Driving Under the Influence in Wisconsin: DUI & OWI Laws
The state of Wisconsin aggressively polices drivers operating their cars while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Whether or not you’ve been involved in a DUI or OWI case, it’s a good idea to be aware of what the laws and penalties are in such circumstances. (The terms DUI and OWI are both used, but they are the same.)
It’s important to keep in mind that state policies vary, as do the judgment calls of law enforcement officers, lawyers, and judges on a case-by-case basis. Your behavior at every stage can alter the outcome for the better and for the worse, so be mindful of what you can do – and what you shouldn’t do – when confronting Wisconsin OWI laws.
Laws and Penalties
Being charged with driving under the influence is a serious enough offense that you’ll want to hire a lawyer for your defense – regardless of your guilt or innocence. The particular circumstances of your infraction will be weighted by both sides of the law. A lawyer negotiates a plea bargain to reduce the penalties if the situation doesn’t merit by-the-book punishment, or argues your case to ensure the best possible outcome.
If a law enforcement official stops your car and suspects you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol, prepare to submit to an intoxication test – usually by breath or blood, but hair or urine samples can also be collected. Refusing to submit to the test comes with penalties, including a year-long license suspension for a first offense. This is called implied consent, and it’s been the law in Wisconsin since 2008.
The presence in your bloodstream of any and all chemical substances that impair your ability to drive can be grounds for an OWI conviction. This includes prescription drugs or over-the-counter (OTC) medications, as well as illegal drugs. The most common such test is a breathalyzer, used on-site to determine blood alcohol content (BAC).
What Constitutes Drunk or Impaired Driving?
Under Wisconsin law, operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher is classified as a DUI for drivers over the age of 21. The cutoff for younger drivers is 0.02%, and commercial drivers must remain below 0.04%.
A high concentration of any drug that impairs your ability to drive or any detectable amount of a controlled substance can also be grounds for a conviction.
Penalties can vary depending on the circumstances of your arrest, but these guidelines usually apply in the state of Wisconsin:
- License suspended for 6 to 9 months
- Fine of between $150 and $300, with a $355 OWI surcharge
- 6 points on driver’s license, with rise in insurance premiums
- Mandatory driving training and education
- Immediate eligibility for an occupational license
- Mandatory jail time of between 5 days and 6 months
- License suspended for up to 18 months
- Fine of up to $1100
- Two month wait before occupational license eligibility
- Mandatory jail time of 30 days to a year
- License suspended for 2 to 3 years
- Fine of up to $2000
- Wait of between 3 months and a year for occupational license eligibility
Getting an Occupational License After an OWI
After an OWI conviction, on a first offense, you can immediately apply for an occupational license. This restricted license allows you to drive to and from work, with few or no exceptions. Be warned, though: processing times for occupational licenses can be as long as two months.
There will be a further, mandatory delay in applying for an occupational license if this isn’t your first OWI conviction. This delay can increase if the last offense occurred within the last five years.
End of the Line: Subsequent Convictions
Your vehicle can eventually be seized by the authorities if the infractions continue, and jail time can stretch to 6 years for a fifth offense. Adding together the jail time of the previous four, and it could mean a good decade of your life behind bars.