Wisconsin DUI Laws & Penalties

Wisconsin Drunk Driving Laws Explained in Easy to Understand Simple Terms

Wisconsin’s Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) laws are designed to deter and punish driving under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances.

It’s important to note that OWI laws can evolve, and there may be local ordinances that also apply. For the most current information, consulting a legal professional or the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s website would be advisable.

Key Points of Wisconsin OWI Law Penalties

  • Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits: In Wisconsin, the legal limit for most drivers is a BAC of 0.08%. However, for commercial drivers, the limit is 0.04%, and for drivers under the age of 21, any detectable alcohol level can lead to an OWI charge due to the state’s Zero Tolerance Law.
  • Implied Consent Law: By driving on Wisconsin roads, drivers implicitly agree to submit to chemical testing (blood, breath, or urine) for the purpose of determining BAC or the presence of drugs. Refusal to submit to testing can result in automatic license suspension and other penalties.
  • Penalties: The penalties for OWI in Wisconsin vary based on the number of offenses and the specific circumstances of the case. They can include fines, license suspension or revocation, mandatory alcohol assessment and treatment, installation of an ignition interlock device, and even jail time, especially for repeat offenders or cases involving injury or death.

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Penalties for a First Offense OWI in Wisconsin

For a first offense OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) in Wisconsin, the penalties can vary significantly based on specific circumstances, such as the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC), whether an injury occurred, and if a minor was present in the vehicle. Here’s a general overview:

  • Basic Penalties: The base fine for a first OWI offense typically ranges between $150 and $300. Additionally, the offender’s driver’s license can be revoked for 6 to 9 months. If your BAC is significantly high or if there are other aggravating factors, more severe penalties can apply, including mandatory installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) and higher fines​ (Grieve Law)​.
  • Severe Cases Involving Injuries:
    • If the OWI causes injury, penalties include 30 days to 1 year in jail, up to $2,000 in fines, and potentially doubled penalties if the injured person was under 16 years old.
    • For OWI causing great bodily harm, it’s treated as a Class F felony with penalties up to 12.5 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.
    • Vehicular homicide while OWI (with no prior OWI convictions) is a Class D felony, with penalties up to 25 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines​ (Grieve Law)​.
  • Costs Beyond Fines: The actual cost of a first OWI in Wisconsin can be much higher when considering increased insurance rates, the cost of an IID, and other fees. The total can range significantly but often amounts to thousands of dollars​ (Grieve Law)​.
  • Record Impact: A first OWI offense in Wisconsin will permanently stay on your personal and driving record, impacting employment opportunities and background checks. Wisconsin law doesn’t usually allow for OWI charges to be expunged from your record​ (Grieve Law)​.

It’s crucial to understand that even if it’s your first offense, the consequences of an OWI in Wisconsin can be long-lasting and significantly impact your life. Legal representation may help navigate the complexities of these charges and potentially mitigate the consequences.

For specific information on navigating the legal process and potential defenses for a first OWI offense, you can refer to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s detailed overview and legal resources​ (Wisconsin DOT)​​ (wisconsindot)​.

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Penalties for a Second Offense OWI in Wisconsin

For a second offense OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) in Wisconsin, the penalties are more severe than for a first offense, emphasizing the state’s commitment to deterring repeat offenses. Here’s what one can expect:

  • Jail Time: A second OWI offense carries a jail sentence ranging from 5 days to 6 months.
  • Fines: The fines for a second OWI can range from $350 to $1,100.
  • License Revocation: The offender’s driver’s license can be revoked for a period of 12 to 18 months.
  • Ignition Interlock Device (IID): The court will mandate the installation of an IID on any vehicle registered to the offender for at least one year.
  • Community Service: Judges may order 30 days of community service as an alternative to jail time for some second offenders​ (dui.drivinglaws.org)​.

Wisconsin law considers an OWI a second offense if the driver has only one prior conviction within the past 10 years. It’s essential to recognize that these penalties are base levels and can vary based on specific circumstances surrounding each case, such as the driver’s BAC at the time of arrest or if a minor was in the vehicle.

Given the complexities involved and the potential for long-term impact on one’s life and livelihood, individuals facing a second OWI charge in Wisconsin are encouraged to seek legal advice to navigate the legal system effectively.

