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Examining Wisconsin's Drugged Driving Law


Wisconsin uses extreme penalties and regulations to penalize drivers who get behind the wheel after using a drug or prescription medication. In so many words, the legal statute (346.63) states that no one can operate a motor vehicle while “impaired” by a drug of any kind. Using over-the-counter or off-the-shelf cold medication can even trigger a DWI (driving while impaired) arrest.

Impairment is not a definite, scientific term – unlike measuring someone’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level through elaborate tests – but instead relies on the discretion of the arresting officer and the prosecutor when the matter goes to trial. This vagueness provides a distinct advantage to the state by allowing them to decide when they do or do not want to arrest someone for a DWI. A driver could be virtually unaffected by the substance they took, such as daytime cough medicine, but still get slammed with criminal charges if the officer “determines” they were impaired.

A driver who is found to have an illegal drug in their bloodstream will also be charged for driving while impaired by a drug, even if the officer does not believe they are impaired at all. Drugs that fit this “always illegal to use” category include marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and any controlled substance.

Penalties for Drugged Driving in Wisconsin

Perhaps as a means for making the system more streamlined or easier for prosecutors, drugged driving is treated just like drunk driving in the criminal justice system. Unlike drunk driving where it can be difficult for law enforcement to administer a blood test without a warrant, a person suspected of drugged driving cannot refuse a blood test without severe consequences. Refusal will suspend their driver’s license at once – an administrative penalty that cannot be fought in criminal court – as well as generate “refusal to submit” evidence that prosecutors can use in their case in court.

A person who is convicted of drugged driving will also get a DUI mark on their criminal and driving record, despite the absence of alcohol in their arrest. Subsequent DUI arrests or convictions will use Wisconsin’s lookback period to determine if escalated penalties are necessary.

If you are facing criminal charges for driving while impaired by any drug in Wisconsin, the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella can assist you in building a sturdy case to protect your name, finances, and driving privileges. Contact our Milwaukee criminal defense attorney today for more information.

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