Monthly Archives: August 2017

DWI in Wisconsin: What Are the Consequences?

There are more than 24,000 drunk driving convictions in Wisconsin each year, according to the state Department of Transportation. But not all cases of operating a vehicle while intoxicated–OWI, the Wisconsin equivalent of DUI or DWI in other states–are treated the same by the legal system. In fact, Wisconsin is relatively lenient with first-time offenders, although the penalties will escalate for each successive OWI conviction.

First Offenses in Wisconsin

If you have no prior drunk driving record, a first OWI conviction will generally result in a fine and a suspension of your driver’s license. You will not face any jail time. The judge will fine you between $150 and $300, and you will lose your license for 6 to 9 months.

However, if there was a minor–anyone under the age of 16–in the vehicle with you at the time of your OWI arrest, you can be sentenced to jail, for a period of anywhere between 5 days and 6 months. The maximum fines and license suspension period also increase, to $1,100 and 18 months, respectively.

Second Offenses

The penalties for a second offense largely depend on when your first offense occurred. If you have a prior OWI conviction within a 10-year period, you are facing jail time of between 5 days and 6 months. Otherwise, the second offense has the same penalties as a first offense. For example, if you were convicted of OWI in 2002, and convicted a second time in 2017–more than 10 years later–you would only face a maximum possible $300 fine and a license suspension.

Third and Subsequent Offenses

Once you get to a third OWI conviction, you are facing at least 45 days in jail. Starting with the fourth conviction, Wisconsin treats OWI as a felony. Here is a brief rundown of the felony classifications and penalty ranges:

  • 4th offense – Class H felony, punishable by 60 days to 6 years in jail and a $25,000 fine.
  • 5th-6th offenses – Class G felony, punishable by 6 months to 10 years in jail and a $25,000 fine.
  • 7th-9th offenses – Class F felony, punishable by 3 years to 12 years, 6 months, in jail and a $25,000 fine.
  • 10th and all succeeding offenses – Class E felony, punishable by 4 to 15 years in jail and a $50,000 fine.

From the third OWI conviction forward, your driver’s license will also be suspended at least 2 to 3 years, which will be in addition to the length of any prison term.

OWI Involving Death or Injury to Other People

All of the drunk driving penalties described above apply to cases where nobody else was injured. If you cause injury to while operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, even if it is a first offense, you will face up to 1 year in jail and lose your driver’s license for 1 to 2 years, in addition to the length of your confinement. For second and succeeding OWI’s involving bodily injury, you can be charged with a Class H felony, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 6 years.

Additionally, if an OWI causes “great bodily harm,” it is considered a class F felony, and the maximum prison term more than doubles from 6 years to 12 years, 6 months. And drunk driving that results in the death of another–legally, “Homicide While OWI”–is a Class D felony. This carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years. But if the driver has any prior OWI convictions, Homicide While OWI is elevated to a Class C felony, which can lead to a prison term of up to 40 years.

Penalties for Refusing Chemical Tests for OWI

When police arrest you for OWI they will typically request you take a blood, breath, or urine test to confirm your blood-alcohol level is above the legal limit. By law you are deemed to give “implied consent” for such tests. But constitutionally, you have the right to refuse to give evidence that may serve to incriminate you.

You cannot be fined or sent to jail for refusing a chemical test, even if you have multiple prior OWI convictions. But the State of Wisconsin can–and will–automatically suspend your driver’s license if you refuse. Since license suspensions are administrative actions in this context, rather than criminal penalties, they are not considered a violation of your constitutional rights.

Do You Need Help From an Appleton Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Any drunk driving arrest is a serious matter, regardless of whether or not you have a prior OWI record. Given the potential consequences of a conviction, it is critical you work with a qualified Appleton DUI lawyer. Contact Hammett, Bellin & Oswald, LLC, today if you need immediate legal assistance.

Wisconsin State Bike Laws

Bicycle accidents are often overlooked in comparison to car accidents and truck crashes. But according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, a bicyclist is killed or injured approximately every 9.7 hours on the state’s roadways. Altogether, that is more than 1,000 crashes per year. And while there may be fewer overall bicycle accidents, bicyclists are more exposed than someone driving a motor vehicle. Indeed, the Department of Transportation noted that bicyclists “are almost always injured in a collision also involving a motor vehicle.”

What Are My Rights as a Bicyclist?

