How police approach drunk driving stops in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has long struggled with issues connected to drunk driving, and has constantly been considering ways to reduce the number of impaired motorists from the state's roadways. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, there are more drunk drivers here than in any other state in the country. The agency examined accident data from 2012, the most recent year available, and determined that over 35 percent of the fatalities in crashes could be connected in some way to alcohol.

With so many challenges facing the state, police and prosecutors take these cases very seriously. Legislators have also been considering new approaches to the problem, as it seems new laws are being discussed each year that would enhance the penalties facing even first-time OWI/DUI offenders.

While many people may be familiar with some of the penalties that can be handed down in the event of a conviction, most people may not know what happens if they are stopped under suspicion of operating while intoxicated. They do not realize that there are certain procedures that law enforcement must follow, or it could result in their cases being dismissed. Additionally, the motorists must also comply with various requirements that the state has in place, or, it may result in substantial penalties being handed down.

When can officers make a traffic stop?

Law enforcement officers routinely patrol in areas where drunk driving is known to be a problem. Often, departments will analyze data to determine when and where it is most likely that they will encounter drunk drivers. Many police departments receive grant money to increase the number of officers during sobriety campaigns, which may lead to more individuals being charged with OWI/DUI. These frequently occur during major holidays, but may also be conducted when there may be more traffic in a particular area, such as places where a sporting event or a concert is being held.

When police first start watching a motorist, they are looking for signs that allow the officers to make a traffic stop. This does not necessarily mean that a driver has to break a traffic law before he or she can be pulled over. Officers may decide to stop a motorist if they have reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime has been or may be committed, such as drunk driving. Simple things, such as a turn signal being left on or slightly weaving in a lane might be enough for police to pull someone over. The officer may think that the driver's behavior may be caused by some type of impairment, and decide to make a stop to continue with the investigation.

In some circumstances, the driver may commit some type of moving violation, which does give the police a reason to stop the motorist. The officers have all that they need to pull the driver over and issue a ticket for the infraction that they observed. Because of the training that police receive, many use these stops as a way to begin a drunk driving investigation.

If the motorist demonstrates signs of impairment, such as glassy eyes or slurred speech, it is likely that the individual will be asked to participate in field sobriety tests. Field sobriety tests are designed to let officers check a motorist's ability to perform certain tasks, such as reciting the alphabet, standing on one leg or walking heel-to-toe in a straight line. The officers are looking for signs that the motorist is struggling to complete these activities, which may give police enough evidence to make an arrest for OWI/DUI.

Motorists might be nervous if asked to participate in the tests, and this could influence the end results. It is important that drivers focus on the requests of the officers, and, if they have any questions, they should be sure to ask before trying to complete the test. There may be conditions that impede the motorists' ability to perform the officer's requests, such as an icy roadway, and drivers need to be sure that this is something that they point out. In some cases, the tests are taped, and it can be difficult to see any of the conditions, even with the video. If the officer is alerted to the concerns, it could be beneficial later in the case.

It is important to note that motorists may refuse to participate in field sobriety testing. However, this does not necessarily mean that the investigation is over. The officer could still decide that there are enough signs of impairment present to make an arrest.

Implied consent: Do you have to submit to blood or breath tests if requested by police?

Many Wisconsin motorists may not be aware of the state's implied consent laws. The laws require drivers to submit to a chemical, blood or breath test if requested by a law enforcement officer, if the officer has probable cause to believe that the individuals may be operating under the influence. Motorists agree to these terms in exchange for receiving driving privileges within the state.

If motorists refuse to submit to these tests, there are extremely severe consequences, no matter what ends up happening in the OWI/DUI case. A first-time refusal will lead to a one-year revocation of a driver's license. Subsequent refusals only increase the length of time of the revocations handed down. Drivers may receive an occupational license during the revocation period, but they must comply with the various requirements in place.

Do you need an attorney if you are arrested for OWI/DUI?

There are several reasons why it is essential that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney should you be arrested for drinking and driving. You may have never had any involvement with law enforcement and prosecutors in the past, and this is something that they will try to use against you. They might make statements designed to get you to admit to engaging in unlawful behavior, in the hopes that you will say something that restricts your ability to present an aggressive defense to their accusations.

You need to know that no matter how bleak police and prosecutors may make your situation appear, there are still options that will be available to you. Each and every action taken by law enforcement must be analyzed to determine if they followed proper procedures. The equipment used in testing must also be examined to learn if it is in the correct working order, and also being used by individuals who have been trained on how to use the devices.

While you may be embarrassed to be facing these charges, you need to understand that these cases do not go away if you just plead guilty. The impact of a conviction will force you to make major changes in your life, and could even threaten your job if you need your driver's license as a condition of employment.

It is extremely important that you understand what could happen in your case, so that you can make an informed decision about what will be best for you. Your attorney will take the time to explain your case to you, and help you determine how you wish to move forward.

You should contact the Law Office of Stephen M. Govin, LLC, by calling 414-395-5620 to discuss your concerns with an attorney committed to helping you address your concerns. Attorney Govin will give your case the personal attention it deserves, and help you offer a strong defense to drunk driving charges.