Our state is known for having a different way of doing things, legislatively, than nearby states, like Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan. One of those things is the way that the first time offense of OWI is categorized and handled. If charged with OWI for the first time, it might not be prosecuted as a crime.
Rather, a first-time OWI violation is handled more similarly to a traffic ticket, also known as a civil violation. There are still potential unwanted consequences from a first-time OWI charge, if convicted. Although, "convicted" may be the wrong word, seeming as it is a civil violation. In addition, if an alleged OWI incident was particularly egregious, like involving the, reckless driving or injury of another in a car accident, it could easily be handled in criminal court.
If convicted of first-time OWI, based on the law that it is a civil violation, one could still lose their license. Often, it can be sought back, but it is a process many would rather skip, if given the option.
Proponents on the other side of the issue are pushing for change at the state legislature. They are seeking to make all first time OWI offenders punishable as a crime. For now, it is still considered a civil violation.
Regardless of the way first-time OWI is classified, it is not a situation that most want to find themselves in. Taking the charge seriously and understanding what the stakes is just as important as taking action. This will give the accused a better basis from which to defend themselves.