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Serious penalties for Wisconsin 1st offense OWI Beating a first OWI charge is possible... with the right lawyer

A first offense OWI in Wisconsin is a civil charge with serious legal consequences if convicted:

  • Driver’s license revoked 6 to 9 months
  • $150 to $300 fine + additional OWI surcharge of $435
  • Ignition interlock device (IID) requirements for BAC .15% or above
  • High-risk driver status resulting in required SR-22 insurance
  • Occupational driver’s license requires IID installation & service charges
  • Penalties for first non-compliance with IID: up to $600 fine & 6 months in jail
  • Penalties for repeat non-compliance with IID: up to $1000 fine & 1 year in jail
  • MANDATORY Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment (AODA) + associated fees
  • Driver’s license reinstatement fee $200

In addition, even a single OWI conviction means increased insurance rates for years after, and possible travel restrictions to other countries.

Tom Grieve

OWI & Criminal Defense Attorney

If your BAC is .17 or higher at the time of your first OWI arrest, additional penalties apply:

  • IID required for 12 months
  • Your legal BAC limit is .02% while mandatory IID is in vehicle

A first offense OWI with a minor under 16 in the vehicle increases the penalties:

  • Offense is no longer civil – it’s now a criminal misdemeanor charge
  • Up to 6 months in jail
  • Driver’s license revoked up to 18 months
  • Required IID for up to 2 years
  • Fines increase to $350-$1100 (plus $435 surcharge)

A first offense OWI causing injury carries additional penalties:

  • 30 days to 1 year in jail
  • Up to $2,000 in fines
  • Penalties double if the injured person was under 16 years old

A first OWI causing great bodily harm is a Class F felony with even harsher penalties:

  • Up to 12.5 years in prison
  • Up to $25,000 in fines
  • Penalties increase if a pregnant woman (unborn child) was in the vehicle

A conviction for vehicular homicide while OWI (with no prior OWI convictions) is a Class D felony with the following penalties:

  • Up to 25 years in prison
  • Up to $100,000 in fines
  • Penalties increase if a pregnant woman (unborn child) was in the vehicle
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7 surprisingly painful truths about your first offense OWI in Wisconsin:

Most people don’t think they need a lawyer for a first OWI charge in Wisconsin (until after they’re convicted). Ask ANY OWI lawyer and they’ll tell you: EVERYONE facing a second OWI offense gets a lawyer – because they’ve learned the hard way how much is at stake.

It's estimated an OWI will cost you more than thirty thousand dollars over the course of your life.

In addition to fines, your insurance rates will skyrocket, and you will have serious legal consequences affecting the rest of your life. A surprising number of Wisconsin drivers aren’t familiar with the severe consequences accompanying a first-time OWI offense. This may be because Wisconsin is famously the ONLY state in the nation where your first drunk driving charge is NOT technically a criminal offense.

Award-winning Wisconsin defense attorneys bust the myths about 1st DUI charges

It seems like multiple times per week we hear the same story from people who were just arrested on an OWI first offense in Wisconsin: “The officer told me it’s just a ticket with a few months’ driver’s license suspension and that it’s no big deal, to just pay the fine and move on.”

Whenever we hear that, we immediately send the client a clear message: “WAKE UP!” Calling an OWI first offense “just a ticket” is like saying that Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers are “just quarterbacks” or that Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking are “just smart guys." Make no mistake, an OWI first offense in Wisconsin is one of the most serious legal problems, if not THE most serious problem you will ever face. The consequences will follow you for a lifetime. Even a single OWI can cost you your job, your driver’s license, and many thousands of dollars. There is no way to get it off of your public record. An OWI conviction will not be dropped or somehow disappear from your record - it will stay with you forever.