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Penalties for a Third Offense OWI in Wisconsin

For a third offense OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) in Wisconsin, the penalties become substantially more stringent, reflecting the state’s increasing intolerance for repeated violations. Here’s a breakdown of the consequences:

  • Jail Time: A third OWI offense carries a jail sentence of 45 days to one year.
  • Fines: Fines for a third OWI range from $600 to $2,000.
  • License Revocation: Offenders will face license revocation for two to three years.
  • Ignition Interlock Device (IID): An IID is required for at least one year for all third offenders.
  • Enhancements for High BAC or Minors in the Vehicle: If the offense involves particularly high BAC levels or a minor passenger, penalties can increase significantly.

Wisconsin considers an OWI a third offense if the driver has two prior convictions, regardless of the time frame. The state’s approach underscores the seriousness with which it views repeat offenses, aiming to deter individuals from driving under the influence and ensuring the safety of all road users.

Given the severe implications of a third OWI charge, including potential felony charges under certain circumstances, legal representation is strongly advised to help mitigate these consequences and navigate the complexities of Wisconsin’s OWI laws. For more detailed information and guidance, consulting with a legal professional experienced in Wisconsin OWI cases is crucial.

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Penalties for an Underage OWI in Wisconsin

Underage OWI offenses in Wisconsin are treated with particular strictness, reflecting the state’s zero-tolerance policy towards underage drinking and driving. Here’s what underage drivers (those under 21 years old) can expect if they are convicted of an OWI:

  • Zero Tolerance for BAC: Wisconsin has a “Not a Drop” law for underage drivers, meaning they can be charged with an OWI for driving with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system, even if their BAC is below the standard legal limit for adults of 0.08%.
  • License Suspension: An underage OWI conviction results in an immediate license suspension for a period of at least three months.
  • Fine: The offense typically carries a fine of $200.
  • Alcohol Assessment and Education: The convicted individual may also be required to undergo an alcohol assessment and possibly complete an alcohol education or treatment program.

These penalties serve as a deterrent to underage drinking and driving, emphasizing the importance of following the law and making responsible choices. The consequences of an underage OWI extend beyond legal penalties; they can affect future employment opportunities, educational prospects, and insurance rates.

Given the significant impact of such charges, seeking legal advice can be crucial. An attorney specialized in OWI cases can provide guidance, potentially mitigate penalties, or explore legal defenses relevant to the case. For anyone facing an underage OWI charge in Wisconsin, understanding your rights and the legal process is essential.

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CDL OWI Penalties

For Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) holders in Wisconsin, the penalties for Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) offenses are significantly more severe than for non-commercial drivers, reflecting the higher safety standards expected of professional drivers. Here’s an overview based on the information from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and other legal sources:

  • BAC Limits and Penalties: The legal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit for CDL holders operating a commercial vehicle is 0.04%, half of the standard limit for non-commercial drivers. Penalties escalate for BAC levels of 0.04% and above, even if the CDL holder is operating their personal vehicle at the time of the offense.
  • First Offense: A first-time OWI offense results in a one-year disqualification of the CDL. If the offense involved hauling hazardous materials, this disqualification increases to three years. Additionally, the driver faces a fine of $150-$300. This disqualification applies even if the driver was operating a non-commercial vehicle at the time of the offense.
  • Second Offense: A second OWI offense leads to a lifetime disqualification from holding a CDL, representing a significant impact on the driver’s professional life and livelihood. Additional penalties include a fine of $300-$1,000, a jail sentence of 5-6 months, and the installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID).
  • Impact on Employment: The Department of Transportation will automatically suspend a CDL upon arrest for an OWI, potentially leading to a period of unemployment, even if the charges are later dropped. It is crucial for affected drivers to seek legal assistance promptly, as there is a 10-day window to appeal the suspension.
  • Additional Considerations: CDL holders must also contend with the repercussions of a lower tolerance for alcohol consumption, with penalties applying for BAC levels over 0.00%. These strict limits underscore the importance of adhering to safety standards and the significant responsibilities of commercial drivers.

For CDL holders, the implications of an OWI charge extend far beyond immediate legal penalties, affecting their professional qualifications and career prospects. Legal representation is strongly recommended to navigate these complex regulations and mitigate the impact on one’s livelihood​ (Wisconsin DOT)​​ (Wisconsin DOT)​​ (Grieve Law)​​ (DUI Defense WI)​.

