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Wisconsin legal drinking age: 21
Blood Alcohol Concentration limit
  to determine drunk driving
BAC 1st, 2nd, 3rd OWI: .08
BAC 4th, 5th, subsequent: .02
BAC if under 21: 0.00

Wis. Statute 343.03, Wis. Statute 346.63(1)(a)

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changes in wisconsin dui laws

DUI OWI DWI BAC PAC laws - the acronyms can be confusing, and the laws even more so, particularly when the rules change. Drunk driving charges (widely known as DUI's) in Wisconsin are called OWI's, an acronym for 'operating while under the influence'.

DUI is an acronym for 'driving under the influence', which is used in many states. DWI is an acronym for 'driving while under the influence' or 'driving while intoxicated'. BAC stands for blood alcohol content, which you can learn a great deal about at this website. Lastly, PAC stands for prohibited alcohol content levels, the maximum levels of alcohol concentration permitted by law to exist in a person's bloodstream while they're driving.

A Historic Overview of changes in wisconsin's dui laws
by Attorney Tracey A. Wood

Attorney Tracey Wood is Wisconsin's foremost authority on drunk driving laws, the President of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Laywers, past president of the Dane County Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Wisconsin's first ever Board of Regents member to the National College for DUI Defense. Attorney Wood regularly speaks at seminars across the nation, and mentors both new and experienced lawyers in the strategies of a good defense. Attorney Wood is also an expert advisor on challenging and appealing prior under the influence convictions.

Wisconsin Drunk Driving Laws - OWI OMVWI DUI DWI

Wisconsin's OWI (Operating While Intoxicated, also known as Drunk Driving) Laws have undergone continual change over the past 5 years to:

  • Lower the BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) also known as PAC (Prohibited Alcohol Concentration) level to.08,
  • Expand the use of ignition interlocks, now removing the discretionary powers of the judge to make them mandatory,
  • Repeal the mandatory forfeiture of vehicles, although forfeiture is still an option,
  • Prohibit Huber / work release privileges for any convicted driver who is not in compliance with court ordered assessment, and
  • Establish treatment requirements, and
  • Increases fines in certain drunk driving cases.

Wisconsin Drunk Driving Penalties - Arrests - Fines - Jail Time

permissible blood alcohol content level lowered - BAC down

Under Wisconsin laws, the legal limit at which a person can be fined and removed from driving on the roadways is .08, unless the person has prior OWI convictions or a commercial driver's license.

Wisconsins OWI law has lowered the PAC (Prohibited Alcohol Concentration Level) to 0.02 for anyone with a fourth or subsequent drunk driving offense. Counting includes both drunk driving offense and test refusal offenses, so the conviction number is determined by any combination of these offenses.

Higher fines for drunk driving convictions

Wisconsin's new drunk driving law vastly increases fines in third and subsequent drunk driving offenses whenever the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is high.

BAC 0.17 to 0.199: fines are doubled (2 times original fine)
BAC 0.20 to 0.249: fines are tripled (3 times original fine)
BAC above 0.249: fines are quadrupled (4 times original fine)

The changes in the law have also vastly increased fines in third and subsequent offense drunk driving cases where the alcohol concentration is high: the minimum and maximum fine ranges doubled if the BAC is 0.17 to 0.199, tripled from 0.20 to 0.249, and quadrupled above that. However, an escape clause which already existed in prior law was expanded to allow a judge to impose lower fines for those that can't pay the higher amounts and require the person to use the reduction in amount to pay for the assessment and "driver safety plan," i.e., treatment.

increased fines for drunk driving convictions

Where previous OWI law in Wisconsin included special consideration for convicted people who were already financially challenged, the law expanded its financial considerations providing that a judge may impose lower fines for those who cannot pay the higher fine amounts and require the convicted person to pay for treatment (assessment, driver safety plan, etc.) with the funds that would have otherwise been used to pay the fine.

changes in counting prior drunk driving convictions

Wisconsin's OWI law slightly changed the method by which prior convictions are counted: a conviction for great bodily harm or homicide by use of a motor vehicle counts for a lifetime in calculating which offense the current conviction is counted as, i.e. First, Second, Third, etc. (This provision originated as A.B. 665).

Huber work release prohibited with consideration

Wisconsins drunk driving law prohibits Huber Law, commonly known as work release privileges, for those serving jail or prison time for a drunk driving conviction, if the convicted person is not in compliance with the courts orders and the alcohol assessment or treatment plan, if such was ordered, unless the convicted person does not have sufficient funds to make any payments necessary to obtain the assessment or to comply with the driver safety plan.