Just because your first OWI is a ticket and not a crime in Wisconsin does not mean your boss, future human resources manager, or in-laws will see it that way. Wisconsin is one of the last places in North America and the Western world where a first offense OWI is a civil offense and not a crime. So if you plan on working for a large company, plan on moving out of state at any point in your future, or plan on traveling in the United States, everybody will think you’ve been convicted of a crime and likely served jail time. This has serious implications for your ability to work and travel, not only now, but years from now.

So if a police officer tells you, “It’s just a ticket with a few months’ driver’s license suspension," you tell them you want the best criminal defense and drunk driving attorney in Wisconsin and give us a call.

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There are real costs of conviction beyond the fine

Usually if you’re convicted of an Operating While Intoxicated as a first offense in Wisconsin, the fine amount (technically a forfeiture amount) is between $150.00 and $300.00. Then come the court costs and surcharges. This brings the total cost up to somewhere around $700.00–$1,000.00 in immediate expenses.

AODA costs:

If convicted of a drunk driving first offense in Wisconsin you’ll face a mandatory AODA (Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment) and follow through with the recommended treatment. With the cost of both the assessment and your mandatory treatment, you’ll be on the hook for at least several hundred, sometimes even thousands of dollars out of pocket.

Insurance costs:

Your existing auto insurance will need to be replaced with Wisconsin’s high-risk auto insurance, more commonly known as SR-22 insurance. This can sometimes double, triple, or even quadruple the rates you are paying right now. Just filing as a high-risk driver can lead to higher fees. While you won’t have SR-22 insurance forever, don’t think for one moment the insurance company will just forget that you had a drunk driving conviction. You’ll be facing years of significantly higher insurance rates, meaning thousands of dollars more out of pocket.

There is no avoiding these extra payments, and no tricks to lower post-OWI insurance. Insurance companies find out about your OWI conviction as soon as you file the mandatory SR-22. And you will be required to have an SR-22 for at least 3 years. Your insurance company may change your rates based on the circumstances of your OWI and your driving record.

IID costs:

Depending on the specifics of your case, and the strength of your attorney, you may also have to deal with an ignition interlock device. An IID is typically installed in the steering column of any car that is titled or registered in your name and usually costs around $1,000.00 or more per year of use. For people who are married and in a two-car household, expect to pay another $2,000.00 or more if all goes smoothly. If there are any equipment issues, such as breakages or installation problems, there’ll be additional charges that could run into the thousands. Keep in mind if it’s part of your court order you won’t be allowed to get a driver’s license without first showing proof to the Department of Transportation that you successfully installed an ignition interlock device in any vehicle titled or registered in your name. Driving your car without one: don't even think about it. The penalties for being caught for operating a motor vehicle without a court-ordered ignition interlock device include state criminal charges that could result in months, possibly even a year, of jail time and thousands of dollars more in fines.

Also keep in mind that if the court orders you to have an ignition interlock device it means your new legal limit for the time you have the device installed is .02% blood alcohol concentration. For most people, that’s a single drink or even less than one drink. If you’re caught driving after just a half drink to a drink or more, that could result in a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC) as a second offense charge. That basically is a second offense for drunk driving, punishable by up to six months in jail, thousands of dollars’ worth of fines, court costs, and additional expenses.

DMV costs:

Do these expenses sound like a lot? Because we didn’t even talk about your driver’s license fees and reinstatement costs with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Not to mention the inconvenience and embarrassment of having an occupational license or needing to blow into an ignition interlock device before you can start your car when picking up your friends or your children to go someplace.

Transportation costs: 

First you'll face the towing and impound costs for your vehicle. And of course when you have an occupational license that doesn’t mean your need to drive places will align with the times of your "driving windows." You will of course have to drive to meet people and do things outside those times. But unless you want to risk going to jail and facing criminal charges, you’ll have to hire taxis and rideshares or rely on friends and family members to go places. If it doesn’t cost you dollars, it will cost you pride.

