, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. A failure on the part of the police officer to properly administer  these tests may provide a basis to challenge the arrest. Jeff Nichols has undergone the same training and received the same certification that police officers engage in to be certified to administer field sobriety tests. This knowledge is important in assessing the police officers performance to determine if there is a challenge.

There are often two charges  that result after an OWI traffic stop. One is a charge of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicants the other is operating a motor vehicle with a prohibited alcohol concentration. Although they are separate charges a defendant can only be convicted of one of one of the charges. For example, if a defendant is convicted at trial of both charges, the district attorney must then elect which one to enter as a conviction. The other one will be dismissed.

Occupational license-information can be obtained here.

Ignition interlock devices must be installed for first offenses where the BAC is .15 or above. Ignition interlock devices are required for all criminal convictions.