The consequences of driving under the influence (DUI)—which is called "operating under the influence" in Wisconsin—depend mostly on the number of prior convictions the driver has. This article covers Wisconsin's OWI laws and the penalties you'll face for a first, second, third, and felony OWI conviction.
Wisconsin prohibits a person from operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) by drugs or alcohol. This prohibition includes any person who drives or operates a vehicle:
A prohibited BAC is any BAC of .08% or more regardless of the person's level of actual impairment. However, the amount of alcohol necessary to reach this BAC level can differ depending on the person's gender and body size and the type of alcohol.
Generally, an OWI is considered a first offense if the driver has no prior convictions within the past 10 years. A first OWI is a misdemeanor and carries:
If the driver had a BAC of .15% or greater or refused alcohol testing in violation of the state's implied consent law, the judge will also order that the driver use an ignition interlock device (IID) for at least one year.
Generally, an OWI is considered a second offense if the driver has only one prior conviction within the past 10 years. A second OWI is a misdemeanor and carries:
For a second-offense DUI, the judge can order 30 days of community service instead of jail time. For all second offenders, the judge will also order that the driver use an IID for at least one year.
Generally, an OWI is considered a third offense if the driver has two prior convictions that occurred within his or her lifetime. A third OWI is a misdemeanor and carries:
For a third offense, the judge will also order that the driver use an IID for at least one year.
An OWI can be elevated to a felony under certain circumstances. Some of the most common are discussed below.
A fourth OWI in 15 years is a class H felony and carries at least $600 in fines and a minimum of 60 days in jail. A fifth or sixth OWI is a class G felony and carries at least $600 in fines and a minimum of 18 months in jail.
When an OWI offender causes serious injuries to another person, it's known as "injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle." Convicted motorists are looking at class F felony charges and up to 12 years and six months in jail.
Causing the death of another person while operating a vehicle under the influence is called "homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle." A conviction is generally a class D felony and normally carries at least five years in prison.
Every person convicted of an OWI in Wisconsin is required to submit to a drug and alcohol evaluation. This evaluation will be used to create a driver safety plan which outlines the treatment, OWI education, and sobriety testing required for the offender.
For any OWI conviction that involved a passenger under 16 years old, the fine, jail time, and license revocation period will be doubled.
A driver with a BAC of .17 to .199% will face doubled fines. The fine is tripled for a driver with a BAC of .20% to .249% and quadrupled for a driver with a BAC of .25% or greater.
For an OWI conviction, the court will order the driver's license be revoked for the following periods:
Hardship license. Any driver whose license is revoked for an OWI conviction can request a hardship or occupational license. Judges are permitted to issue one of these restricted licenses which can be used only for travel related to work, school, or treatment purposes.
Ignition interlock. The use of an ignition interlock device (IID) will be required for at least one year after the driver obtains either a hardship license or a reinstated driver's license.
Drivers who are under 21 years old can also be convicted of an underage OWI. Underage motorists who are caught driving with a BAC greater than .0% but less than .08% face a three-month license suspension and a $200 fine.
While a prosecutor is unlikely to outright dismiss an OWI charge—unless the court throws out evidence that's critical to prove the charge—Wisconsin law doesn't prohibit reducing an OWI charge to a lesser offense. Visit with an attorney about the possibility of pleading to a different charge with fewer penalties.