Your first offense drunk driving conviction in Wisconsin may wind up costing you over $10,000 depending on how things go. That number could be many times higher if you end up losing your job either now or years from now as a result of this conviction. A first OWI charge isn’t a guaranteed conviction. Get your case evaluated by an experienced Wisconsin OWI attorney to learn about your chances for reduced charges or even dismissal.

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Penalties could include jail time

Fact: First offense drunk driving in Wisconsin (unless there is a minor in the car or someone is hurt) is a ticket and not a crime.

Fact: You can still go to jail for it.


People go to jail all the time for first offense drunk driving tickets in Wisconsin. It’s avoidable, but it still happens every day around the state. People are convinced “since it's only a ticket and not a crime” they don’t need to hire an attorney. Six months later, and they've spent five times as much money on an attorney than if they had just hired one in the first place.

So what happened?

Getting convicted of a first drunk driving offense in Wisconsin is no joke. The consequences are steep and extremely complex. The system is not set up to be easy to understand or simple to navigate. And the odds of finding an employee at the DMV willing to patiently explain the process to you? Probably the same as buying a winning Powerball ticket.

Unless you perfectly navigate the complicated conviction process, AND miles of red tape with the DMV, there’s a very good chance you’ll wind up going to jail. There are many do’s and don’ts our attorneys explain every day to clients and people just arrested on a first offense drunk driving that will keep them out of jail. Unless you’re an EXPERT at filling out the Department of Motor Vehicle Occupational License forms or fully aware of all of the ways you can get arrested (or get your vehicle towed), you should be talking to somebody who is.

After your conviction you’ll be required to abide by Wisconsin’s occupational license restrictions. Failure to follow those restrictions could result in arrest for Operating After Revocation. OAR is a misdemeanor criminal charge with a potential maximum fine of $2,500.00, up to one year in jail, up to 6 additional months of driver’s license revocation time, and a mandatory DNA sample and surcharge. Keep in mind as well: if you have two driver’s license suspensions or revocations in any 12-month period, you won’t be eligible for an occupational license. This means you won’t be able to drive for any reason whatsoever as long as your license is revoked.

Explaining your criminal record as a result of your conviction for operating after revocation is probably not the best way to make a good first impression in a job interview. And you’ll need to check that box forever: “I HAVE been convicted of a crime,” - not a great way to distinguish yourself for consideration for promotion. And after a first conviction, all subsequent OWI arrests are misdemeanor or felony charges.

Your future is not something to gamble with. Contact Wisconsin’s best drunk driving defense lawyers for a free no-obligation case review.

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You CAN Lose your Job for OWI

A first drunk driving offense is just a ticket, right? I can't lose my job over it!

Yes, you can.

People lose their jobs every day in Wisconsin as a result of drunk driving offenses. Do you have a job that requires you to drive? Do you ever need to travel for work and rent a car? Do you ever need to travel to foreign countries? Will you ever have a job where you need to do any of that? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then you can definitely lose your job over an OWI conviction.

A first drunk driving offense in Wisconsin is an extremely serious event. Odds are your company’s fleet contract car insurance coverage won’t allow them to keep you employed if you lose your license after getting convicted. Same thing when it comes to renting cars if you travel for work; most rental car companies will deny you the ability to rent a car if you have an occupational license or are serving a period of suspension or revocation. Many foreign countries will believe you’ve been convicted of a crime if you have been convicted of a drunk driving offense. This means they’ll assume you’ve gone to jail and may deny your entry through customs. Some countries even impose a lifetime ban on someone who has been convicted of a drunk driving offense.

All of this can result in missed opportunities, lost sales, passing up company training events or conferences, a lot of embarrassment and perhaps even loss of employment.

If your drunk driving offense involves any kind of drug or controlled substance like Ambien, a pain medication such as Oxycodone or Percocet, or even an over the counter drug like Benadryl or Robitussin, a conviction could result in losing your job if you work in the medical field. A marijuana drunk driving offense will create police reports and a conviction record that includes using marijuana. Odds are your employer, such as a hospital, pharmacy, or pharmaceutical company, will be forced to fire you if they find out. This can obviously cause a tremendous amount of harm to someone who has spent many years training for their position, such as a nurse, pharmacist, and many others. Marijuana drunk driving offenses are just as devastating as alcohol-related drunk driving offenses. Read below for more information on marijuana-related drunk driving offenses in Wisconsin.

