Individuals can be charged with operating while intoxicated (OWI) and potentially face Wisconsin OWI penalties if their blood alcohol content (BAC) is measured at or above .08 percent after being stopped by an officer. OWI is defined as driving under the influence of alcohol, legal prescription drugs or any illegal or chemical substances. An individual may also be found guilty of an OWI if any trace of an illegal substance is found in his or her bloodstream.
Wisconsin has a wide definition of what constitutes an OWI: The statutes declare a person to be operating while intoxicated if he or she is in any way impaired due to the use any substance ranging from alcohol to illegal substances. The state also has a zero-tolerance law in effect that states that any driver under the age of 21 will be found guilty of an OWI with a BAC of .02 or higher.
Wisconsin OWI Penalties
If a person accused of OWI refuses to take a Breathalyzer or equivalent chemical test in Wisconsin, he or she may face monetary fines as well as jail time and license suspension. Those found guilty of an OWI will receive six points on their licenses in addition to multiple other penalties.
While license suspension is a penalty that accompanies all OWI convictions in Wisconsin, it is possible to apply for an occupational license to mitigate some of the limitations imposed by the suspension. Occupational licenses allow OWI offenders to drive to and from work. First-time offenders can apply for occupational licenses immediately while repeat offenders may only apply after 45 days of license suspension.
Penalties for a 1st OWI Conviction
A first-time OWI offender will face fines ranging from $150 to $300 and an additional $355 OWI surcharge. First-time offenders will also face mandatory alcohol treatment and assessment as well as a six- to nine-month license suspension period, but they are not required to serve jail time.
Wisconsin focuses on education and rehabilitation with the first OWI offense in the hopes of preventing future offenses. If a person commits a second OWI more than 10 years after the first OWI, he or she will face milder penalties similar to those imposed on first-time offenders. However, if an individual is found guilty of a second OWI within 10 years of the first conviction, a period of time known as the “look-back period,” harsher Wisconsin OWI penalties apply. Second-time offenders will receive anywhere from five days to six months in jail, and they will also have to pay steeper fines ranging from $350 to $1,100. These offenders will also face a license suspension period of 12 to 18 months.
As the count of OWI convictions goes up, so do the penalties. After the second OWI offense, fines can range from $600 to as much as $25,000 depending on the circumstances of the case. A fifth OWI offense is considered a Class H felony and can lead to up to six years in prison while upwards of seven OWI offenses is considered a Class G felony with up to 10 years in prison, and being found guilty of 10 or more OWIs can result in 12.5 years in prison.
Causing injury or death during an OWI-related incident in Wisconsin adds further penalties, including steep fines and prison time. Other penalties also apply if the OWI is committed while a minor under the age of 16 is in the vehicle at the time; these penalties include longer license suspension periods and longer prison sentences.