You may have a friend who was arrested and charged with an OWI, and the penalties did not seem that severe: a fine of a few hundred dollars and restricted driving privileges. This is not a sign that you should take an OWI charge lightly. In fact, your circumstances may result in penalties that are much more severe.

Here are some factors that may lead to higher penalties.

Your blood alcohol concentration

Even if you and your friend each had four beers, you could have a higher BAC when the police pull you over. Body weight has a lot to do with it; if your friend weighs 240 lbs., and you weigh 160, he could have a BAC of 0.06%, while yours could be 0.12%. How much food is in your system, how long ago you consumed the alcohol, your gender and other factors could also cause your BAC to be higher.

If your BAC is 0.15% or higher, your penalties could include an order to install an ignition interlock device and complete a one-year sobriety program.

Who is in the vehicle with you

Having a minor in the car who is under 16 years old may change your penalties significantly. Instead of a $300 fine, you could face a $1,100 fine. You could also spend anywhere from five days to six months in jail and you could lose your license for a year or more.

How many OWI convictions you already have

If it has been more than 10 years since you had an OWI conviction, your penalties are probably going to be similar to a first conviction. However, if the first conviction is any more recent, your penalties will be much the same as a first conviction with a minor in the car: up to $1,100 in fines, jail time and license revocation.

The penalties only go up from there, and if you caused property damage or hurt someone in a crash, you may spend months or years in jail and pay thousands of dollars in penalties.

Your defense representation

The public defender may make the case that because you blew a 0.12% on the breath testing device and could not walk a straight line in a field sobriety test, you are obviously guilty. Even if the facts do seem to support his or her case, an investigation may reveal otherwise.

Perhaps you belched right before you blew into the device, or authorities had not calibrated it correctly. Maybe you have an inner ear condition that affects your balance. There could also be a procedural error on the part of the police that resulted in an illegal arrest. These are possibilities that a good defense attorney will investigate.

Never assume that an OWI charge is no big deal. It is always a good idea to explore your legal options.