Each state has its own set of laws that define and prohibit drunk driving. Many states refer to this offense as Driving Under the Influence, or DUI. Others call it Driving While Intoxicated, or DWI. However, a number of states simply refer to the act of driving a motor vehicle while inebriated as Operating While Intoxicated, or OWI.
Even with this label, this offense carries with it severe legal penalties. You can avoid a charge and conviction of OWI by learning what it is and how states with Operating While Intoxicated laws punish it.
What is OWI?
OWI, or Operating While Intoxicated, is the criminal act of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It is commonly referred to as DUI or DWI in many states. However, other states refer to it as OWI primarily to cover the operating of all motor vehicles including cars, trucks, motor boats, and RVs.
Similar to DUI, an OWI indicates that the driver of the motor vehicle has a blood alcohol content or BAC of 0.08 percent or higher. This percentage is the standard BAC used by most U.S. states to determine the minimal level of inebriation. At this percentage, states with Operating While Intoxicated laws deem motorists to be too drunk to safely operate a vehicle. They lack the reflexive responses to brake, stay in the lane of traffic, and demonstrate other basic motor skills needed to be safe motorists.
Law enforcement across the country is trained to recognize the behaviors that go along with Operating While Intoxicated. When they see motorists demonstrating these OWI actions, they have probable cause to pull over drivers and interrogate them about whether or not they have been drinking alcohol or using drugs. They use a variety of interrogating methods to determine whether or not to arrest drivers with OWI.
Common OWI Tests
When law enforcement suspects drivers of OWI, they have the leeway to use a number of OWI testing methods to determine whether or not drivers are Operating While Intoxicated and if the drivers should be charged with OWI. The most common OWI testing method is the OWI breathalyzer test. The suspected OWI driver blows into the OWI breathalyzer test, which then indicates his or her BAC level and if the driver is over the legal OWI limit.
If the suspected OWI driver fails the breathalyzer test, he or she may then be submitted to a number of OWI field sobriety tests. One of the tests used by law enforcement for people suspected of OWI involves walking in a straight line. If the driver is unable to walk in a straight line, he or she may be arrested for OWI. The city, county, or state may then formally charge the person with Operating While Intoxicated.
Another OWI field sobriety test that police use involves having the suspected inebriated driver follow the officer’s finger with his or her yes. If the driver fails to follow the officer’s finger, he or she can be charged with OWI and taken to the police officer to be formally charged with Operating While Intoxicated.
The type of OWI that you can be charged with will depend on your BAC level. If you are barely at or slightly above the 0.08 BAC, you may be charged with a misdemeanor OWI.
However, if you are a repeat Operating While Intoxicated driver or if your BAC is significantly over the 0.08, you could be charged with felony OWI. Felony OWI is also reserved for drivers who have caused damage to property or human life during the commission of their OWI.
Knowing the type of OWI that you can be charged with can be important if you want to consider the legal and criminal ramifications that an OWI conviction can have on your life. You can act in your own best interests and hire skilled legal OWI representation if needed to avoid the worst damages that a charge and conviction of Operating While Intoxicated can have on your everyday routine.
Legal Ramifications of OWI
Like a DIU, an OWI can take a serious toll on your life. After you have been charged and convicted of OWI, you may find carrying out routine tasks that you take for granted to be difficult or in some instances impossible. An OWI on your record can make it more challenging to:
- apply for and get a new job
- apply for and secure rental housing
- secure financial aid to go to school
- apply for and be accepted into college or a university
- become a foster or adoptive parent
- volunteer in your city
Even if you have already served out your sentence and paid your fine, you still have an OWI blemish on your record that alerts others that you have made an unfortunate choice in the past.
A misdemeanor charge of OWI may fall off your record within 10 years after you committed the offense. However, a felony charge and conviction of OWI can stay on your record indefinitely.
Many states now allow some OWI offenders to have their convictions expunged from their records, however. You may pursue an OWI expungement yourself by learning about the qualifications and benefits of it.
Expunging an OWI from Your Record
Several states allow people to have OWI charges and convictions expunged from their criminal and arrest records. The process for getting an expunction can be lengthy and complicated. You may not understand how to navigate the OWI expunction laws where you live.
You can gain an expunction of an OWI by hiring an attorney to help you with your case. Your attorney will know what these laws are and what steps you need to take to navigate the complicated legal process involved with the process. He or she can help you file the required documents, speak for you at the hearing, and persuade the judge to consider your argument fairly.
Of course, the best way to avoid having to go through the OWI expunction process is simply to avoid getting this charge and conviction in the first place. If you have been arrested for and charged with Operating While Intoxicated, you have the right to retain a lawyer immediately. Your lawyer can help you avoid the worst damages that this charge and conviction can have on your life.
Further, your lawyer can make sure that you were submitted to a breathalyzer and field sobriety test lawfully and that the results were construed correctly. He or she can subpoena dash cam footage, test results of any blood or urine samples that you gave, and review the line of questioning that you might have undergone after your arrest.
Depending on your lawyer’s findings, he or she may be able to get the charges against you reduced. Your attorney might even be able to get the charges dismissed if questions arise from your breathalyzer or field sobriety tests.
Operating While Intoxicated is the same as DUI and DWI in many states. This offense applies to people who drive motor vehicles while drunk or high. A charge or conviction of OWI can have long-lasting ramifications on your life. You can beat the charges and resume your life quickly by hiring a skilled attorney after your arrest.