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Higher OWI penalties introduced

  • Birdsall Obear

Wisconsin motorists may be facing more severe penalties for drunk driving charges. Under one of these proposalsdrunk driving defense attorneys may have to now combat some of these charges as criminal offenses instead of civil violations.

Currently, first-offense drunk driving is a civil ordinance violation in Wisconsin. A bill would upgrade this to a misdemeanor that can be punished by up to 30 days imprisonment and a $500 fine. Offenders could petition a court to convert it to a civil violation after five years if the offender does not commit any new OWI violations. 

Another proposal, a possible alternative to criminalizing this first offense, would require motorists who receive a citation for first-offense drunk driving to appear in person in court when they enter a plea. If they do not appear, the court would have to find them in default and impose a $300 surcharge.

This may be inconvenient because there are approximately 430 municipal courts around Wisconsin and many of them only transact business for a few hours a week or month and have different schedules. Currently, these first-time offenders for this civil offense can pay their forfeiture by mail or online and do not have to appear in court unless they want to plead not guilty, negotiate a plea or set up a payment plan.

Another bill would require a mandatory prison sentence of at least five years for homicide by intoxicated use of vehicle. Judges could waive this minimum sentence if the person killed was a passenger in the drunk motorist's vehicle and they determined that a lower sentence was in the community's best interest and the public would not be harmed. 

Other legislation would require an 18-month prison term for a fifth or sixth drunk driving offense. These offenses currently carry a six-month minimum prison sentence and a $600 fine.

Even existing drunk driving laws have long-term consequences, however. An attorney can help drivers that have been accused of these crimes protect their rights.

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