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Aggravated OWI Circumstances

In Wisconsin, an OWI charge can be elevated to an aggravated OWI due to several factors that enhance the seriousness of the offense. These factors typically include having a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC), causing injury or death in a motor vehicle crash, having previous OWI convictions, or being a minor with a BAC of .08 or above. Specifically:

  • A BAC at or above .15 is considered one of the primary aggravating factors.
  • Causing injury or death while having a BAC of .08 or above significantly increases the severity of the charge.
  • Multiple past OWI convictions on your record also contribute to an offense being classified as aggravated.
  • Additionally, being under the age of 16 and having a BAC of .08 or above while operating a vehicle is a serious aggravating circumstance.

The penalties for an aggravated OWI are more severe than for a standard OWI and may include higher fines, longer jail sentences, extended license suspension or revocation, and the possible requirement of an ignition interlock device (IID) to regain driving privileges. Even if it’s your first OWI offense, if aggravated factors are present, the consequences are notably harsher​ (Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella)​​ (Just another WP)​.

Given the complexity and the severe implications of aggravated OWI charges in Wisconsin, it’s strongly advised to seek legal counsel. An experienced defense attorney can offer guidance, help mitigate penalties, or possibly challenge the aggravated aspects of the charge.

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Additional Consequences

In Wisconsin, the consequences of an OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) can extend significantly beyond the immediate legal penalties. Here’s a comprehensive look at what you might face:

  • Consequences Beyond Legal System: The repercussions of an OWI conviction can spill over into your daily life, affecting your job, travel, and insurance rates. For instance, if you are required to install an IID, you’ll also need to cover installation and service charges. Moreover, a conviction may result in travel restrictions, increased insurance rates, and even job loss​ (Dahlberg Law Group)​.
  • Impact on Out-of-State Drivers: If you’re convicted of a first OWI in Wisconsin with an out-of-state driver’s license, you might face penalties in both Wisconsin and your home state. The federal DUI registry nearly guarantees penalties for any DUI conviction in Wisconsin with an out-of-state license​ (Grieve Law)​.
  • Long-Term Record Impact: A first OWI conviction will remain on your record indefinitely, affecting future employment opportunities and background checks. It’s also worth noting that the chances of expunging an OWI charge in Wisconsin are slim to none​ (Grieve Law)​.

Given the complexity of OWI laws and the severe implications of a conviction, it’s advisable to seek legal representation if you’re facing OWI charges in Wisconsin.

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OWI Education Classes

In Wisconsin, individuals convicted of an Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) offense must undergo specific requirements as part of their sentence. This involves an Intoxicated Driver Program (IDP) assessment and potentially participating in a driver safety plan based on the assessment’s findings.

OWI Assessment
  • The IDP assessment is an interview conducted by an IDP assessor who evaluates the driver’s past and present alcohol/drug use.
  • It’s mandatory for anyone convicted of an OWI offense to contact an approved IDP assessment facility within 72 hours after their conviction.
  • The assessment might also be required under other circumstances, such as multiple OWI arrests/convictions within a certain timeframe.
  • For second and subsequent OWI convictions, completing an IDP assessment is required before the driver can be eligible for an occupational license.
Driver Safety Plan

Based on the assessment, a driver safety plan is developed, which could include:

  • Attending a traffic safety or similar education program to discuss substance use habits and ways to avoid drinking and driving.
  • Completing a comprehensive treatment program, possibly requiring admission to a facility.
  • Participating in an intoxicated driving victim impact panel.
  • Undergoing a psychiatric evaluation.
  • The program aims to educate or treat individuals to prevent future impaired driving. The specifics of the driver safety plan vary, but they may involve participation in traffic safety programs, treatment programs, victim impact panels, or psychiatric evaluations. The length of the plan is typically no longer than one year, although extensions may be approved by the Department of Transportation.
  • Wisconsin does not accept online IDP assessments or online alcohol education/counseling programs under any circumstances, including victim impact panels​ (Wisconsin DOT)​​ (Wisconsin Department of Health Services)​.
  • After an OWI arrest, individuals will receive documentation from the officer, including tickets (citations) for the OWI charges, a Notice of Intent to Suspend, and possibly a Notice of Intent to Revoke if the chemical test was refused during the initial traffic stop​ (Wisconsin DOT)​.

