DUI Laws in Wisconsin

This article provides a comprehensive overview of Wisconsin's DUI laws, including definitions, penalties, legal procedures, and resources for those affected by DUI charges.

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense in Wisconsin, with stringent laws and severe penalties designed to deter impaired driving and protect public safety. This article provides a comprehensive overview of Wisconsin's DUI laws, including definitions, penalties, legal procedures, and resources for those affected by DUI charges.

Definition of DUI in Wisconsin

Operating While Intoxicated (OWI)

In Wisconsin, DUI is commonly referred to as Operating While Intoxicated (OWI). According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), OWI is defined as operating a motor vehicle while:

  • Under the influence of an intoxicant, controlled substance, or any other drug.
  • Having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher.
  • Having a detectable amount of a restricted controlled substance in the blood.
  • Under the influence of any combination of alcohol, controlled substances, and other drugs.

Source: Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits

Wisconsin law sets specific BAC limits for different categories of drivers:

  • General Drivers: 0.08% or higher.
  • Commercial Drivers: 0.04% or higher.
  • Drivers Under 21: Zero tolerance, any detectable amount of alcohol.

Source: Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Penalties for OWI in Wisconsin

First Offense

A first OWI offense in Wisconsin is classified as a civil forfeiture, not a criminal offense. Penalties include:

  • Fine: $150 to $300.
  • License Revocation: 6 to 9 months.
  • Alcohol Assessment: Mandatory.
  • Ignition Interlock Device (IID): Required if BAC is 0.15% or higher.

Second Offense

A second OWI offense is a criminal misdemeanor. Penalties include:

  • Fine: $350 to $1,100.
  • Jail Time: 5 days to 6 months.
  • License Revocation: 12 to 18 months.
  • IID: Required for 1 year.

Third Offense

A third OWI offense is also a criminal misdemeanor. Penalties include:

  • Fine: $600 to $2,000.
  • Jail Time: 45 days to 1 year.
  • License Revocation: 2 to 3 years.
  • IID: Required for 1 to 3 years.

Fourth and Subsequent Offenses

A fourth OWI offense and any subsequent offenses are classified as felonies. Penalties include:

  • Fine: Up to $10,000.
  • Prison Time: Up to 6 years.
  • License Revocation: 3 years to lifetime.
  • IID: Required for 1 to 3 years.

Source: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau

Aggravating Factors

Certain factors can increase the severity of OWI penalties in Wisconsin, including:

  • High BAC: A BAC of 0.15% or higher.
  • Minor Passenger: Having a passenger under 16 years old.
  • Injury or Death: Causing injury or death while driving under the influence.

Arrest and Booking

When a driver is suspected of OWI, law enforcement officers will conduct field sobriety tests and a preliminary breath test. If the driver fails these tests, they will be arrested and taken to a police station for booking. This DUI arrest process includes fingerprinting, photographing, and recording personal information.

Chemical Testing

After arrest, the driver will undergo chemical testing (breath, blood, or urine) to determine their BAC. Refusing to submit to chemical testing can result in an automatic license revocation and other penalties. The blood alcohol concentration test is critical in determining the driver's impairment level.

Court Proceedings

OWI cases are handled in municipal or circuit court, depending on the severity of the offense. The legal process includes:

  • Arraignment: The defendant is formally charged and enters a plea.
  • Pre-Trial: Both parties exchange evidence and negotiate potential plea deals.
  • Trial: If no plea deal is reached, the case goes to trial where evidence is presented, and a verdict is rendered.
  • Sentencing: If found guilty, the court imposes penalties based on the offense and any aggravating factors.

Challenging the Traffic Stop

One common defense is to challenge the legality of the traffic stop. If the law enforcement officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle, any evidence obtained during the stop may be inadmissible.

Questioning the Accuracy of Chemical Tests

Defendants can also challenge the accuracy of chemical tests by questioning the calibration of testing devices, the qualifications of the person administering the test, or the handling of the test samples. The accuracy of the BAC level is often a critical factor in DUI cases.

