On March 28, 2018, the consequences of being arrested for drunk driving in Wisconsin got even more severe. While the law already provided for a driver’s license suspension for a first, second, third, or fourth operating while intoxicated (OWI) offense; with the enactment of senate bill (SB) 135, a fourth offense will soon result in permanent revocation of your right to drive.
As we previously discussed, a law passed in 2016 made a fourth OWI a felony offense in all circumstances. So, not only could you lose your license permanently, but you could also face up to six years in prison (with a 60-day mandatory sentence). With penalties this severe, anyone facing a fourth OWI conviction in Wisconsin will need to take his or her situation extremely seriously and aggressively assert all available defenses in order to mitigate the consequences of his or her arrest.
A Closer Look at SB 135 (2017 Wisconsin Act 172)
Senate bill 135 (enacted as 2017 Wisconsin Act 172) is a complex piece of legislation, and understanding its implications requires a careful reading of the statutory language. The key language in the law reads:
“If the number of [OWI] convictions . . . in the person’s lifetime, plus the total number of other convictions, suspensions, and revocations counted under s. 343.307 (1) equals 4 or more, and the 4th conviction, suspension, or revocation occurs within 15 years of the previous conviction, suspension, or revocation, the department shall revoke the person’s operating privilege permanently. The person is not eligible for an occupational license . . . . After 10 years of the revocation period have elapsed, the person may apply for reinstatement [subject to other statutory limitations].
“If the number of [OWI] convictions . . . in the person’s lifetime, plus the total number of other [qualifying] convictions, suspensions, and revocations counted under s. 343.307 (1) within a 25-year period, equals 2 or more, and the person has 2 or more qualifying convictions, the department shall revoke the person’s operating privilege permanently. The person is not eligible for an occupational license under . . . . After 10 years of the revocation period have elapsed, the person may apply for reinstatement [subject to other statutory limitations].”
If we break this down, the key provisions of SB 135 are:
- You can lose your license permanently for a fourth OWI conviction occurring within 15 years of your previous conviction.
- You can lose your license permanently for a second OWI conviction if you have a prior OWI conviction within the past 25 years and you have two other motor vehicle-related felony convictions on your criminal record (for four convictions total).
- If you lose your license under SB 135, you are not eligible to apply for an occupational license.
- If you lose your license under SB 135, you are not eligible to apply for reinstatement until 10 years after your fourth OWI conviction. Even then, your ability to apply for reinstatement is subject to the provisions of Section 343.38 of the Wisconsin Statutes.
Importantly, Wisconsin’s new “four strikes and you’re out” applies to individuals whose prior convictions occurred prior to the statute’s effective date. This means that if you currently have three OWI convictions on your record (or an OWI conviction and two other “qualifying convictions”), your fourth arrest will expose you to a permanent license revocation even though your prior convictions occurred before the law went into effect.
Defending Yourself Against an OWI Conviction in Wisconsin
While every case is unique, there are several potential defenses to charges of operating while intoxicated (OWI) in Wisconsin. If you have been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, it is important that you speak with an attorney as soon as possible to identify which defenses you may have available. Some of the potential defenses to OWI in Wisconsin are:
- Challenging your breath test results – While breath testing technology has improved, “breathalyzer” devices are still fallible. It is not uncommon for the police to make mistakes when administering the breathalyzer. Your blood alcohol content (BAC) is likely to be a key piece of evidence in your OWI case, and challenging this evidence can provide a strong defense.
- Challenging your blood or urine test results – If you gave a blood or urine sample instead of submitting to the breathalyzer, you may have a variety of grounds to challenge the results of your blood or urine test as well. From improper testing procedures to mishandling of samples, there are a number of potential defense strategies available.
- Challenging your field sobriety test (FST) results – Unlike the chemical BAC test (breath, blood, or urine), field sobriety tests are not mandatory under Wisconsin law. If you submitted to the FSTs, you may be able to challenge the arresting officer’s procedures in administering the tests or his or her interpretation of your performance.
- Providing an alternate explanation for your driving behavior – If the arresting officer pulled you over because you were driving erratically, could there be an alternate explanation for your driving behavior? Were you fatigued? Were you suffering from a medical condition? There are a number of explanations other than alcohol intoxication for failing to maintain speed or drifting out of your lane.
- Disputing that you were “operating” a vehicle at the time of your arrest – The definition of “operating” a motor vehicle is not as straightforward as it may seem. In some cases, it will be possible to successfully defend against an OWI conviction even if you were drunk by challenging the State’s evidence that you were “operating” your vehicle.
- Asserting your Constitutional rights – The U.S. Constitution provides a number of important protections that apply in OWI cases, and asserting your Constitutional rights can be a key defense strategy when facing a fourth OWI. Did the police stop you improperly? Did they arrest you without probable cause? If so, you may be entitled to a “not guilty” verdict even if you were operating your vehicle while intoxicated.
Disclaimer: This Article Is Not Legal Advice.
Never rely on an article for legal advice as the law frequently changes, information may not be accurate, there may be exceptions to a rule, and reliance may be detrimental. Always consult one of our experienced attorneys for competent, current, and accurate legal advice.
Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Wausau, WI, OWI Defense Attorney
If you are facing an OWI charge in Wisconsin and you currently have multiple convictions on your criminal record, our defense attorneys can help protect you against unnecessary consequences. To get started with a confidential initial consultation, please call (715) 842-2291 or inquire online today.