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Wisconsin Court Records

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What is an OWI in Wisconsin? 

In Wisconsin, the crime of driving under the influence of an intoxicant is referred to as an OWI (Operating a Vehicle while Intoxicated). Wisconsin uses the term OWI as an alternative for 'DUI' more frequently than other U.S. states. Wisconsin OWI laws, outlined in Wis. Stat. §346.61 states that the blood alcohol limit for Wisconsin motorists is .08%. This is also deemed the "per se" BAC limit or Prohibited Alcohol Concentration (PAC), and motorists who violate this rule will be apprehended, detained, and prosecuted by state law enforcement. 

Wisconsin courts prescribe varying penalties for OWI offenders within the state's jurisdiction. The penalties issued to an offender will depend on the severity of their offense and their criminal history. For instance, since Wisconsin's legal drinking age is 21, there is a "zero-tolerance law." As such, the BAC limit for underage drivers is 0.02%. When found guilty of an OWI, offenders may have their licenses withdrawn or be fined, imprisoned, or mandated to attend a rehabilitative program for alcoholics. OWI offenders within state limits may have records of the Wisconsin traffic violation and infraction included in their Wisconsin criminal record, depending on the nature and severity of the crime.

What is the Difference Between an OWI and a DWI in Wisconsin?

While the terms OWI and DWI are used interchangeably in traffic law, Wisconsin state statutes suggest that an OWI can be committed by individuals who aren't necessarily driving a vehicle. Rather, an OWI occurs when an intoxicated individual is in control of any part of a vehicle that is required to make the motorized device move. On the other hand, a DWI is specific to individuals driving a vehicle while intoxicated.

Hence, an individual may be charged with an OWI if they are intoxicated and sitting in the driver's seat of a stationary vehicle. However, the vehicle must be in motion for the motorist to be found guilty of DWI charges. OWI charges may also apply to persons operating any motorized vehicle or device, including a snowmobile or boat.

Nonetheless, like DWI charges, OWI charges are accompanied by a slew of unpleasant implications. Offenders may have their licenses suspended or revoked; they may also be sentenced to jail or given probationary restrictions. However, the term OWI is more frequently used in Wisconsin even though DUI charges can also be filed depending on the offender's crime.

Wisconsin OWI Laws

Wisconsin OWI laws are codified in the Wisconsin Statutes. The relevant statutes can be found in Chapter 346 of the Wisconsin Statutes. Per this code, it is a crime to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A person can be charged with OWI if they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher or if drugs impair them.

The following is a summary of Chapter 326 of Wisconsin statutes:

  • It is unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle while under an intoxicant or other drug or a combination of both.
  • A person is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor if they operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08% or higher.
  • A person is guilty of a Class G felony if they operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of .02% or higher and have three or more OWI convictions within the previous five years.
  • If a person is convicted of a fourth OWI offense, they are guilty of a Class F felony.
  • If a person is convicted of operating while intoxicated, causing injury, they are guilty of a Class H felony.
  • If a person is convicted of operating while intoxicated causing great bodily harm, they are guilty of a Class E felony.
  • If a person is convicted of operating while intoxicated, causing death, they are guilty of a Class D felony.
  • In addition to the above penalties, a person who is convicted of an OWI offense may be subject to a driver's license revocation, vehicle forfeiture, and ignition interlock device requirements.

OWI Penalties in Wisconsin

Operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) is a serious offense in Wisconsin. Persons convicted of OWI will face significant penalties, including:

Jail Time

The amount of time an individual will spend in jail if convicted of OWI will depend on the number of previous offenses they have had. In general, the jail sentence for DUI offenders ranges from 6 months to 3 years.

Fines

The fines a DUI offender will be required to pay if convicted of an OWI will also depend on the number of previous offenses and the severity of the crime. Typically OWI offenses range between $500 to $10,000.

Driver's License Suspension

Persons who have been convicted of an OWI in Wisconsin are likely to have their licenses suspended. The length of the suspension will depend on the number of previous offenses they have. However, suspensions can last between 3 months to 2 years.

