Wisconsin lawmaker takes aim at first-time drunk drivers

People arrested for drunk driving in Wisconsin could soon be facing steeper penalties, depending on the outcome of a proposed series of reforms being discussed by state lawmakers. As reported recently by CBS News, Wisconsin Representative Jim Ott (R-Mequon) has announced his plans to introduce seven different bills targeting impaired drivers and increasing the penalties for OWI convictions.

One of the proposed measures would specifically target individuals facing first-time impaired driving charges. Currently, most drivers charged with a first-offense OWI in Wisconsin are issued a ticket and are not required to go to court. Ott says that one of his proposed measures would seek to change that by requiring court appearances even for first-time charges.

First-time OWI can lead to jail time in some cases

Wisconsin is currently the only state in the U.S. that does not generally require jail time for first-time OWI convictions. However, even under existing state law, there are certain circumstances in which it is possible to be sentenced to jail for a first-offense drunk driving conviction.

One situation that can result in jail time for a first-time OWI offender is when there is a minor present in the vehicle at the time that the alleged impaired driving occurs. In Wisconsin, the penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol with a child passenger under the age of 16 include five days to six months in jail.

Another way that a first OWI charge can result in jail time is if the driver is involved in a crash that causes another person to be injured or killed. Even without a prior offense, a driver who is convicted of Causes Injury While OWI can face up to a year or more in jail, depending on a number of factors including the severity of the injuries involved.

More severe injuries mean more serious penalties

When injuries caused by a drunk driving crash are very serious, for instance if they result in permanent disability or disfigurement, the driver may face charges for an even more serious offense known as Causing Great Bodily Harm by OWI. Conviction carries a potential prison sentence of up to 12.5 years.

Similarly, when a first-time drunk driver causes a crash resulting in the death of another person, he or she may be charged with Homicide While OWI. For drivers without prior OWI convictions, this offense carries a maximum prison term of 25 years.

Call a lawyer if you or a loved one is facing charges

If you or someone in your family is facing charges for impaired driving in Wisconsin, it is very important that you get help from a criminal defense lawyer - especially if you have been convicted of drunk driving in the past or have been involved in a crash. The experienced OWI defense attorneys at Buting, Williams & Stilling, S.C., can work hard on your behalf to protect your rights and legal interests.