Milwaukee, WI- Drunk driving offenders in Wisconsin won’t have to worry a new law that will toughen sentences for first offenders since lawmakers have backed off the bill.
The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Jim Ott a Republican from Mequon, would change a first DUI offense from a civil charge akin to a speeding ticket to a criminal offense. This would change Wisconsin’s long-standing and lax operating while intoxicated charges.
Because Wisconsin is one of the only states that treat drunken driving as a civil penalty with a heavy fine, Rep. Ott believes changing the law is one of the most effective ways to curtail drunken driving in the state.
Legislators considered a total of six bills that would make penalties tougher for first and repeat offenders, but the law has been criticized by prison officials, prosecutors and public defenders as too costly to implement; they estimate it would cost tens of millions to implement. District attorneys also opposed the bill because it treated one offense as two possible charges, the WTMJ radio reported.
One of the laws would make first OWI offenders appear in court and driving with the blood alcohol content of .15 of higher a criminal offense. Ott, however, backed off that provision instead choosing to focus on repeat DUI offenders.
The amended bill introduced by Ott would make a second OWI offense a misdemeanor as opposed to a civil penalty.
Current Wisconsin law treats a second OWI offense committed more than ten years after a first offense as a first offense; a fourth offense committed five years after a third offense is treated as a misdemeanor.
Should the new law be passed, third and fourth OWI offenses would be treated as felonies.
Ott also added provisions to his bill which changed the minimum penalties for OWI charges involving injuries from a mandatory of six months to thirty days. He explained to the Leader-Telegram the move was meant to conform with mandatory 30-day minimums for injuries he proposed in another bill earlier this year.
“If we would pass these bills, it would significantly toughen drunk driving laws, particularly for repeat offenders which are the real problem,” said Ott.
The six bills are currently in committee but three Democrats on the committee are critical of the bill because it does not allot money to prosecutors or public defender to take on new cases or for jails or prisons to take new prisoners, the Leader-Telegram reported.
The committee passed the most of the bills unanimously, but voted no on mandatory sentences for OWIs involving injuries or homicides since they believe it strips away a judge’s right to use discretion in sentencing. The bills were introduced several months ago, but are making slow progress.
If the bills for first offenders and repeat offenders are passed by legislators, OWI offenders will find it even more necessary to hire a Milwaukee drunk driving attorney. With their help they can prevent a conviction and help a person avoid heavy fines and other resulting penalties.