In addition to the aforementioned penalties, offenders will be required to complete a mandatory alcohol assessment and treatment program if convicted of OWI. They may also be required to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle.

What Happens When You Get a DWI in Wisconsin? 

In Wisconsin, a DWI offense is typically classified as a misdemeanor. However, if an offender has been convicted of multiple DWI offenses or their blood alcohol content (BAC) is exceptionally high, they may face felony charges. The penalties for a DWI conviction can be harsh, and they become more severe with each subsequent offense.

Persons who are convicted of a DWI in Wisconsin can expect to face the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Up to 6 months in jail
  • License revocation for up to 3 years
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device on their vehicle

Offenders may also be required to complete a court-ordered treatment program and attend victim impact panels. If their BAC was exceptionally high or if they were involved in an accident that resulted in injury or death, they may be facing even more severe penalties.

What Happens When You Get A OWI For The First Time In Wisconsin?

Persons who are convicted of their first OWI offense in Wisconsin will face several penalties. These can include a fine, jail time, and license suspension.

Jail Time: Offenders may be sentenced to 6 months in jail for a first OWI offense. However, the judge may also place them on probation instead of jail time. If they are placed on probation, they will be required to comply with specific conditions set by the court.

Fines: The fines for a first OWI offense range from $150 to $300. Offenders may also be required to pay additional fees and costs related to their case.

License Suspension: The offender's driver's license will be suspended for 6 to 9 months. They may be eligible for a restricted license after serving a portion of your suspension.

Vehicle Registration Suspension: The offender's vehicle registration may be suspended for up to 3 years.

IID Requirement: Offenders may be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in their vehicle if convicted of a first OWI offense.

What is the Penalty for a Second OWI in Wisconsin?  

A second OWI offense in Wisconsin is a Class A misdemeanor. The penalties for a second OWI offense include:

  • A fine of up to $500.
  • Imprisonment for up to six months.
  • A mandatory minimum sentence of five days' imprisonment.

In addition, the offender's driver's license will be suspended for one year. The offender may also be required to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle.

What Happens After a Third OWI in Wisconsin? 

A third OWI offense in Wisconsin is a Class G felony. The penalties for a third OWI offense include:

  • A fine of up to $10,000.
  • Imprisonment for up to five years.
  • A mandatory minimum sentence of 60 days' imprisonment.

In addition, the offender's driver's license will be suspended for three years. The offender may also be required to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle.

The penalties for a fourth or subsequent OWI offense in Wisconsin are the same as those for a third OWI offense. However, the mandatory minimum sentence is increased to 180 days' imprisonment.

How Long Does an OWI Stay on Your Record in Wisconsin?

An OWI conviction will remain on the offender's record indefinitely in Wisconsin. However, there are steps they can take to have the conviction removed from their record, such as: 

  • Completing an OWI treatment program
  •  Participating in an alcohol education program.
  • Completing probation; that is if the offender hasn't been convicted of multiple OWIs and is eligible for a first-offender status, which would allow you to have the conviction removed from your record after successfully completing probation. 

Ultimately, OWI offenders are advised to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help them navigate the legal process and ensure that their rights are protected.

OWI Expungement in Wisconsin 

Offenders looking to expunge an OWI from their record in Wisconsin must be aware that they will need to wait five years from their conviction before they can even begin the process. And, even then, it's not guaranteed that their request will be approved.

To increase the chances of having an OWI expunged, offenders must ensure that they haven't been convicted of any other crimes during the five-year waiting period and that they haven't had any further run-ins with the law.

Persons who have satisfied the criteria for having their OWI expunged can begin by contacting the clerk of courts in the county where they were convicted. They'll be able to provide them with the necessary forms and subsequently file the application.

Notwithstanding, even if the OWI is successfully expunged, it will still appear on background checks. So, offenders looking to clear their record ultimately may need to explore other options, such as sealing their record or getting a pardon from the governor.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First OWI in Wisconsin? 

In Wisconsin, a first-offense OWI is a misdemeanor. The maximum penalties for a first-offense OWI are six months in jail and a $500 fine. However, the actual sentence imposed will depend on the facts of the case and the defendant's criminal history.

