Like many other states, Wisconsin has tough penalties against those who are convicted of drunk driving. Those motorists convicted of repeat DUI offenses may see a substantial increase in the potential penalties that may be handed down. Each year, there is a renewed effort at making these punishments even more severe, and it appears that this year will be no exception.
In 2012, there was a proposal that would may a first-offense OWI a criminal matter. Currently, state law treats a first-offense like a civil matter, with no jail time possible. The bill did not pass, so legislators have made a new proposal that would impact some individuals that are charged with drunk driving.
The new bill would make a first-time OWI offense criminal if the motorist had a blood-alcohol content above 0.15 or higher. These individuals would be facing jail time and high fines. Also, all first-time offenders would be required to appear in court, even if the charges were only civil in nature. This would be to emphasize to first-time offenders the seriousness of the potential penalties they may receive if they have subsequent convictions.
Additional provisions of the bill would also strengthen penalties for repeat offenders by making a third-offense a felony. Currently, motorists would be charged with a felony if they are convicted of a fourth OWI, and only if that conviction occurs within five years of an earlier offense. Those motorists that kill or injure another person because they were driving drunk would also see penalties increased.
Prior attempts to modify the laws were struck down because the changes proposed would have been extremely costly to implement. Officials estimate that the 2012 bill would have cost the state an additional $70 million each year.
Even without any of these changes being implemented, those motorists convicted of an OWI still could still receive significant penalties. A first-time offender may have his or her driver’s license suspended for at least six months. Drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.15, as well as those who have subsequent OWI convictions, will be required to install ignition interlock devices. Repeat offenders may also receive jail time, which will depend upon the number of convictions for OWI the offender has had previously.
If you have been charged with drunk driving in Wisconsin, it is important to speak to a criminal defense attorney about the options available to you. While it may seem like the state treats first-time offenders leniently compared to other jurisdictions, the penalties only increase for future convictions. Pleading guilty may make the case go away, but the consequences of that decision could haunt you later should you be charged with additional crimes.