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Wisconsin Lawmakers Propose Increased OWI Penalties

By Andrew Mishlove on March 21, 2013


According to a report by the Journal-Sentinel, two Republican lawmakers, Representatives Jim Ott and Alberta Darling, have introduced a bill that would increase penalties for drunk driving in Wisconsin, particularly for first offenders.

The proposed legislation would mandate a court appearance for all first-time offenders and will criminalize first-time offenders who had a blood alcohol level of 0.15 or above.

In a December 26th op-ed, the lawmakers explained the reasons for their legislation, which they described as aimed at those who “super drunk,” with a blood alcohol level of 0.15 and above, which is twice the legal limit. They described their goal as deterring bad behavior and making our roads safer even though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests enforcing laws are already in effect to protect vehicle occupants.

The key provisions of the proposed legislation:

***All those facing drunk driving charges for the first time will be required to make a court appearance.

***All first offenders who have a BAC of.15 will face criminal charges. This may come with a fine up to $1,100 and up to six months in jail. Second time offenders may also face increased penalties with higher fines and more jail time. A third offense would be a felony and allow seizure of the car used at the time.

***Mandatory minimum sentences would be set for OWIs which result in an accident, including six months in jail. Significantly, if the accident results in a death the mandatory minimum would be ten years in prison.

Many legislators oppose this legislation, in large part because the new law will require significant new government expenditures. Putting people in jail costs money, from increased costs for prosecutors and police to the cost of prison. Governor Walker’s spokesperson told the Journal Sentinel, “While Governor Walker supports cracking down on drunk drivers, he will evaluate the final versions of these bills when they reach his desk.” Municipalities also derive substantial income from the civil prosecutions. If these cases become criminal, the municipalities will lose that income.

Similar legislation has failed to pass in previous legislative sessions, in large part because of concerns that the increased penalties would result in substantial costs.

A Wisconsin DUI Lawyer Can Protect Your Rights

Although this legislation may not pass, people who have a record of drunk driving offenses always face the risk the state or federal legislature will increase penalties for multiple DUI offenses, so a conviction years ago when penalties were lighter may have serious consequences in the future.

Anyone facing any DUI charge should seek out the help of an experienced drunk driving lawyer. You should find one who is familiar with potential problems with testing equipment that may result in false readings and can challenge false readings. In other cases, a plea can be reached with fewer long-term consequences.

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