Facing an OWI in 2023? The top drunk driving lawyers at Van Severen Law Office, S.C. explain the law as it currently stands
Over the last decade, penalties for drunk driving offenses throughout Wisconsin have increased significantly. Years ago, in certain circumstances, a 4th offense OWI was a misdemeanor. In 2016, all fourth offense OWIs became felonies. On December 1, 2018, penalties for a fourth offenses became even more serious, with a conviction resulting in the driver losing his driver license for life. The purpose of this blog post is to describe Wisconsin’s OWI 2023 changes and update clients facing these charges.
As drunk driving law throughout Wisconsin changes, it’s important to stay up to date. When 4th offenses changed from misdemeanors to felonies, individuals facing charges around that time likely experienced quite the shock. And as you’re aware, not understanding the law is not a defense to violating it. We believe in keeping clients up to date as the law changes.
Van Severen Law Office, S.C. is a Milwaukee-based criminal defense law firm. We have satellite offices throughout the state, allowing us to serve clients in all corners of Wisconsin. A significant portion of the work we do is for individuals facing OWI charges, whether they be non-criminal first offenses, misdemeanor 2nd offense OWIs, or more serious 4th or subsequent felony-level drunk driving charges. Our firm, and our criminal defense lawyers, aren’t afraid to fight your case at all stages. Sometimes this includes filing pre-trial motions protecting your rights from illegal police/prosecutor conduct. Other times it includes fighting your case at trial, or simply negotiating for a reasonable sentence. Contact us at (414) 270-0202 immediately to schedule a free consultation.
2023 OWI 1st charges in Wisconsin:
The first time many individuals are ever arrested is for a first-offense operating while intoxicated. In Wisconsin, a first OWI isn’t a criminal charge (it is not a misdemeanor or felony). Penalties include fines ranging between $150.00 and $300.00, a driver license revocation of 6-9 months, and an interlock ignition device for up to 1 year (the IID applies only to cases involving a blood alcohol content of higher than a .15).
There are a few circumstances that increase the penalty for a first offense drunk driving charge:
- OWI 1st with a child under 16 in the vehicle: This is a misdemeanor offense (a crime) and includes mandatory jail penalties: 5 days – 6 months in jail, $350.00 – $1,100.00 in fines, and a revocation of your driver license and ignition interlock device for 12-18 months.
- OWI 1st causing injury: This charge applies when the driver has no prior OWI offenses or refusals. OWI 1st causing injury is also a misdemeanor and carries criminal penalties: 30 days – 1 year in jail, driver license revocation and ignition interlock device for 12-18 months.
While being arrested is certainly a scary experience, it’s important to remember that people make mistakes. Preventing future OWIs is easy: use Lyft or Uber, find a friend who can drive, walk (if possible and safe), or just quit drinking entirely. Avoiding a future OWI is certainly achievable, and going through an OWI charge can be a valuable learning experience. Drivers who have a commercial driver license (CDL) face additional consequences for an OWI.
2023 OWI 2nd and 3rd charges in Wisconsin:
As we mentioned in the introduction, 4th offense OWI charges are felonies. In 2023, both 2nd and 3rd offenses are still misdemeanors. This means a conviction avoids the serious collateral consequences of a felony and the driver avoids the possibility of going to prison. But depending on the jurisdiction of the offense, prosecutors can request stiff jail and other penalties. Relevant penalties include:
- OWI 2nd: 5 days – 6 months jail, $350.00 – $1,100.00 in fines, and 12-18 months driver license revocation and ignition interlock device (regardless of blood alcohol content).
- OWI 3rd: 45 days – 1 year jail, $600.00 – $2,000.00 in fines, 2-3 year driver license revocation, 1-3 year ignition interlock device.
Offenses that occur while a minor under the age of 16 was in the vehicle double the applicable jail penalties, fines, and the ignition interlock device and driver license revocation periods.
