For many people, being charged with operating under the influence of an intoxicant or OWI in Wisconsin can be an upsetting and life-changing event. Naturally, countless questions arise, such as: "What is the first step I should take to defend myself?" "Should I hire an attorney right away?" "What are my options when it comes to defending my rights in an OWI case?"

While there is no substitute for a consultation with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney about the specific details of your case, it can be helpful to gain a better understanding of possible defense strategies if you've been charged with operating under the influence of an intoxicant in Wisconsin.

In this article, Criminal Defense Attorney Pat Stangl shares insights based on over 32 years of defending clients against OWI, DUI, DWI, BAC, PAC charges and more. He provides answers to the questions and more. 

Read the article, "Checklist: What to Do if You're Pulled Over for OWI in Wisconsin" by Stangl Law to learn how to protect your rights a during drunk driving stop.

Possible Drunk Driving Defense Options

Q: What defenses are there in an OWI case?

A: Potential options for defending an OWI case in Wisconsin are almost limitless due to the complexities of the offense. Roughly speaking, the majority of defenses can be broken down into the following areas.


Intoxication isn’t enough to convict on an OWI charge: the prosecution must also prove that the defendant was driving. This can be difficult if there are no witnesses to the driver taking the wheel.

Probable Cause

Evidence will be suppressed if the officer did not have legal cause to a) stop, b) detain, or c) arrest the person charged with the OWI. Sobriety roadblocks present particularly complex issues.

Miranda Rights

Incriminating statements may be suppressed if sufficient warnings were not given at the appropriate times.

Implied Consent Warnings

If the arresting officer did not properly advise the defendant of the consequences of refusing to take a chemical test, or if the officer gives the test incorrectly, this may invalidate a DMV license suspension based on a refusal to provide a breath/blood sample. This includes in the state of Wisconsin.

“Under the Influence”

The officer’s observations and opinions as to intoxication can be questioned. The circumstances under which the field sobriety tests were given, for example, or the subjective (and predisposed) nature of what the officer considers as “failing” the field sobriety tests may be challenged. Also, witnesses can offer their opinion that you appeared to be sober.

Testing During Absorptive Phase

Blood, breath, and/or urine tests can be unreliable if done while you are still actively absorbing alcohol (it takes 30 minutes to three hours to complete absorption; this can be delayed if food is present in the stomach). Thus, drinking “one for the road” can cause inaccurate test results.

License Suspension Hearings

A number of issues can be raised in the context of an administrative hearing before the state’s department of motor vehicles.

As you can see, defending a OWI in Wisconsin can be a complicated process that varies from case to case. To make sure you're getting the best defense for your case, request a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney specializing in OWI defense.

Read the article, "Operating with a Prohibited Alcohol Concentration: Wisconsin's Unexpected Second Charge in OWI Cases" by Stangl Law to learn more about this criminal offense.

OWI Defense Success Story

Case Victory: Three Consecutive OWI/PAC 5th/6th Victories in One Month

Attorney Stangl of Stangl Law Offices, S.C. achieved three (3) back-to-back OWI 5th/6th victories within a one-month period in May-June 2023 thereby saving his clients from mandatory prison sentences. In State v. Shirikian, 2023 WI App. 13 the Court of Appeals held that the sentencing language for a 5th/6th OWI/PAC offense requires the sentencing court to impose a mandatory prison sentence upon conviction. Even if the sentencing court wanted to impose a non-prison sentence, they do not have the discretion or authority to do so under the current penalty structure for the offense and this decision.

In the first case Attorney Stangl successfully argued that one of his client’s prior convictions could not be counted because he was not properly advised of his right to counsel in a previous case and that the record did not demonstrate a free and voluntary waiver of his 6th amendment right to counsel. After investigating and researching the issue, Attorney Stangl brought a motion challenging the uncounseled conviction and after an evidentiary hearing the trial court agreed that the prior conviction could not be counted, thereby reducing the 5th/6th offense to non-mandatory prison charges.

Approximately 2 weeks later, in a different case, Attorney Stangl previously argued to the court that the arresting officer did not have a sufficient legal reason or probable cause to arrest his client on a 5th/6th OWI/PAC. After the evidentiary hearing and briefing by the parties the court issued a very thorough and analytical oral decision granting the defendant’s Motion to Dismiss and the case against his client was dismissed.

Within two weeks after the 2nd consecutive OWI/PAC 5th/6th victory Attorney Stangl secured his 3rd consecutive OWI/PAC 5th/6th victory within (1) one month with the dismissal by the State of charges during a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing it was clear that the arresting officer testified falsely about the alleged events including his client’s performance on the field sobriety test (FST’s) when in fact his client never submitted to the FST’s. Once the State realized the major problem with the officer’s perjured testimony it moved for immediate dismissal of all the charges. His client will not be re-charged.

FREE OWI Consultation in Madison, WI

Attorney Pat Stangl has been defending clients against drunk driving charges, drug charges and other criminal charges since 1991. Working from both Madison and Hayward, Attorney Stangl defends clients statewide in Wisconsin.

If you're facing OWI charges in Wisconsin, Attorney Stangl is happy to make available to you at no obligation, a FREE 10-minute consultation to discuss your case and explore options for your defense. Click the link below to request your free legal consultation.

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