Just because a first OWI isn’t a crime doesn’t mean your job is safe. You owe it to yourself to give your case the best possible chance of beating or reducing the charges.

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The truth about .08

What if I blew below a .08% blood alcohol concentration? What if the blood work came back lower than the legal limit?

That may not mean anything.

Worst of all, you could be convicted for OWI even if you were driving within the legal limit.

If the court determines you were “incapable of safely driving” while under the influence of ANY amount of alcohol (even 0.01%), penalties for a 1st offense OWI in Wisconsin could be the same as exceeding the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08%.

The central question in any drunk driving case is whether you were impaired while you were driving. A chemical test, sometimes hours later, may have little or even nothing to do with your blood alcohol concentration at the time you were operating a motor vehicle. No doubt the officer told you something different. And the prosecutor will do the same. Precisely why you need a team of experienced, award-winning criminal defense attorneys to review your case. We’ll analyze the circumstances of your arrest and decide whether or not a “curve” defense, otherwise known as retrograde extrapolation, could apply. A curve defense is basically saying, "after I was pulled over, my blood alcohol levels continued to rise to an illegal level." Just because your BAC was higher than .08% after the stop doesn’t mean it was higher than .08% while you were driving.

Having attorneys on your side who are familiar with these technicalities and how to recognize and employ them effectively as part of your defense could make the difference between walking free or being convicted of first offense OWI. Contact our award-winning drunk driving defense team today for your free no-obligation case review.

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You can get an OWI for marijuana

Not every drunk driving case involves alcohol. Sometimes drunk driving cases involve drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, or even other substances that are perfectly legal in Wisconsin like prescription medications and even over-the-counter drugs including Benadryl, Robitussin, and others.

What does all of this mean for YOUR case?

It means your case just got more complicated. It means your case just got harder. And it means, more than ever, you need an experienced and qualified defense team standing up for you in court. Wisconsin law allows the government to prosecute people for drunk driving if there is any kind of impairing substance in their bloodstream.

Drug Charges Commonly Paired with OWIs

If you’re pulled over for driving while high, you could be facing these related charges:

This means you could be taking your prescription medication exactly as prescribed and still be convicted for drunk driving. This means you could have smoked marijuana two weeks before you were pulled over and still get convicted because it will appear in your bloodstream. This means you could have taken an over-the-counter allergy medication and go to jail if it appears in your bloodstream. Think about those possibilities when an officer asks if you are on any medications.

So what happens next?

Wisconsin law is currently sorting out some very complex drug drunk driving cases. There are different burdens of proof the government will have to meet depending upon whether you have what is a called a “restricted controlled substance” (such as cannabis, cocaine, or other schedule I controlled substances), a controlled substance (such as a prescription narcotic like Ambien, Oxycodone, or Percocet), or a drug drunk driving case, which would be most of the other drugs that are purchased over the counter without a prescription. These laws are extremely technical and complex. The bottom line is, with an experienced and award-winning defense team on your side, you have the best possible chance at beating your drug drunk driving charge. Whether you need defense against marijuana drunk driving or drug drunk driving , call now for your free no-obligation consultation.

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You can lose your license 10 days after your OWI ticket

What is the 10-day notice?

If you’ve recently been arrested for a drunk driving offense, it’s extremely important to check your paperwork. You may notice, or you may not, you were given a 10-day notice to file important paperwork and legal documents with the court or the Department of Transportation. Failing to do so could result in a conviction and loss of license.

How bad could that conviction be?

