Wisconsin’s OWI/DUI Laws and Conviction Penalties

The consequences of a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd OWI in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin prohibits operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) by drugs or alcohol. Sometimes called "driving under the influence" (DUI), an OWI conviction in Wisconsin can lead to serious penalties. This article outlines these penalties and explains—in simple terms—the elements required for a conviction.

Wisconsin's OWI/DUI Laws

To obtain an OWI conviction in court, prosecutors must prove the person was driving or operating a vehicle:

  • while under the influence of an intoxicant
  • with any amount of restricted controlled substance in his or her blood, or
  • with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least .08%.

In other words, an OWI conviction can be based on actual impairment or a failed BAC or drug test.

What It Means to "Drive" or "Operate" a Vehicle Under Wisconsin's OWI Laws

Wisconsin law defines drive to mean the exercise of physical control over the speed and direction of a vehicle. Operate means the physical manipulation of any of the controls of a vehicle necessary to put it in motion.

Under these definitions, control over a moving vehicle certainly counts as driving and can lead to an OWI. But an impaired person who simply turns on a vehicle or manipulates the controls can also be convicted of an OWI.

Proof of Intoxication for an OWI Offense in Wisconsin

OWI charges are generally based on actual impairment or a test failure.

Impairment OWI Offenses in Wisconsin

A driver is considered to be under the influence when the consumption of drugs or alcohol renders him or her incapable of safely driving.

Per Se OWI Offenses in Wisconsin

A driver who fails a drug test or has a BAC of .08% or more can be convicted of an OWI without proof of actual impairment. An OWI based on an illegal BAC or failed drug test is often called a "per se" offense. A driver with a BAC of .08% or more can be convicted of an alcohol-based per se OWI. A driver with any detectable amount of a restricted controlled substance (such as methamphetamines or oxycodone) can be convicted of a drug-based per se OWI.

Wisconsin Drivers Can Establish a Defense to an OWI charge With a Valid Prescription

It is a defense to a drug-based per se OWI that the driver was lawfully prescribed the tested controlled substance. However, prescription medications can still result in an impairment-based OWI conviction.

Penalties for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd OWI/DUI in Wisconsin

The penalties for an OWI conviction generally vary based on the number of prior convictions the driver has. An OWI is considered a second offense if it occurs within ten years of the first offense. Once a driver has at least two OWI convictions, the ten-year washout period no longer applies and all priors are counted.

Jail and Fines for Wisconsin Misdemeanor OWI/DUI Convictions

Generally, first, second, and third OWIs are misdemeanors. The chart below outlines the range of jail time and fines for a first, second, and third OWI conviction in Wisconsin.

1st Offense

2nd Offense

3rd Offense



5 days to 6 months

45 days to 1 year


$150 to $300

$350 to $1,100

$600 to $2,000

Wisconsin's Substance Abuse Evaluation Requirement for OWI Offenders

All drivers convicted of an OWI must complete a drug and alcohol evaluation. The court will consider the results of the evaluation in its sentencing and will generally adopt the recommended treatment or education program.

Wisconsin OWI Probation

In addition to imposing the minimum jail period, judges will generally place the offender on probation for a period equal to the maximum jail term. While on probation, offenders may be required to submit to random testing or participate in the state's 24/7 sobriety program.

Wisconsin's OWI/DUI Aggravating Factors

Certain aggravating factors can result in enhanced penalties for an OWI conviction.

Wisconsin's OWI Penalty Enhancements for Young Passengers

An impaired driver who was transporting a passenger under the age of 16 will face double the normal jail time, fines, and license revocation.

Wisconsin's OWI Penalty Enhancements for an Excessive BAC

Drivers who are well over the .08% BAC limit will face increased fines for an OWI conviction. The standard OWI fines will be doubled for a BAC of .17 to .199%, tripled for a BAC of .20 to .249, and quadrupled for a BAC of .25% or more.

Felony OWI/DUI Charges in Wisconsin

An OWI can be charged as a felony if the driver has at least three prior convictions or if the driver caused injury or death to another person.

Wisconsin's Habitual OWI Offender Law

An offender with three prior OWI convictions within his or her lifetime can be convicted of a class H felony as a habitual offender. A conviction carries $600 to $10,000 in fines and 60 days to six years in prison.

Felony OWI Charges in Wisconsin for Causing Injuries

Causing great bodily harm while OWI is a class F felony OWI. A conviction carries up to $25,000 in fines, a maximum of 12 and a half years in prison, and a two-year license revocation.

Felony OWI Charges in Wisconsin for Causing Deaths

Causing a fatality while OWI is a class D felony and carries up to $100,000 in fines, a maximum 25 years in prison, and a five-year license revocation.

License-Related Penalties for Wisconsin OWI/DUI Offenses

An OWI offense will typically lead to license-related penalties. These penalties vary depending on the number of prior OWI-related incidents as well as the driver's cooperation with testing.

License-related penalties can result from an OWI arrest and/or conviction.

Wisconsin's DUI Implied Consent Law

Wisconsin's "implied consent" law generally requires all drivers who are lawfully arrested for driving under the influence to submit to breath, blood, or urine testing when requested to do so by an officer. While a driver can refuse to comply with testing, doing so can result in certain penalties.

Refusing a DUI Chemical Test in Wisconsin

When a driver refuses to take a chemical test, the officer issues a citation and submits a report of the refusal to the court. Generally, the court will then revoke the driver's license for:

  • one year for a first offense
  • two years if the driver has one prior refusal in the last ten years, and
  • three years for a third refusal in ten years.

The revocation period will be doubled if a passenger under the age of 16 was present in the vehicle.

Failing a DUI Chemical Test in Wisconsin

If a driver submits to testing and produces a BAC that's at least .08% or a drug test positive for restricted controlled substances, the officer will submit a report to the DMV. The DMV will suspend the driver's license for six months.

License Revocation for OWI Convictions in Wisconsin

All OWI convictions result in driver's license suspension. As part of sentencing, the court will order the driver's license be suspended for:

  • six to nine months for a first offense
  • 12 to 18 months for a second offense, and
  • two to three years for a third offense

License suspensions stemming from a test refusal, test failure, and OWI conviction run concurrently, meaning that they don't stack.

Ignition Interlock Device Requirements in Wisconsin

Offenders who refuse testing, have a BAC of .15% or more, or have prior OWI convictions are required to install and maintain an ignition interlock device (IID) for one year after serving the suspension period.

Obtaining a DUI Hardship License in Wisconsin

Drivers suspended for an OWI incident can generally apply for limited driving privileges. The requirements vary based on the cause of the suspension but always require an IID or monitored sobriety. Also, some drivers might be required to complete a portion of the suspension period before they'll be eligible for restricted driving privileges.

Wisconsin's Underage Drinking and Driving Laws

In Wisconsin, drivers who are under 21 years of age are prohibited from driving with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system. A conviction under Wisconsin's "Not a Drop" law generally results in fines and license suspension but not jail time.

A driver convicted of a Not a Drop violation will face a $200 fine and four license demerit points. The fine will be $400 if there were passengers under the age of 16.

For a chemical test failure, the DMV will administratively suspend the driver's license for three months. If a passenger under the age of 16 was present, the suspension will be for six months.

A restricted license may be available with the installation of an IID. Divers who refuse testing will face the implied consent penalties discussed above.

Talk with a Wisconsin OWI/DUI Lawyer

Wisconsin prosecutors are prohibited from outright dismissing an OWI without good cause. But Wisconsin law does permit pleading to a lesser offense and entering into diversion agreements. Consult with an attorney regarding your case to determine the best course of action.

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