DUI, DWI, and OWI: What Are the Differences?

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DUI, DWI, and OWI: What Are the Differences?

You’ve likely come across at least one of the following three-letter abbreviations: DUI, DWI, or OWI. No matter which one you may have encountered, you know it spells trouble for you if you’re placed under arrest for committing the act indicated.

In some states, these terms have distinct and specific meanings. In others, drivers and law enforcement officers use the terms interchangeably. As a motorist, it’s important to know exactly what these acronyms mean and how to avoid the consequences associated with them.

The Meaning Behind the Letters

All three of the aforementioned abbreviations are different ways of describing the act of impaired driving. Every state criminalizes impaired driving, and each is free to identify it by whatever term it wishes.

Here are the meanings and definitions of the common impairment-related acronyms:

  • “DUI” stands for “driving under the influence” and describes the act of operating a vehicle under the influence of any substance that affects your ability to drive safely
  • “DWI” stands for “driving while impaired”; it encompasses impairment by both drugs and alcohol
  • “OWI” stands for “operating while impaired” or “operating while intoxicated” and refers to an impairment caused by any substance

Some states use multiple abbreviations and have distinct definitions for each. For example, if a person’s breath alcohol concentration is above a certain limit, they may be charged with a DUI. If the concentration is below the limit, they may be said to be driving while intoxicated (DWI).

Wisconsin Is an OWI State

In Wisconsin, the applicable criminal statute refers simply to “OWI.” No other abbreviations are indicated as being criminalized.

This means that these three abbreviations can all be used interchangeably by law enforcement personnel and criminal defendants. Even so, you couldn’t officially be charged with a DUI or DWI in Wisconsin — you could only legally be charged with OWI, regardless of the cause or severity of your impairment.

No Meaningful Difference Between DUI, DWI, and OWI in Wisconsin

In light of Wisconsin’s legal language specifying the conditions of OWI, the defenses for DUI or DWI charges you may have read about elsewhere would also apply in your OWI case. Such defenses would attempt to show that:

  • The officer didn’t have reasonable suspicion to stop and investigate you
  • You weren’t operating your vehicle as the term “operating” is understood legally
  • You weren’t too impaired to drive your car safely
  • The testing equipment used to measure your breath or blood alcohol concentration was defective and unreliable

It doesn’t matter whether an officer tells you that you’re being charged with DUI, DWI, or OWI. If you’re found guilty, a conviction for OWI will be displayed on your record.

An Experienced Wisconsin OWI Defense Attorney Can Make a Difference

While a charge of OWI doesn’t have the same stigma as a DUI, it’s nonetheless a serious offense and should be treated as such. If you’ve been arrested for impaired driving in Wisconsin, it’s essential to retain the services of a Wisconsin OWI defense lawyer from Walden, Neitzke & Kuhary, S.C. as soon as possible. Our attorneys will devote their extensive knowledge and resources to preparing your defense.

Contact us today at 262-518-9816 to schedule a consultation.