Operating While Intoxicated (OWI)

James Parker
February 20, 2022

What Is OWI?

OWI is an acronym that stands for “Operating While Intoxicated.” In some ways, OWI can be used interchangeably with DUI, DWI, or DUID. Some states, like Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan use OWI as their standard charge for DUI. 

OWI is one of a myriad of different acronyms used to define the crime of attempting to operate, drive, or in any way use a motor vehicle while the individual is not mentally coherent enough to do so due to the influence of alcohol or drugs. Other acronyms with more or less equivalent meanings include operating under the influence (OUI), driving while intoxicated (DWI), and driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII). 

There are a few key differences in the way OWI and DUI are treated. As a general technicality, if an individual is intoxicated but their vehicle is not moving, they cannot be charged with DUI. This is because the core premise of a DUI is that the individual is “driving” under the influence. By contrast, an OWI can be more stringent, arguing that just turning the vehicle on and therefore “operating” the vehicle while intoxicated is enough to be charged.  

Key Takeaways

  • OWI is an acronym that stands for “operating while intoxicated” and refers to the operation of a motor vehicle while the individual is over the legal limit for blood alcohol content.
  • In some states and jurisdictions, OWI is used as the standard charge for drunk driving but bears the distinction of implicating an intoxicated individual just for turning their car on while intoxicated.
  • An OWI is sometimes a more intense charge with graver consequences and sometimes it is piled on as part of a battery of DUI adjacent charges.
  • If you are facing an OWI charge, an experienced DUI attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by leveraging experience and expert testimony.

OWI and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Charges

An OWI can be far more detrimental to a defendant compared to a standard DUI charge. In some states, an OWI charge implies that the defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) test results were well over the legal limit. In these instances, the charges associated with an OWI will be harsher than a potentially lesser sentence of DUI. An OWI charge can also be added as part of a battery of DUI and DUI-related charges levied at a defendant in order to potentially intimidate the defendant into considering a plea deal. It is important to note that although a prosecutor may levy a mountain of DUI, DWI, OWI, or DUID charges at a defendant, that defendant can only be found guilty of one of those charges at most.

This does not mean that OWI charges are easy to shake. On the contrary, since OWI requires the mere operation of a motor vehicle in order to be found guilty, all the defendant needed to do was start the engine of their vehicle to stack the evidence against them. An officer could find the defendant in their running vehicle sitting in a parking garage, pulled over on the side of the road, or even in their own driveway and as long as the engine is still warm the officer could claim probable cause to pursue OWI charges.

Since OWI charges are easier to prove, even pushing the charges down to a DUI can reframe the evidence required to acquire a guilty verdict beyond a reasonable doubt.

Bottom Line

If you have been charged with an OWI, you will need an experienced DUI attorney to help you achieve the best outcome for your case. An experienced DUI attorney can help to argue down charges and secure the best possible outcome in your case. 

By utilizing their trial experience and expert testimonies, a DUI attorney can contest BAC test results and cross examine the arresting officer for inconsistencies in their story. By undermining these tools, the burden of proof shifts back to the prosecution and increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.

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