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions can mimic signs of intoxication or affect BAC readings. Defendants can present medical evidence to support their case.

Resources for OWI Offenders

Alcohol Assessment and Treatment

Offenders are required to undergo an alcohol assessment, which evaluates their alcohol use and recommends treatment if necessary. Treatment programs may include:

  • Alcohol Education Classes: Courses designed to educate offenders about the dangers of impaired driving.
  • Counseling: Individual or group therapy sessions to address underlying issues related to alcohol use.
  • Rehabilitation Programs: Intensive treatment programs for those with severe alcohol dependency.

Ignition Interlock Device (IID) Program

Offenders required to install an IID must do so at their own expense. The IID prevents the vehicle from starting if the driver has a detectable amount of alcohol in their system. Participation in the IID program is monitored by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Source: Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Hiring an experienced OWI attorney can help offenders navigate the legal process, explore defense options, and potentially reduce penalties. Legal aid organizations may also provide assistance to those who cannot afford private counsel.

Repeat DUI Offenders

Repeat DUI offenders face increasingly severe penalties with each subsequent offense. Prior OWI convictions significantly impact sentencing, often resulting in longer license revocation periods, higher fines, and extended jail time. It's crucial for repeat offenders to seek legal advice from skilled criminal defense attorneys.

Underage DUI and Drunk Driving Charges

Wisconsin's zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving means that drivers under 21 can face DUI charges with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system. Underage DUI penalties include fines, community service, and license suspension. Repeat offenses can lead to harsher penalties, including longer license revocation periods and mandatory alcohol education programs. Drunk driving laws are particularly strict for young drivers to prevent impaired driving incidents.

Commercial Drivers and OWI Offenses

Commercial drivers in Wisconsin are held to stricter standards due to the lower BAC threshold of 0.04%. A DUI conviction for commercial drivers can lead to disqualification from holding a commercial driver's license (CDL) and other severe penalties. Ensuring compliance with Wisconsin DUI laws is essential for maintaining employment and avoiding significant career impacts.

Experienced Attorneys

Hiring an experienced attorney who specializes in OWI cases can be critical for achieving the best possible outcome. These attorneys can develop strong defense strategies, challenge the prosecution's evidence, and negotiate plea deals to reduce penalties.

It's important for individuals facing DUI charges to seek legal advice early in the process. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can guide clients through the complexities of the court system, provide representation during court proceedings, and work towards minimizing the impact of the DUI charge on the individual's life.

Wisconsin SR22 Insurance Requirements

Drivers convicted of DUI in Wisconsin may be required to obtain SR22 insurance, a form of high-risk insurance that provides proof of financial responsibility. This requirement can result in higher insurance premiums and is typically mandated for a specified period following a DUI conviction.

OWI Surcharge and Community Service

In addition to fines and jail time, offenders may be required to pay an OWI surcharge and complete community service hours. These additional penalties are intended to further deter impaired driving and promote rehabilitation.

Hardship License and Occupational License

For some offenders, obtaining a hardship license or occupational license may be possible. These licenses allow individuals to drive to work, school, and other essential activities despite a license suspension. The process for obtaining such a license varies and typically requires meeting specific criteria and court approval.


Wisconsin's OWI laws are designed to deter impaired driving and protect public safety. Understanding these laws, the associated penalties, and available resources is crucial for anyone facing OWI charges. By adhering to the legal process and seeking appropriate support, offenders can work towards rehabilitation and avoid future violations.

For more information on Wisconsin's OWI laws, visit the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's official website and the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau.

About the author
Von Wooding

Von Wooding

Counsel Stack develops grounded language models equipped with research, retrieval, and drafting tools. We offer legal leads, pre-built intelligent applications, and white label solutions.

Counsel Stack Learn

A legal information center for the public

Counsel Stack Learn

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Counsel Stack Learn.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.