OWI may become election issue in Wisconsin

In recent years, a variety of issues have lead to particularly contentious elections in Wisconsin. This year, some experts suggest that one issue may emerge as the subject of debate among candidates for several state offices. Specifically, some likely candidates are currently taking positions on whether Wisconsin’s laws regarding operating a vehicle while intoxicated should be strengthened.

Many people may not realize it, but a first conviction for OWI in Wisconsin is treated effectively as a traffic ticket. Penalties for a first OWI conviction include a fine of up to $300 and license revocation for up to nine months. In cases where a person’s blood alcohol content exceeds .15 percent, he may also be required to install an ignition interlock device in his vehicle.

Notably, a first conviction does not carry the possibility of time in jail. In fact, a first conviction essentially disappears after 10 years, so long as an individual does not commit any additional OWI offense.

One current candidate for Wisconsin attorney general – Democrat Ismael Ozanne, the Dane County District Attorney – spoke out recently about the need to make first time OWI a crime. On the other side of the issue, Democrat Jon Richards, a state Representative from Milwaukee who is also running for attorney general, issued a statement that seemed to offer support for retaining the current system.

This debate comes at a time when convictions for first time OWI in Wisconsin have dropped approximately 30 percent since 2009. The current system has been in effect since that time.

Some suggest that stopping short of treating first time OWI as a criminal offense has been one of the main reasons for the decrease in convictions in recent years. Instead of focusing efforts on incarceration, law enforcement has attempted to identify repeat offenders and better educate the public about the dangers of driving under the influence.

It remains unclear whether a proposal to make a first conviction for OWI a crime would pass the legislature in Wisconsin. It may, however, be an issue that people hear much more about as the election approaches.

If you have been arrested for OWI, it is important to speak to a criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney can explain your rights and help you understand possible penalties in the event of a conviction. For more information and to learn more about how a criminal defense lawyer can help you, contact an attorney today.

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