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Tougher drunken driving laws now in effect in Wisconsin

By Johns, Flaherty & Collins on Monday, August 30th 2010

Wisconsin’s broad-sweeping reform of laws governing operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) is a little less broad in its sweep when compared with other states and countries.

“Wisconsin is probably the last state in the country where operating while intoxicated is not a crime across the board,” said Johns, Flaherty & Collins attorney Emily Hynek.

Instead, a first offense is considered a forfeiture, similar to a civil violation – unless a child younger than 16 was in the car at the time of the arrest or someone suffered an injury. Penalties become more severe with repeated OWI arrests, but are still often less than most other states.

This revised law, which went into effect July 1st, is the first significant change since 1981.

The law:

  • Mandates ignition interlock devices for all second and subsequent arrests for OWI. Offenders pay for installation, maintenance, and a $50 surcharge, and cannot get an occupational license without proof of payment and installation.
  • Makes a fourth offense OWI a felony if it occurs within five years of a prior OWI-related offense.
  • Creates longer minimum terms of confinement for multiple offenders. The minimum term of confinement is not the sentence; it is the time that must be served in an institution before the rest of the sentence, which may include probation or electronic monitoring, can be completed. The confinement for seventh through ninth offenses is three years and four years for the tenth, compared with previous terms of 48 consecutive hours for all.
  • Allows any county to develop an alternative sentencing program that reduces imprisonment by successfully completing probation with alcohol and drug treatment.
  • Increases criminal court processing fees and reinstatement of license fees.
  • Bans pre-sentence releases and stays of execution for third and subsequent OWIs until after the minimum confinement period is served.
  • License revocation begins on the date of the OWI and is extended by the number of days of jail or prison sentence.
  • Makes a violation of absolute sobriety a criminal misdemeanor if there was a minor in the vehicle.

These changes are “baby steps,” Hynek Cannon said. “Wisconsin still will not have the toughest law by a long shot.”

For more information on drunken driving law, contact Emily Hynek at 608-784-5678.

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