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WI & drunk driving: New OWI laws in effect, are more to come?

Wisconsin lawmakers are cracking down on drunk driving violations in the state. Lawmakers have found success moving proposals forward and are gaining momentum on others. This piece discusses recent changes that are currently in effect, likely changes in the future and things that are expected to remain the same. It will also clarify how these changes could impact those who are accused of drunk driving.

What are the most recent changes? The state recently passed a law that increases the penalties associated with a fourth operating while intoxicated (OWI) offense. The offense can now result in felony charges. There are also increases for repeat offenders, with fifth and sixth time offenses come with a penalty of five years imprisonment, while those facing an eighth or ninth offense could get sentenced for almost eight years, and a tenth offense could result in ten years of prison time.

These changes went into effect January 1, 2017.

What proposals for increased OWI penalties are currently under consideration? Additional change is under discussion. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that current considerations include prosecuting those who are found to operate a vehicle without an ignition interlock device when such a device is required as well as increasing the minimum jail sentence for fifth and sixth OWIs from six months to 18 months.

What will happen to the future of OWI laws in WI? Currently, it appears that changes to the handling a first OWI offense will not change. A first offense in Wisconsin remains a municipal violation. The piece in the Journal Sentinel notes that any attempt to criminalize the first offense would likely fail at this time.

However, the publication also notes that there appears to be plenty of support for increased penalties for those who are accused of repeat offenses. As such, those proposals are expected to move forward.

What should I do if I am charged with an OWI? Although a first offense may not result in criminal charges, it still has a negative impact on your future. If the charge becomes a conviction, your insurance rate will go up and you can face hefty monetary fines. As a result, whether charged with a first or repeat offense it is wise to seek legal counsel. An experienced OWI lawyer can build a case to defend your rights and better ensure a more favorable outcome.

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