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Milwaukee, WI underage DUI defense attorneyAccording to the Center for Disease Control, alcohol contributes to the deaths of over 4,000 people below the age of 21 every year, with more than 1,500 of those involving car accidents. To promote the safety of young people, Wisconsin law specifies the consequences for a variety of underage drinking offenses, including driving and drinking. If you have been arrested for underage DUI, you need an attorney who can help you understand your rights and ensure that you are treated fairly.

Penalties Under Wisconsin’s “Not a Drop” Law

Underage drivers are subject to more stringent restrictions than drivers over the age of 21 because of Wisconsin’s absolute sobriety, or “Not a Drop,” policy. If you are underage, you may be arrested if you are found to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.00 to 0.08, a range that is within the legal limit for drivers of a legal drinking age.

Certain circumstances have the potential to increase your penalties. For example, if you are arrested under the absolute sobriety law when another person under the age of 16 is in your car, your license can be suspended for up to six months. If you refuse a BAC test, or if your BAC is above 0.08, you may face similar penalties to adult drivers. If you injure or kill another person while driving under the influence, you can face the more serious penalties for injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle.

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Drunk driving is a serious matter in Wisconsin. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, more than 20,000 people are arrested for Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) in Wisconsin every year, and hundreds of these offenders are under the age of 18. If you have ever been arrested or charged with offenses related to drunk driving, you are aware of the stress, expenditures, and consequences that can result. An OWI arrest can be even more serious if it is charged as a felony, and these types of charges may result in long prison sentences, steep fines, and the loss of your driving privileges for multiple years.

Felony OWI Charges

Whether your OWI charge is considered a felony is dependent on two factors:

  • How many times you have previously been charged with operating under the influence. A fourth OWI is a Class H felony, punishable by 60 days to six years in prison. A fifth or sixth OWI is a Class G felony, punishable by six months to 10 years in prison. A seventh, eighth or ninth OWI is a Class F felony, punishable by 3 to 12.5 years in prison. A tenth or subsequent OWI is a Class E felony, punishable by 4 to 15 years in prison.
  • Whether your OWI resulted in an accident that caused bodily harm to others. Injury by intoxicated use of vehicle is a Class F felony. 

Other Consequences for a Felony OWI

If your OWI charge is classified as a felony, you may face a number of other penalties in addition to jail time, including:

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Milwaukee, WI OWI defense lawyer

By Attorney Nicole Masnica

Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or even certain prescription medications is a serious offense, and a conviction for such an offense may result in a number of significant consequences. An OWI conviction can carry mandatory fines, time in jail or prison, revocation of your driving privileges, installation of an ignition interlock device, and required addiction counseling.

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The Wisconsin Assembly passed two bills this summer which, if approved by the state Senate, would impose stiffer penalties on individuals convicted of operating while intoxicated (OWI). The first bill would establish a mandatory minimum prison sentence of at least five years for drivers convicted of an OWI that resulted in a fatality.  A driver facing such a charge under current law faces a considerable prison sentence, although a sentencing court has the discretion to impose jail time, probation or combination of the two. The new bill passed by the Assembly would take away all discretion and individual consideration of each defendant and lump them all together regardless of blood alcohol level, treatment needs and efforts, etc. The second bill would make it obligatory for drivers facing OWI charges, including all first-time offenders, to appear in court. Because a first-time OWI is currently not a criminal offense, the civil rules of procedure allowing an appearance by legal counsel for some court proceedings can occur. 

Both bills were introduced by Rep. Jim Ott, a long-time advocate of criminalizing all first-time OWI cases and for stiffer OWI laws in the state, including mandatory minimum prison sentences. Also introduced again was a bill that would criminalize all first-time OWI offenses.

The two bills passed by the state Assembly in June (S.B. 7 and S.B. 8) must be voted out of a state Senate committee before heading to the full Senate for a vote. The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety heard testimony on a dozen drunk driving bills on September 4, 2019, but a date for a full vote by the Senate has not yet been set.

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Milwaukee WI drunk driving defense attorney

As is true in all 50 states, driving drunk is illegal and has severe consequences. Not only do drivers put themselves at risk, but they can also endanger the passengers in their car, pedestrians, and people in other vehicles. In Wisconsin, it is illegal for a driver who is at least 21 years old to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or greater. Drivers are also prohibited from driving while under the influence of intoxicants, with any detectable amount of a restricted controlled substance in their bloodstream, and/or while they are under the influence of controlled substances or other drugs. Those below the age of 21 must have complete sobriety when driving or operating a vehicle.

DUI vs. OWI

In many states, the abbreviation DUI is used to refer to the offense of driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicating substances. However, Wisconsin law refers to this offense as Operating While Intoxicated, or OWI. The Wisconsin statutes consider the “physical manipulation or activation of any of the controls of a motor vehicle necessary to put it in motion” as operating a vehicle.  Sec. 346.63(3)(b), Stats. OWI charges do not necessarily require the actual movement of the car, but rather, actions that could do so. For instance, an intoxicated individual who is sitting in the front seat of a stationary but running car could potentially be charged with OWI. 

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