Most first-time offenders will not be sentenced to any jail time. Instead, they will be placed on probation and required to complete a treatment program. Some first-time offenders may also be required to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle.

Repeat offenders or those with high blood alcohol levels will be more likely to receive a jail sentence. For example, a second OWI is punishable by up to one year in jail. A third OWI is punishable by up to three years in prison.

What is the Average Cost of OWI in Wisconsin?

The average cost of an OWI in Wisconsin is $5,000. This includes the cost of the fine, the cost of the lawyer, and the cost of the court fees.

Motorists convicted of an OWI in Wisconsin will also have to pay for a mandatory alcohol assessment, costing up to $200. They may also be required to complete a driver's education course, costing up to $500. If their blood alcohol content (BAC) was above 0.15%, they might be required to install an ignition interlock device which can cost up to $1,000. In addition, offending motorists may also be required to attend a victim impact panel, costing up to $100. They will also have to pay a reinstatement fee of $200 when they get their license back.

How Much is Bail For an OWI in Wisconsin?

The amount of bail set for an OWI in Wisconsin can vary depending on the severity of the offense and the criminal history of the defendant. Generally, bail is set at a higher amount for more serious crimes and defendants with a prior criminal record.

The first thing to understand is that bail is not intended to be a punishment. Instead, it is simply meant to ensure that the defendant appears for their court date. Bail is typically set by a judge during a short hearing after the defendant has been arrested. The judge will consider several factors when deciding bail, including the severity of the offense, the defendant's criminal history, and whether the defendant is a flight risk.

In most cases, the bail set for an OWI in Wisconsin will be between $500 and $5,000. However, bail could be set at a higher amount if the offense is particularly serious or if the defendant has a prior criminal record.

How to Get My License Back After an OWI in Wisconsin 

Eligible offenders may get their licenses back after an OWI in Wisconsin. The process can be completed by either going through the courts or petitioning the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

If the offender chooses to go through the courts, they will need to file a Petition for Review with the circuit court in the county where they were convicted of the OWI. The court will then set a hearing date during which they will be required to present evidence as to why the license should be reinstated.

Motorists who choose to petition the DMV will need to file a Petition for License Reinstatement with the DMV. They will also need to prove why their license should be reinstated.

If the offender's license is reinstated, they will be required to pay a reinstatement fee and may be subject to other restrictions, such as having an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle.

How Does an OWI Affect Your Life in Wisconsin? 

Being convicted of an OWI in Wisconsin can significantly impact a person's life. Offenders may face jail time, fines, and the loss of their driver's license. They may also be required to attend alcohol treatment programs and install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle.

Can You Get Fired For an OWI in Wisconsin? 

Yes, offenders can get fired for an OWI in Wisconsin. In fact, many employers have policies that state that employees who are convicted of a DUI will be terminated. If a motorist is convicted of a DUI, they may also have trouble finding new employment, as many employers will not hire someone with a DUI on their record.

How do I Find OWI Checkpoints in Wisconsin? 

OWI checkpoints in Wisconsin are typically announced in advance and listed in local media outlets. Interested persons can also check the Wisconsin State Patrol website for checkpoint locations and dates. Motorists who are stopped at a checkpoint will be requested to provide their license, registration, and proof of insurance. They will then check to see if they have any outstanding warrants or are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If the officer believes the motorist is impaired, they will be asked to submit to a chemical test to determine your blood alcohol content. Refusing to submit to a chemical test can result in automatic license revocation, even if they are later found not guilty of OWI.

Which is Worse; OWI vs. DWI?

There are two types of drunk driving offenses in Wisconsin: operating while intoxicated (OWI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI). Both violations are severe and can result in significant penalties, including jail time, fines, and a driver's license suspension.

Generally speaking, an OWI is considered less severe than a DWI. An OWI is typically charged when a driver's blood alcohol content (BAC) is below 0.08%, while a DWI is charged when a driver's BAC is 0.08% or above. However, many factors can affect the severity of either offense, including the driver's BAC, whether there were any accidents or injuries involved, and the driver's history of drunk driving.

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