A conviction for an implied consent violation in Wisconsin, otherwise known as a refusal, is in many ways worse than a conviction for an operating while intoxicated charge. It can even count as a drunk driving conviction on your record if you ever get pulled over again. You will be facing thousands upon thousands of dollars in fees, driver’s license, insurance, and ignition interlock device issues, in addition to risking losing your job or going to jail for it. Best case scenario is you will lose your license for six months. While in certain cases this may actually help you, it usually does not. The most important thing if you were just pulled over for drunk driving is to save all your paperwork and then immediately contact experienced and qualified drunk driving attorneys who can assist you in your case. We will review all of your paperwork and identify what needs to be done and how quickly. We will clearly explain what the next steps are and what your options will be throughout the process.

Remember, if you do nothing, you may get convicted and lose your license. It’s in your best interest to contact our drunk driving defense attorneys for a free no-obligation consult and case review.

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How long does an OWI stay on your record?

A 1st offense OWI conviction in Wisconsin can stay on your record forever.

The best way to protect your record and avoid costly, life-changing penalties is with an experienced drunk driving attorney defending your case. See examples of Wisconsin OWI charges dismissed or reduced by Grieve Law defense attorneys.

Can a DUI be expunged in Wisconsin?

Don't count on it. It’s extremely unlikely (essentially impossible) to have any drunk driving conviction expunged in a Wisconsin court, even if you were under age 25 at the time of the offense, and meet other criteria for expungement. Please keep this in mind.

Even if you were miraculously able to get a DUI removed from your public record, the DOT doesn’t recognize expungements and the conviction will stay on your driving record forever.

You’re better off hiring a proven drunk driving attorney to fight your 1st OWI charges before conviction, and try to get them reduced or dismissed.

How to beat a First Offense OWI in Wisconsin

Every first OWI charge has unique circumstances affecting the outcome. The best way to understand whether your first OWI charge can be reduced or dropped is by talking to an experienced attorney about the specifics of your arrest. In general, these are some of the defense strategies to consider:

Illegal stop

Almost all DUI cases start with a traffic stop. Your legal defense starts with examining the details to determine whether your traffic stop was legal. People get pulled over all the time in Wisconsin, even when they weren’t speeding or breaking any traffic laws. Even if you were pulled over legally, the stop can become illegal if its scope or duration went beyond its initial purpose.

Improperly conducted field sobriety tests

Field sobriety tests must follow strict standards, and the results must be fully evaluated. Even in cases where the driver was in fact operating while intoxicated, if the field sobriety tests weren’t performed or evaluated properly they can be challenged and become inadmissible as evidence. Grieve Law attorneys are certified by the NHTSA in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing training – meaning we’re qualified to tell the cops what they did wrong in your field tests.

Blood alcohol test done incorrectly

It’s not uncommon for blood alcohol tests to be mishandled, making the evidence inadmissible. Precise professional standards must be adhered to when conducting, handling, and processing a blood alcohol test. There are many ways human error and equipment malfunction can result in an improper BAC test.

The curve defense

Even if your BAC test was done correctly and you were above the legal limit, the timing of the test must also be considered. Your blood alcohol level continues to rise once you stop drinking, because it takes time for the alcohol to make its way into your bloodstream. In some cases it can be successfully proven a person was not in fact over the legal limit while they were driving, and would have been off the road in time if it hadn’t been for the traffic stop.

Should I get a lawyer for my first DUI?

When charged with a 1st DUI in Wisconsin, many people wonder, "Should I get a lawyer?” The common misconception is that a lawyer will be more costly than the actual DUI itself. FALSE! When you hire an attorney experienced in fighting DUI charges you can get everything from fines reduced to the entire charge DROPPED! If you have to have an IID, you may be able to get an IID Exemption so you don’t have to buy one for more than one vehicle. To give yourself the best chance at beating the charges you face, it’s critical to hire a criminal defense attorney who understands how to beat drunk driving charges. It’s also extremely important to hire an attorney who has received awards for legal defense work, and to check the attorney’s reviews.

