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First-offense OWI and the diversion program option

Your recent drunk driving arrest was a first offense, so you are probably nervous and uncertain about what to expect. You may be getting advice from well-meaning friends who are suggesting you accept your penalty because a first-offense operating a vehicle while intoxicated in Wisconsin carries minimal fines and no jail time.

However, even a misdemeanor conviction remains on your record, and this can have detrimental effects on your future goals and opportunities. Additionally, with an OWI already on your record, if you happen to get pulled over for a second offense, you face much more serious consequences. With the help of an attorney, you may be able to avoid a first-offense conviction through negotiating for a diversion program.

How does a diversion program work?

A first offense if often a simple mistake. Perhaps you have only recently reached the legal drinking age, or you were in an unfamiliar situation before you got behind the wheel. In many cases, a first-time charge for OWI is a harsh enough experience for the driver to learn a lesson. This is why many states offer diversion options in lieu of a conviction.

The state recognizes that entering the criminal justice system can have long-term negative effects on someone, including the increased risk of reoffending. Wisconsin designed its diversion program to divert you from the criminal justice system by suspending your sentence and requiring you to participate in various alternative activities, for example:

  • You may have to attend alcohol counseling or substance abuse classes.
  • You will likely perform some kind of community service.
  • The court may subject you to random urine tests.
  • You will have to pay all appropriate fines.
  • You will make restitution for any damage resulting from your offense.

Of course, you will also have to avoid any further criminal behavior. If you receive a second OWI or other charge during your diversion period, you will likely face the consequences of your suspended charges as well as your new charges. However, if you successfully complete all the requirements the state imposes, the district attorney will drop the OWI charges against you, and you can put the matter behind you.

You only have one opportunity to participate in a diversion program, and if you fail to complete the appropriate requirements, the district attorney has the authority to resume criminal proceedings against you. In fact, in some cases, to qualify for the diversion program, the court may require you to enter a suspended guilty plea in case you do not complete the program. This is one area in which the advocacy of an experienced attorney will benefit you.

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