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Ignition Interlock Requirements

In Wisconsin, the law mandates the use of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) for certain drivers convicted of Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) offenses. The IID is a device that measures the driver’s breath-alcohol concentration, and the vehicle won’t start if alcohol is detected. Here’s a summary of the requirements:

  • Who Must Install an IID: Judges are required to order the installation of IIDs for all repeat OWI offenders, all first-time OWI offenders with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 percent or higher, and all drivers who refuse to provide a breath or blood sample during a traffic stop​ (Wisconsin DOT)​.
  • Duration: Offenders are generally required to use the IID for a minimum of one year. The exact duration is determined by the court and starts once a Wisconsin driver’s license or occupational license is issued after the conviction​ (Wisconsin DOT)​​ (Ignition Interlock Help)​.
  • Vehicle Requirement: The IID must be installed in all vehicles owned or registered to the offender. There are exemptions for motorcycles, mopeds, and autocycles. If a vehicle is no longer owned or operated by the offender, they must contact the court to have it exempted from the IID requirement​ (Wisconsin DOT)​.
  • Financial Responsibility: All costs associated with the IID, including installation, maintenance, and removal, are the offender’s responsibility. The device must be serviced every 60 days​ (Ignition Interlock Help)​.
  • Occupational License: Offenders may apply for an occupational license, which allows them to drive with an IID installed under certain conditions, such as driving to and from work, school, and places required for household maintenance. If the court identifies it as a financial hardship, it may exclude one or more vehicles from needing an IID​ (Ignition Interlock Help)​.
  • Extensions for Non-Compliance: Circumvention, removal, tampering, disconnection, or sample manipulation of the IID can result in a six-month extension of its required use​ (Ignition Interlock Help)​.

Each situation can vary, so it’s recommended to consult with an attorney or the state licensing authority to confirm specific requirements and obligations. This overview provides a starting point for understanding IID requirements in Wisconsin following an OWI conviction.

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Implied Consent Law

Wisconsin’s Implied Consent Law is integral to the state’s efforts to manage and deter intoxicated driving. This statute essentially posits that by the act of driving on Wisconsin’s roads, drivers implicitly agree to submit to chemical tests (breath, blood, or urine) if a law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to suspect they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This law is grounded in the principle that driving is a privilege, subject to state regulation, especially concerning public safety and health​ (Wisconsin Legislature)​​ (Stangl Law Offices)​​ (Wisconsin OWI Laws and Penalties)​.

  • Scope of Consent: The law applies not only to those who have been arrested for Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) but also to any driver pulled over by law enforcement who has reasonable grounds to suspect intoxication. This consent extends to tests determining the presence of alcohol, controlled substances, or other drugs​ (Wisconsin Legislature)​​ (Stangl Law Offices)​.
  • Consequences for Refusal: Refusing to undergo chemical testing when requested can lead to significant consequences, such as automatic license revocation. This administrative penalty is separate from any criminal charges related to impaired driving and emphasizes the serious view Wisconsin takes on refusal to comply with testing under the Implied Consent Law​ (Wisconsin OWI Laws and Penalties)​.
  • Testing Procedures: After an arrest for suspected OWI, the law enforcement officer may request the driver to provide samples for testing. The selection of the test type (breath, blood, or urine) is at the discretion of the officer, and refusing a specific type does not preclude the officer from requesting another type of sample​ (Wisconsin Legislature)​.
  • Implied Consent Warnings: Officers are required to inform drivers of their obligations under the Implied Consent Law and the consequences of refusal. This includes detailing how refusal can lead to license revocation and other penalties​ (Stangl Law Offices)​.
  • Legal Challenges and Defense: If there are irregularities in how the implied consent warning is provided or the testing is administered, these may form a basis for challenging license revocation or even the OWI charges themselves. It is vital for individuals facing such charges to consult with a qualified attorney who can navigate the complexities of OWI defense and the specificities of the Implied Consent Law​ (Stangl Law Offices)​​ (Wisconsin OWI Laws and Penalties)​.

