New 2017 OWI Laws in Wisconsin By Andrew Mishlove on December 30, 2016


It’s well known that Wisconsin has a terrible problem with drunken driving. We have a rate of drunken driving arrests that is just about double the national average, and has been so for decades.   Year after year, tougher laws are passed, that have little effect.  I have written before that we should have a simple dram-shop law, making it  civil negligence (meaning they could be sued for damages that result) for a tavern to over-serve a  customer (something almost all other states have).  That would do more than all of the “get-tough” policies.  More money should be spent on alcohol treatment, rather than jails.

Drunken driving will decrease in the near future, and the politicians will take the credit; but the credit is not because of long jail sentences.  Drunken driving is decreasing quickly nationwide for one reason: ride-sharing apps like Uber.

Here is a summary of the new laws:

  • First, the definition of "injury" has been expanded, so that almost anyone in an accident with a drunken driver may claim an "injury," even if they were not really hurt.
  • All fourth offense charges will be felonies with a maximum prison term of six years, with a maximum period of initial confinement of three years, and a minimum of sixty days. This previously only applied to fourth offenses within five years of the third offense.
  • All fifth and sixth offense charges will have an increased maximum prison term of ten years, with a maximum period of initial confinement of five years, with a minimum of six months.
  • All seventh, eighth, and nine offenses will have an increased maximum prison term of twelve and one-half years, with a maximum period of initial confinement of seven and one-half years, with a minimum of three years.
  • All tenth and subsequent offenses will have an increased maximum prison term of fifteen years, with a maximum period of initial confinement of ten years, with a minimum of four years.
  • Finally, earlier in the year the legislature authorized judges to issue warrants for forced blood draws in first offense, civil traffic OWI cases.
As far as I know, this is the only traffic law in the United States that allows for a warrant for the seizure of a bodily substance. All other such laws are applicable only to criminal cases.  Of course, Wisconsin is the only state that has a non-criminal first offense OWI law.  So, while some may see it as a loophole being closed, I see it as the fourth amendment being eroded. In other words, criminal search and seizure powers being given to the place for non-criminal offenses.   If the Wisconsin legislature believes that drunken driving is that serious, they should make it a criminal offense and increase funding for the courts, prosecutors, public defenders, and especially for treatment programs. I have advocated that course of action for many years. It has not been done, I believe, for financial reasons.

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