A second offense causing injury while OWI charge is a felony in Wisconsin. The offense counts as a second in a few circumstances: the driver has a prior OWI, the driver has a prior chemical test refusal, or the driver has a prior causing injury while OWI. Any of these circumstances result in the driver facing a Class H felony. The driver in this circumstance faces up to 6 years in prison.
What if I haven’t been convicted of an OWI in the last ten years?
Lawmakers in Wisconsin give a break to certain individuals facing 2nd offense drunk driving charges. Specifically, if the driver was not convicted of an OWI within the last 10 years, the his second offense results in the same penalties as a first offense. In other words, the driver is not going to jail. In order to qualify, the offender must never have been convicted of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle or OWI causing great bodily harm.
This break only applies to second offenses. There is no break for individuals facing 3rd or subsequent offenses. It does not apply to charges involving children in the vehicle or charges involving injuries.
Fourth offense OWI in Wisconsin
We’ve already discussed 4th offense OWI charges at a few points in this blog post. This is when things begin getting even more serious. A 4th offense OWI is a felony, meaning that if you’re convicted you face the possibility of time in prison. The very fact of a felony conviction is enough to eliminate you from being considered for various careers, and there are many other collateral consequences of such a conviction.
The consequences include:
- 60 days – 6 years in prison. $600.00 – $10,000.00 in fines. 2-3 years driver license revocation. 1-3 year ignition interlock device.
Although the OWI guidelines call for a 2-3 year driver license revocation, a 2018 law requires that the driver lose his license forever. Section 343.31(1m)(b) of the Wisconsin Statutes indicates that if you have 4 or more OWI, PAC, or refusal convictions, your driver license will be permanently revoked. One exception applies, but it requires a waiting period of 15 years. If the driver has not received any OWI or OWI-related charges over the last 15 years, the lifetime ban does not apply. In other words, if your 3rd offense was 16 years ago, and you’re convicted of a 4th offense, you will not lose your license forever. This 15 year look-back period applies on all future offenses.
Fifth and subsequent OWI charges in 2023
Although penalties for 5th and subsequent OWI convictions have slightly increased, there hasn’t been a significant change to these charges over the last few years. The penalties include:
- 5th offense OWI: 1 year – 10 years prison. $600.00 – $25,000.00 fines. 2-3 year driver license revocation. 1-3 year ignition interlock device. This charge is a Class G felony.
- 6th offense OWI: 1 year – 10 years prison. $600.00 – $25,000.00 fines. 2-3 year driver license revocation. 1-3 year ignition interlock device. This charge is a Class G felony.
- 7th offense OWI: 3 years – 12.5 years prison. Up to $25,000.00 in fines. 2-3 year driver license revocation. 1-3 year ignition interlock device. This charge is a Class F felony.
- 8th offense OWI: 3 years – 12.5 years prison. Up to $25,000.00 in fines. 2-3 year driver license revocation. 1-3 year ignition interlock device. This charge is a Class F felony.
- 9th offense OWI: 3 years – 12.5 years prison. Up to $25,000.00 in fines. 2-3 year driver license revocation. 1-3 year ignition interlock device. This charge is a Class F felony.
- 10th of greater OWI: 3 years – 15 years prison, 2-3 year driver license revocation. 1-3 year ignition interlock device. This charge is a Class E felony.
Contact Van Severen Law Office if you’re facing OWI charges in 2023
Many OWI penalties over the last few years have increased significantly. There’s no reason to believe that lawmakers will slow or reverse this trend in the future. With the proliferation of ride-sharing apps over the same time period, there are options that allow you to avoid any kind of drunk driving liability.
But we recognize that mistakes happen, and we’re prepared to help. Drunk driving law can be complex and confusing, and not all criminal defense attorneys are equipped to handle drunk driving cases. We regularly defend individuals facing the entire range of OWI charges. From a first offense in municipal court to to a tenth offense involving potential prison, we can help. Our criminal defense attorneys are regularly recognized as some of the best in Wisconsin.
Contact us at (414) 270-0202 to speak with one of our attorneys.