But just because bicycles are at a disadvantage when pitted up against a car or truck, that does not excuse irresponsible driving on the bicyclist’s part. Remember, a bicycle is considered a “vehicle” under Wisconsin traffic laws. This means that as a bicyclist, you must obey the same rules of the road as any other vehicle. Conversely, you also have the same rights as any motorist.

Of course, many bicyclists do not travel as fast as cars. Wisconsin law therefore requires anyone operating a bicycle on a public roadway “at less than the normal speed of traffic” for that time of day to ride “as close as practicable to the right-hand edge or curb” of the road. This is only a general rule, however, and the bicyclist is allowed to reenter the main part of the lane to overtake another vehicle traveling in the same direction, to prepare for a left turn or U-turn, or to avoid a hazard or “unsafe condition” on the right-hand side.

Bicyclists should always stay on roadways or specially designated bicycle paths where available. You should never ride a bicycle on a sidewalk unless it is expressly permitted by local laws. In Appleton, for example, the City does have an ordinance that permits bicyclists to use most public sidewalks so long as they exercise “due care.”

But according to a recent report by the Appleton Post-Crescent, this ordinance does not apply to “sidewalks on College Avenue between Drew Street and Badger Avenue.” Local police have issued at least 42 citations this year for bicyclists who rode on those prohibited sidewalks. Appleton Police Department policy is to issue written warnings for each such violation, which carry fines of between $20 and $162.70.

Can I Ride Double-File?

Bicycling is a popular group activity. Riding double-file–or “2 abreast”–often helps reduce the risk of serious car accidents by deterring motor vehicles from attempting to make unsafe pass attempts. And overall, when multiple bicyclists operate as a group, they are simply more visible to traffic. For this reason, riding 2 abreast is legal on Wisconsin roadways so long as it does not “impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic” and both riders stay in a single lane when traveling on a two-lane road.
But as with single riders, double-file riders must stay “as close as practicable” to the right-hand side of the road, except as discussed above. Nor is it legal for bicyclists to ride in groups of more than 2 abreast–i.e., no riding triple-file–on public roads, although it is permissible on designated bicycle paths.

Do I Need to Use Hand Signals?

Since most bicycles lack automated turn signals or “signal lamps,” state law does require bicyclists to use generally accepted hand signals to indicate a turn or stop. Here is a brief reminder of those hand signals: in Hand and arm extended horizontally – bicyclist is making a left-hand turn or U-turn
Hand and arm are extended upward – bicyclist is making a right-hand turn
Hand and arm are extended downward – bicyclist is making a stop or decreasing speed
Any bicyclist who fails to give a proper turn signal may be cited by local law enforcement and fined $20.

Do I Need to Wear a Helmet?

It is always a good idea to wear a helmet when operating a bicycle, especially on public roads. According to the Department of Transportation, helmet use “can eliminate 85 percent of head injuries when crashes do occur.” That said, there is no state law that mandates bicycle helmets for either adults or children. At least one Wisconsin city–Port Washington–has its own municipal ordinance requiring children under the age of 16 to wear bicycle helmets. You should check with your local police department to see if there are any similar rules in place for your city or town.

Get Help From a Qualified Appleton Bike Accident Attorney

Negligent motorists often try to blame bicyclists for accidents. That is why it is critical for all bicyclists to understand and follow state bike laws in Appleton, Green Bay and all throughout Wisconsin. And if you are in a serious bicycle accident, you need to work with an experienced bicycle accident lawyer in Wisconsin who will zealously defend your interests. Contact the injury lawyers at Hammett, Bellin & Oswald, LLC today if you have been injured and would like to schedule an initial consultation with our office.

HBO LAW FIRM PROUD TO SPONSOR FESTIVAL

Hammett, Bellin and Oswald Law Firm is proud to be one of the sponsors for the 2017 Wilson Center for the Arts Guitar Festival. From August 17-19 artists from around the world will converge in Wisconsin to showcase their talents and compete in numerous guitar competitions. There will be classes, exhibits, and incredible performances from world class musicians.

This year there will be tickets provided for several community organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Club, so that they can provide free entry for 100 children to attend the performances. This is an incredible event for all ages and lovers of all styles of music. Individuals create the conscience of the community, and at HBO Law we believe providing opportunities for all members of the community will only make it stronger. Thanks to the Wilson Center for making this great event happen.