Wisconsin Considers Stiffer OWI Penalties

Drunk driving arrests and alcohol-related accidents are nothing new in Wisconsin. In fact, you may read about them often enough to think that they are a normal part of life. However, there is seldom a person involved in an alcohol-related incident that does not live with many negative repercussions.

Nevertheless, Wisconsin has a reputation for being one of the most lenient states when it comes to drunk driving laws. You may even know of some people who seemed to receive little more than traffic tickets after police pulled them over for impaired driving. However, 2019 could be the year that changes that perception.

New laws on the horizon?

If you are facing charges for OWI, you already know it is a bigger deal than a traffic ticket. If a court convicts you, you will lose your driver's license for months, pay hundreds in fines and fees, and undergo an alcohol assessment that could require you to submit to substance abuse treatment. This does not even include the hike in your insurance premiums and the challenges you may have at work with an OWI on your record.

The Wisconsin legislature could make those penalties even more severe if they pass a number of bills under consideration for this year's session. Some of the changes the bills propose include the following:

  • Raising the level of a first-time OWI from a civil violation to a criminal offense, making it a Class C misdemeanor
  • Raising the maximum fine for a first OWI from $300 to $500
  • Giving the court the option for imposing a 30-day jail sentence for a first OWI
  • Requiring you to appear in court to answer the charges instead simply paying the ticket
  • Requiring law enforcement to hold you behind bars until your blood alcohol content lowers to .04
  • Mandating a 10-year sentence for those whom the court convicts of OWI five or more times.

Other changes are also part of discussions among lawmakers, such as imposing thousands in fines for repeat offenders and mandatory prison if you are involved in an accident that results in someone else's death when your BAC is over the legal limit.

Consider your future

Some plan to fight the increased severity lawmakers are proposing, saying repeat offenders need addiction treatment instead of punishment and that criminalizing first-offense OWI will place a heavy burden on the judicial system.

Whether the laws pass or not, you may feel you will also carry a heavy burden if the court convicts you of OWI, even if this is your first violation. Despite how lax Wisconsin laws may seem compared to other states, they are still enough to alter the course of your life and place your family at risk of future struggles. This is why it is wise to seek legal representation as soon as possible after an arrest for any OWI offense.