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Driver License Hearings

In Wisconsin, if you’re arrested for OWI, you’ll face an administrative process concerning your driving privileges, separate from criminal proceedings. Following an OWI arrest, one immediate consequence can be the suspension of your driver’s license. However, you have the right to challenge this through an administrative review hearing.

Requesting an Administrative Review Hearing

You must request this hearing in writing within 10 business days of receiving the Notice of Intent to Suspend if handed to you at the traffic stop or within 13 business days if it was mailed to you. The hearing aims to assess whether the law enforcement officer’s actions during the traffic stop and arrest complied with legal standards. This hearing can be conducted in-person, via telephone, or through a document review process. It will examine specific aspects of the stop and testing process, such as the officer correctly identifying you, properly administering tests, and accurately informing you of your rights and obligations under the law​ (Wisconsin DOT)​.

Importance of the Hearing

Requesting a hearing can have several benefits—it offers a chance to retain your driving privileges and provides an early look into the prosecution’s case against you. If you do not request a hearing within the stipulated timeframe, you forfeit this opportunity, leading to the automatic suspension of your license. There are no drawbacks to requesting the hearing; if you don’t, you’ll lose your license by default, while contesting offers a chance to maintain it​ (MadisonDefense)​.

Considerations for Chemical Testing

Wisconsin’s Implied Consent law comes into play here, outlining the requirement for drivers arrested under suspicion of OWI to submit to chemical tests. Refusal to comply can lead to license revocation for at least one year, with the period of revocation potentially extending depending on prior convictions. Furthermore, refusal can be introduced as evidence in your OWI trial as an indication of guilt, though defenses against this inference are available. You do not have the option to choose which chemical test to undergo; the law enforcement agency will make this determination​ (Stangl Law Offices)​.

Legal Representation

Given the complexities involved, it’s advisable to seek legal representation immediately after an OWI arrest. A knowledgeable attorney can guide you through the process of requesting an administrative review hearing, help identify any procedural flaws or rights violations that occurred during your arrest, and advocate on your behalf both at the hearing and in any subsequent criminal proceedings.

Remember, the outcome of the administrative review hearing and the strategies employed can significantly impact your ability to drive and the overall direction of your OWI case. It’s crucial to act promptly and consult with an attorney who specializes in OWI defense to navigate these proceedings effectively.

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OWI Lawyers

Finding an experienced OWI lawyer in Wisconsin is crucial for navigating the complexities of your case. Pat Stangl from Stangl Law Offices, S.C. is a nationally recognized Wisconsin OWI defense attorney with a long history of defending clients against drunk driving and other criminal charges. With a focus on preparing drunk driving cases for trial unless the State offers a significantly better plea agreement, Stangl Law Offices takes a rigorous approach to defense, including contesting administrative license suspensions and leveraging field sobriety test training to benefit clients​ (Stangl Law Offices)​.

Another resource is Justia, which offers a comprehensive directory of DUI attorneys in Wisconsin. This platform allows you to compare top DUI attorneys across the state, providing details on their experience, areas of specialization, and contact information for free consultations. It’s a great starting point to find a lawyer who fits your specific needs​ (Justia)​.

When choosing a lawyer, consider their experience in OWI cases, their approach to defense, and their record of success in similar cases. It’s also wise to look for attorneys who offer a free consultation to discuss your case details before making a decision. For more information or to schedule a consultation, you can visit Stangl Law Offices, S.C.​ (Stangl Law Offices)​ or browse through Justia’s directory of Wisconsin DUI lawyers​ (Justia)​.

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Additional Wisconsin DUI Resources
  • Wisconsin DUI First Offense – Detailed first offense information, including punishments after a first-offense DUI in Wisconsin.
  • Wisconsin DUI Classes – Get signed up to complete your required DUI class online today.
  • Wisconsin SR22 Insurance – Learn everything you need to know about Wisconsin SR22 filing requirements with the DMV and find out how you can save hundreds of dollars each year on your Wisconsin SR22 insurance.
  • Wisconsin DUI Lawyers – Contact one of our Wisconsin DUI lawyers today to discuss your pending DUI case.
  • Wisconsin Bail Bond Agents – Contact a Wisconsin bail bond agent to get out of jail now.
  • Wisconsin Non-owner Insurance – If you need an SR-22 filing, but don’t own a vehicle, you need to get a non-owner policy.