Drunk Driving / Operating While Intoxicated
Under current Wisconsin law, a first offense Operating While Intoxicated (OWI)/Prohibited Blood Alcohol Content (PAC)/Operating with a Detectable Amount of Controlled Substance (OCS) is treated as a civil forfeiture matter. Companion citations are issued out of the standard drunk driving arrest for an OWI:
- One citation for operating while intoxicated; and
- A second citation for operating with prohibited blood alcohol content (PAC) or Operating with a detectable amount of controlled substance (OCS)
In situations where the arrested individual refuses to take the required chemical test for blood, breath, or urine, an OWI citation is issued and additional paperwork is provided for the companion refusal charge pursuant to Wisconsin's Implied Consent Law.
Under current law, a second offense in ten years or a third offense within your lifetime (after January 1, 1989) is a traffic criminal matter rather than a civil forfeiture action. The distinction is that the District Attorney will prosecute a second or greater offense and if there is a conviction, substantial jail time will be assessed together with a more significant fine.
Initial appearance on an OWI and companion BAC or OCS ticket is the same as any other citation. However, the OWI and companion BAC or OCS charges are the only citations that can be removed from the municipal court to the circuit court at the option of the defendant. In order to accomplish this, the defendant can plead "not guilty" and post the required bond and fees/costs for transfer by mail or appear in person and post the appropriate bonds, fees and costs and file a written request with the City of Lake Geneva Municipal Court for a six person jury trial within ten days after entry of plea.
If the proper jury trial demand is made, then the OWI and companion BAC or OCS tickets will be transferred to the Walworth County Circuit Court where a circuit judge/jury will make all the ultimate determinations as to guilt or innocence, the amount of the forfeiture, suspension period, and assessments to be ordered. The Circuit Court Clerk will notify you of your jury trial date; however, the vast majority of individuals who are faced with these serious charges keep them in the municipal court rather than opting for transfer to the circuit court.
Please be aware that pursuant to Wisconsin State Statutes, any monies posted for a jury trial are not refundable under any circumstances nor can the monies be applied to the forfeiture if you are found guilty of the offense.
If the jury trial request is not done or the ten day deadline is missed, you lose your right to a jury trial but are still entitled to a court trial before the Municipal Judge. The matter will then be scheduled for a pre-trial conference with the city attorney. If the case is not resolved at the pre-trial conference, it will be scheduled for a trial in the municipal court.
OWI / BAC Penalties
A person is generally charged with an OWI and BAC or OCS ticket. While guilt can be found on both citations, penalties are imposed on only one of the citations. Upon conviction, these penalties and requirements are as follows:
The forfeiture amount on the OWI/BAC or OCS ticket includes a base fine, various costs, and a special assessment amount. The current general OWI fine is $731. Depending upon special circumstances, this fine may be slightly lower or higher.
Wisconsin law requires a mandatory revocation of the convicted individual's driver's license. The suspension period varies from between six to nine months. An occupational driver's license is generally available immediately. Applications for occupational licenses are handled only at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Occupational licenses carry restrictions (60 hours of scheduled driving per week) and can only be used to get a person to and from work, obtain medical or child care, etc. Someone who drives outside of their restricted hours is subject to another set of severe penalties.
In order to receive an occupational license, an individual must provide proof of financial responsibility. This is accomplished by having your insurance carrier fill out an SR-22 form and it must be provided to the Department of Transportation (DOT) along with your application.
After the period of suspension is completed, the driver's license is not automatically reinstated. To reinstate, an individual must go directly to the DOT and reinstate his/her driver's license or privileges.
Wisconsin law requires that anyone convicted of OWI or BAC must undergo an assessment of their alcohol/drug habits. Application for that assessment must be made within 72 hours of their conviction. If the assessment determines that an individual needs some type of alcohol or drug abuse treatment, that program must be followed. Failure to undergo the assessment or comply with the treatment recommendation will result in an indefinite suspension of your driver's license. Cost of the assessment is the responsibility of the person convicted of OWI/BAC/OCS. The assessment paperwork is available and must be signed by the Judge and defendant upon conviction.
OWI/BAC/OCS offenses are assessed 6 points under Wisconsin's point system.
The Walworth County Circuit Court has adopted sentencing guidelines for OWI/BAC/OCS cases. These guidelines require certain penalties based on various factors including the blood alcohol/drug test results and the degree of driving impairment. If there is a plea of guilty or no-contest, or there is a finding of guilt at trial, this Court will impose a penalty taking into account the Walworth Circuit Court guidelines.
Pursuant to 2003 Wisconsin Act 199, amending Sections 343.305, 800.04 and 800.07 of the Wisconsin Statutes, effective for offenses committed on or after 8-01-04, municipal courts now have authority to prosecute first offense refusals if the arrest for OWI was made for violation of a municipal ordinance and the municipality has a municipal court. Upon issuing a "Notice of Intent to Revoke" following a refusal to take a test, the officer must forward a copy of the Notice and the defendant's license to the municipal court. A copy of the Notice must also be sent to the municipality's city attorney. If the defendant requests a hearing on the refusal issue within 10 days, the municipal court shall hold the hearing to determine if the refusal was proper. If the defendant makes a timely request for a refusal hearing and a timely request for a jury trial, the OWI citation and the refusal paperwork are both to be transferred to the circuit court.
If the refusal hearing is not requested within the ten day period, you will lose your right to a hearing and the court must revoke your driving privileges 30 days from the date of the Notice for a period of one year.
Ignition Interlock Device (IID)
If you are convicted of an OWI with an alcohol concentration of.15% or greater or OWI/refusal to submit to a chemical test, the court must order:
- An ignition interlock device (IID) installed on every vehicle that is titled or registered in your name; and
- A restriction of your operating privileges to only vehicles equipped with an IID
Please see the Ignition Interlock Device Handout (PDF) for further information along with approved vendor manufacturers.
If you believe you a have a household income that is at or below 150% of the nonfarm federal poverty line for the continental United States, as defined by the Federal Department of Labor under 42 USC 9902 (2), you may file a Petition for a Reduction of Reduced Costs wherein, the court shall limit the defendant's liability to one-half of the cost of equipping each motor vehicle with an ignition interlock device and one-half of the cost per day per vehicle of maintaining the ignition interlock device. Please be aware this does not prohibit the vendor from charging normal fees.
Note: Under Wisconsin's Implied Consent Law, when a person operates a motor vehicle on a roadway or other area open to the public, any person, subject to all constitutional safeguards, and upon arrest, is deemed to have given consent for a chemical analysis of their blood, breath or urine. Withholding such consent is deemed a refusal. Conviction on the refusal carries double penalties. In other words, already significant penalties are doubled if there is a conviction on the refusal.