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Wisconsin legislators work to strengthen drunk-driving laws

Wisconsin has long been criticized by safety advocates for having some of the weakest drunk-driving laws in the nation. For instance, Wisconsin is the only state in which a first-offense conviction for operating while intoxicated can (in certain cases) be considered a civil offense rather than a criminal one.

To be sure, the consequences of an OWI conviction are no mere slap on the wrist; even for first-time offenses. Nonetheless, state legislators are currently working to strengthen Wisconsin's OWI laws, and a few proposals currently being considered seem to have strong bi-partisan support.

Earlier this week, a bill passed in the state Assembly that would change the protocols for second-offense and fourth-offense OWIs. If enacted, the bill would classify all second-offense OWIs as misdemeanors. Currently, second offenses can be treated the same as first offenses (municipal violations) if more than 10 years have passed between a defendant's first and second OWI offenses. Changing all second offenses to misdemeanors would mean that defendants could face five days in jail and a $350 fine.

Under the proposed legislation, all fourth-offense OWIs would we treated as felonies, regardless of how much time has passed between a person's third and fourth offense. Anyone convicted of a fourth-offense OWI could face between six months and six years behind bars and a minimum of $600 in fines.

Despite what critics say, Wisconsin's drunk-driving laws are serious and punitive. And proposed legislation like this continues to raise the stakes. That's why anyone charged with and OWI offense needs the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.


Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Assembly OKs bill making all fourth-offense drunken driving a felony," Jason Stein, Nov. 5, 2013

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