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Wisconsin Assembly Passes Two Bills to Strengthen Drinking Laws

By Andrew Mishlove on June 24, 2013


Repeat drunk driving offenders may face stiffer penalties if the Wisconsin Senate passes a bill introduced by Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) that will require judges to impose a three-year prison sentence for those convicted of a seventh, eighth, or ninth drunk driving offense.

The bill, passed in the Assembly in a 95-1 vote, would also require a four-year prison sentence for those who are convicted for a tenth time or more.

The bill would also make mandatory a 30-day jail sentence for any drunk driver who causes injury, unless the person who was injured was a passenger in the offender’s vehicle. Commercial drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .04 to .08 would also have to serve 30 days if they caused injury, the Associated Press reports.

Wisconsin Public Radio reports that Ott’s bill addresses an April appeals court ruling stating that, under current legislation, prison time was optional for seventh-time drunk driving offenders. In an effort to prevent the courts from making a similar ruling, Ott said the state needed

“a statute making it very, very clear that the legislature does in fact intend that there be a three-year mandatory minimum confinement for 7th, 8th and 9th repeat offenders,”
The Wisconsin Counties Association has registered against the bill, saying it would raise county jail costs. However, the AP reports that Ott and bill co-sponsor Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) said that drunk driving in itself carries high public and social costs, and that there are relatively few people convicted of seven or more drunk driving offenses. The Government Accountability Board (GAB) shows that the Tavern League has registered in support of the bill.

Using a Fake ID to Get Served in a Wisconsin Bar Might Get Quite Costly

Lying about your age or using someone else’s ID to get into a bar or to purchase alcohol will allow minors or their parents to be sued.

The Assembly unanimously passed a bill introduced by Rep. Andre Jacque (R-DePere) that would allow bars, taverns, and anyone who holds a liquor license to file suit against any underage person who misrepresents their age in an attempt to buy or drink alcohol on their premises.

If the underage patron is a minor, the establishment would file suit against the parents. If the liquor license holder wins the suit, the underage patron, or their parents, would have to pay the business a $1,000 fine.

Health First Wisconsin opposes the bill, saying that it would penalize underage drinkers twice as much as the bar, liquor store, or other establishment serving them. The organization also warned that the $1,000 fine would act as a reward for allowing underage drinking.

“Giving licensed premises the right to bring civil action against an underage individual or their parent or guardian dilutes the responsibility of licensees to identify and refuse to serve underage individuals,”
the executive director of the organization wrote in a letter to legislators.

New Laws Echo of Old Politics

In my opinion as a Wisconsin OWI attorney with more than three decades of experience, these new laws are mostly window dressing.

For example, the 30-day jail sentence related to an injury was called a "minimum presumptive" sentence. While judges are not required to impose at least a 30-day jail sentence, they almost always do.

The new jargon calls for judges to impose a "minimum mandatory" 30-day sentence – what they’ve typically done all along.

This change allows some politicians to thump their chest without really making a difference. What’s more, the modification will actually work to the benefit of some defendants: "good time" rules are applied more liberally with mandatory sentences.

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