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.