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.