Mandatory forfeiture of motor vehicle removed

Previously, seizure and forfeiture of a vehicle were options a judge could order in the third offense and were mandatory that a judge order them in the fourth and subsequent convictions for drunk driving or test refusal. Under the law now, forfeiture is no longer mandatory for any conviction, but rather remains an option to interlocking and immobilization orders for fourth and subsequent convictions.

wisconsin law for ignition interlocks changed

An Ignition Interlock is a testing device that is installed into a vehicle. The device requires the driver submit an alcohol-free breath sample before the vehicle can be started, then at intervals while the vehicle is in operation to keep it running. Devices are installed at the convicted persons expense and only in non-commercial vehicles. Wisconsins OWI statute provides judges with the option to order anyone convicted of a second offense drunk driving or a second offense test refusal to install an ignition interlock device in his or her vehicle, so long as the convicted person owns the vehicle and was using that vehicle when the violation or improper refusal was committed. If the judge orders an ignition interlock, the order must be for at least one year and cannot exceed the maximum length of driver revocation allowed by law for the offense or refusal.

immobilization - booting

Immobilization refers to the many means by which a vehicle may be legally prevented from being driven, including booting.

As with ignition interlocking, immobilization orders are at the judges discretion. A judge may order either, or neither. If immobilization is ordered, the order must immobilize the vehicle for at least one year, but no longer than the maximum period of revocation allowed for the second drunk driving offense or second offense for test refusal. As with interlocking, the convicted person must own the vehicle that is ordered to be immobilized and that vehicle must have been the vehicle the person was driving when the offense or improper refusal was committed.

title transfer on other motor vehicles allowed

Wisconsins OWI law has also modified the required stop placed on all vehicle title transfers that previously existed for those convicted of a third or subsequent offense to a requirement to stop title transfers only on the vehicle both owned by the convicted person and used to commit the third or subsequent drunk driving or test refusal offense.

wisconsin department of transportation safe ride program

Wisconsins OWI law required the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to create rules governing the installation and use of ignition interlocks, as well as regulations to be followed by interlock providers governing their installation methods, reporting requirements and fees. While the DOT has always maintained records relevant to drunk driving arrests, the new law in 2001 codified this practice.

The OWI law created a safe-ride program allowing the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to grant funds to counties and municipalities for the purpose of giving people a safe ride home from the bar.

municipal court rules change for drunk driving

Wisconsins drunk driving law also changed to affect Municipal court practice slightly. Wis. Stat. sec. 800.03(4) changed to provide that an appearance "may be" -- rather than 'is' -- required by a "municipality" (not 'municipal court or judge') in a drunk driving case.

what wisconsin drunk driving law does do for oWI convictions

Wisconsins drunk driving law does not require a judge to order seizure for forfeiture of a convicted persons vehicle in a fourth or subsequent drunk driving or test refusal offense. Rather than being mandatory, vehicle forfeitures are optional; they may be ordered, but judges were given discretionary power in 2001 allowing them to order ignition interlocking device installation, immobilization, or forfeiture. Wisconsin's OWI law does not change the mandatory requirement that either an ignition interlocking device or immobilization must be ordered by the judge in any third drunk driving or test refusal case.

Wisconsin's drunk driving law does not remove the previous exception to high fine amounts when the convicted person cannot afford to pay them, conversely, it expands upon this area (see Financial Considerations above).

Wisconsin Drunk Driving Attorney - Free Consultation

Chris Van Wagner and Tracey Wood of Van Wagner & Wood, devote themselves exclusively to helping people accused of or convicted of a crime or a drunken driving offense. Those lawyers strive to provide people with an aggressive, successful defense, through their more than 30 years of combined legal experience, as well as their stellar reputation with judges, prosecutors, other defense lawyers and the legal community in general. To the left is a list of some of the types of cases in which we defend people. You can click on those topics for further information, or click here for a composite explanation.

If you are under investigation for a crime or drunk driving offense, if you have already been charged with a crime or drunk driving violation, or if you have already been convicted but believe your conviction or your sentence were wrong, please call or click here to e-mail the attorneys at Van Wagner & Wood right away. We will give you a brief but professional first-impression analysis of your case and your situation, which will allow you to take an important first step in defending the case against you.