We have previously written that Wisconsin drivers do not need to be drinking in order to be charged with OWI. Operating while intoxicated refers both to alcohol and a variety of other drugs which have been deemed "intoxicants" by state legislators.
While many different substances could impair our ability to drive, a recent criminal case shows that the wording of OWI laws matter. A Wisconsin appellate court recently upheld the dismissal of a woman's third OWI charge because the chemical she had been huffing is not defined as alcohol or a drug, and it is not listed under the state's drunken driving statutes.
In March of last year, the 40-year-old defendant crashed her car at an intersection in Oshkosh. She was treated at a local hospital, where two of her friends and a doctor informed police that she had been huffing Difluoroethane (DFE).
For those who don't know, huffing is the act of inhaling the contents of an aerosol can in order to get high. Huffing DFE allegedly results in diminished motor control and feelings of euphoria, which is why state prosecutors wanted to charge the defendant with OWI.
But under state law, DFE is not classified as a controlled substance, drug or intoxicant. The defendant's attorneys sought to have the case dismissed and a circuit court judge granted the motion. Recently, the dismissal of the OWI charge was upheld by a state appeals court.
The appellate judge noted that the defendant could have been prosecuted under reckless driving statutes. Instead, however, the state chose to pursue OWI charges and was ultimately unsuccessful.
This case shows that examining the legal details can make a big difference. That's why defendants may wish to work with a qualified criminal defense attorney who can carefully examine the details of their case and explain their rights and options.
Source: TheNorthwestern.com, "Appeals court: 'Huffing' not covered under drunk, drugged driving laws," Kevin Murphy, Aug. 1, 2012