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Concern over drunk driving leads to stiffer laws

Wisconsin has many things to be proud of, but its reputation with alcohol isn't one of them. The state rates number one in the country for binge drinking and recently spent over $450 million dollars in property damage, hospital bills, funeral expenses and other costs related to drunk driving accidents in a 12 month period. During that same year, 37 percent of all traffic accidents in Wisconsin were related to alcohol consumption.

Some feel that the state does not take drunk driving seriously enough. For example:

  • Wisconsin is one of only a dozen states that prohibit sobriety checkpoints.
  • A first drunk driving offense is considered a civil offense, not a crime.
  • Drunk driving does not become a felony until your fourth offense.

Some recent legislative changes tighten up what many consider laws that are too lenient.

Penalties may seem lenient, but they still hurt

When comparing Wisconsin's laws to those in other states, you might be tempted to agree that they are lax. However, if you are the one facing an operating while intoxicated charge, you may quickly change your mind.

Even a first offense carries consequences that can disrupt your life. With every subsequent conviction, you can expect the penalties to become more severe. Some of the punishments you may face include:

  • Jail time after your first offense
  • Fines
  • Loss of driving privileges
  • Required installation of ignition interlocking device
  • Mandatory substance abuse treatment

Having an OWI on your record could also damage future opportunities in many areas of life.

Changes in laws aim to prevent drunk driving

In the past, if you were pulled over under the suspicion of OWI, you had the right to refuse a blood alcohol test. This often left police with little more than the results of a field sobriety test to take to court.

A new law now allows arresting officers to request a warrant to compel you to comply with a blood or breath test. It is important to know that an officer cannot demand such a test without a warrant.

Another bill recently signed into law changes the fourth offense to an automatic felony charge. Previously, it was only a felony if you were arrested within five years of your third offense. That same law increased the penalties for your fifth and sixth OWI conviction.

Your fourth conviction also used to allow you to request a review after a certain period of time to determine if you would be given an occupational driver's license. The occupational license allowed you to drive for employment and other limited reasons. However, the new law eliminates this review, which may leave you with few options for getting to work.

Protecting your legal rights

When you are pulled over for OWI, you may be scared. You certainly may not be thinking clearly. Having legal representation as soon as possible will make a difference in the outcome of your case.

Even if you have already submitted to a blood alcohol test, or this is not your first offense, your attorney understands how to challenge the test results and other evidence police may claim to have against you. Consulting an attorney for advice will ensure that your rights are protected and the best possible outcome will be achieved.

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