In Wisconsin, drunk and drugged driving are offenses that range in severity from non-criminal Forfeiture offenses (first offense without aggravating facts) to Felony offenses with severe penalties. Because there are complicated consequences related to loss of your driver’s license and the terms of your operating privileges based on merely being charged with an drunk or drugged driving offense, or convicted of those types of offenses, it is critical that you consult a experienced drunk and drugged driving attorney as soon as possible. For example, once you receive notice of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Administrative Review Request, you have 10 days to respond and request a hearing or your license will be suspended. Similarly, if you refuse to take a chemical blood or breath test, your license will be revoked if you do not respond to request a review hearing within 10 days. Additionally, those convicted of a fourth or greater Drunk/Drugged driving offense, face a lifetime revocation of their driver’s license, though they may apply for reinstatement after 10 years from the date of their last conviction. Finally, Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) drivers face even more strict penalties, and typically lose their drivers licenses after their second drunk/drugged offense.
To prove that you committed a drunk driving offense, the State (or municipal prosecutor) must prove (beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases and beyond a preponderance of evidence in forfeiture cases) that you: (1) operated a motor vehicle on a public highway (any road or driveway excluding your own personal driveway if it is not shared with other tenants or multi-housing unit parking lot); and (2) you were impaired by alcohol at the time you operated the motor vehicle (meaning that your blood/breath alcohol concentration was at or above the legal limit, or you were impaired such that you were less able to have the steady hand and clear judgment necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle.
Drugged driving charges depend on the type of drug involved. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of any detectable amount of certain drug metabolites of a Schedule I Drug such as marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin, etc. By contrast, for certain prescription medications such as prescription stimulants, anti-depressants, anxiety medications, opioids, etc., the State must prove that you were under the influence of those medications at the time of driving, meaning that the drugs impaired you to a degree that you lacked the steady hand and clear judgment necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle. Finally, with respect to over-the-counter drugs, the State must prove that you were under the influence of one ore more over-the-counter drugs to the degree that it rendered you incapable of safely driving.
Our firm has successfully defended both drunk driving and drugged driving offenses at trial, having charges dismissed prior to trial based on motions to suppress, and persuaded the prosecutor to dismiss charges prior to trial. Similarly, Attorney Mehlos has not lost a medication-based drugged driving case. He presented on that topic at the 2017 Wisconsin Drunk Driving Seminar.
In drunk driving cases, there a number of potential defenses. One defense is to challenge the constitutionality of the traffic stop and/or arrest. Police officers frequently do not follow their training when conducting the Standardized Field Sobriety exercises and do them incorrectly, commonly do not properly administer the Preliminary Breath Test, and will also make arrests without probable cause. Among cases that go to trial, the blood or breath test may not be reliable, showing an artificially high alcohol content. Finally, another potential defense is that the alcohol absorption and elimination rate may mean that the driver was not impaired at the time he or she operated the motor vehicle.
In drugged driving cases, specifically prescription medication cases, there are a nearly-limitless number of potential defenses. Because of a number of pharmacodynamic factors, including the person’s built-up tolerance to the medication, it is common for police officers to mistakenly believe a driver is impaired by prescription medication. Although police groups created a school for “Drug Recognition Experts,” the studies used to show that police officers can accurately predict whether the driver is impaired by prescription medication or drugs are scientifically flawed. Our firm consults with leading toxicologists (who study the effect of drugs on the human body) and investigators to provide our clients with the best possible defense. Each case requires a careful and thorough evaluation of all the facts specific to that case. Please contact an attorney at our office to schedule a consultation to discuss your potential defenses.