As of right now, a first-time operating while intoxicated (OWI) offense is considered a civil violation and will result in a citation. However, a bill has been introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature that would make a first-time OWI a misdemeanor. Under the bill, if convicted on a first-time OWI, a person could have their record expunged if they did not commit a subsequent OWI for five years. The newly-elected Governor Tony Evers has stated he is open to the idea of criminalizing a first-time OWI.
Not everyone is on board with the bill, however. Once senator stated that the bill would impose a criminal record on an individual that could affect their ability to find a job for half a decade. He believes people should not face such repercussions simply for making one mistake.
In 2013 a similar bill was passed in the State Assembly, but it died after the State Senate failed to act on it. At that time state agencies estimated that the cost to hire enough attorneys to represent motorists in the surge of cases that would result from criminalizing a first-time OWI could be as much as $5 million.
As of right now, the bill remains simply that — a bill. It has not yet been passed into law, and even one of the bill’s sponsors seemed to think its chances of success seemed dim. However, it does send the message that some in the state are interested in cracking down hard on drunk drivers. Those who have been charged with drunk driving should make sure they understand how the current laws will apply to their specific case. Therefore, many choose to be represented by DWI / drunk driving defense attorneys in times like these.