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Now that winter is over, OWI applies on frozen lakes in Wisconsin

Most people would agree that this year's winter in Wisconsin was relatively mild. But one man from Oshkosh may have a different opinion.

Police arrested him 14 months ago and charged him with OWI, even though he was found driving his SUV not on a street or a highway, but on the frozen surface of Lake Winnebago. In the ensuing months, the case went to court, and a Winnebago County judge threw out the drunk driving charges. His reason? Drunk driving laws only apply to public premises on which a vehicle can be driven. The judge said the icy surface of the lake was not one of those premises.

But the Second District Appellate Court in Waukesha took a different view. That court recently ruled that the word "premises" does not refer only to streets and highways. Public premises can also include frozen lakes.

Presumably, since the appellate court's ruling, the Oshkosh man will still face an OWI charge. Police claimed that, at the time of his arrest, his blood-alcohol content was 0.365 percent, which is more than four times the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent.

Wisconsin residents may not have to worry about the implications of driving on the ice for another year, but this man's case serves as a reminder of how far prosecutors will go in the pursuit of a drunk driving conviction. The case also underlines the fact that just because a person has been charged with DUI doesn't mean a conviction is inevitable. Individuals who are facing such a charge will want to be fully aware of their rights under Wisconsin law.

Source:, "Appeals court: OWI applies on the ice in Anderson case," March 15, 2012

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