The New Year has brought a new crackdown on drunk driving in Wisconsin. Beginning Jan. 1, repeat drunk driving offenders face stronger penalties which include more jail time.
Under the new law, a fourth DUI offense is classified as a felony which may be punished by up to six years' imprisonment regardless of when the offense is committed. Previously, a fourth offense was a felony only when it was committed within five years of the third offense.
Criminal sentences for the fifth and sixth offenses are also raised from three to five years. Convictions for the seventh, eighth and ninth offenses will be increased from five years to seven years and six months. A tenth or subsequent offense may be punished by imprisonment for up to a decade. This an increase from seven years and six months.
The new law closes some loopholes in the state law. Wisconsin still will continue to be the only state that does not classify the first drunk driving offense as a crime and treat it as civil violation. Offenders can lose their vehicle operator's license for a first offense but cannot be incarcerated. They can also have occupational licenses allowing travel to specified destinations at certain times.
The Department of Corrections estimated that it will cost up to $129 million each year and another $157 million to build 12 drug abuse centers. It is anticipated that these will be needed to treat the additional offenders from this law.
An aide for a state Senator said that a bill will be reintroduced allowing first-time offenders to receive a special license allowing them to drive without restriction if they install ignition interlock devices on their vehicles. This device operates like a breathalyzer by measuring the alcohol from the driver's breath and allowing the vehicle to start only if the operator's alcohol content not exceed a legal limit. Twenty-eight other states impose this penalty.
These higher sanctions may increase the need for legal assistance for a motorist facing drunk driving charges. An attorney can help assure that rights are protected and that the strongest legal defense is mounted in these cases.
Source: CBS Wisconsin, "Wisconsin increasing some drunk driving penalties on Jan. 1," Dec. 27, 2016