If you were arrested for a DUI in Milwaukee, Glendale, Brookfield, Madison or anywhere in Wisconsin, the biggest mistake you can make is not hiring a DUI defense lawyer. If someone you love has been arrested for OWI, you'll need to get them representation. Learn what to do if your husband or wife, son, daughter, or boyfriend is facing DUI charges.

1st DUI in Wisconsin with an out-of-state driver's license

Being convicted of a DUI in Wisconsin is bad. Being convicted of a DUI with an Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, or other out-of-state driver's license is often worse. The penalties for drunk driving in Wisconsin are stiff, but it's still the only state where a DUI isn't a criminal conviction. If you receive a DUI conviction in Wisconsin and your home state finds out, you'll face penalties from both states. And they WILL find out. The federal DUI registry almost guarantees you will face penalties for any DUI in Wisconsin with an out-of-state license in the issuing state.

We also represent the accused with charges for OWI in Wisconsin with an Illinois license (or any other state).

1st DUI in Wisconsin: Refused Breathalyzer

If you were arrested for a 1st DUI in Wisconsin and refused a breathalyzer your driver’s license will be revoked. You will also be ordered to have an IID installed in your vehicle for up to 1 year. 

What is implied consent?

Wisconsin is an “implied consent” state. This means if you refuse chemical testing of your breath, blood, or urine, you can face additional consequences impacting your driving privileges. Individuals facing implied consent violation charges should consult an attorney.

1st DUI in Wisconsin: Vehicular Manslaughter

If the worst should happen and someone is killed when you are driving under the influence, you’ll be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or Homicide by Intoxicated Use of Vehicle. While the penalties for OWI homicide are, as you might expect, much more severe than those for a simple OWI, there is still hope. Our attorneys have experience getting the best possible results for cases just like yours.

What is an OWI in Wisconsin?

Per Wisconsin State Legislature statue 346.63(1):
No person may drive or operate a motor vehicle while:

  • Under the influence of an intoxicant, a controlled substance, a controlled substance analog or any combination of an intoxicant, a controlled substance and a controlled substance analog, under the influence of any other drug to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely driving, or under the combined influence of an intoxicant and any other drug to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely driving; or
  • The person has a detectable amount of a restricted controlled substance in his or her blood.
  • The person has a prohibited alcohol concentration.
  • A person may be charged with and a prosecutor may proceed upon a complaint based upon a violation of any combination of or for acts arising out of the same incident or occurrence. If the person is charged with violating any combination of the offenses shall be joined. If the person is found guilty of any combination of for acts arising out of the same incident or occurrence, there shall be a single conviction for purposes of sentencing and for purposes of counting convictions. Paragraphs each require proof of a fact for conviction which the others do not require.
  • In an action that is based on the defendant allegedly having a detectable amount of methamphetamine, gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol in his or her blood, the defendant has a defense if he or she proves by a preponderance of the evidence that at the time of the incident or occurrence he or she had a valid prescription for methamphetamine or one of its metabolic precursors, gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.

What is the difference between a DUI and an OWI?

There is no difference. The terms are used by different states to describe the same charge or minor variances. Wisconsin uses OWI most often.

Is a first OWI a misdemeanor in Wisconsin?

Usually not. In the majority of cases, your 1st OWI in Wisconsin is a civil offense. However: If you had a minor passenger (under 16) in your vehicle, your first OWI becomes a criminal misdemeanor offense.

Is first offense OWI a felony in Wisconsin?

In most cases, no. A first offense OWI in Wisconsin is usually a civil charge. However: if your first OWI causes injury or death, it IS classified as a felony, and has much harsher penalties.

The defense attorney Wisconsin trusts to get charges for a 1st DUI reduced or DROPPED

Grieve Law has been honored by nationally-recognized attorney rating organizations, as well as local publications including, The National Trial Lawyers, Super Lawyers, Newsweek, Milwaukee Magazine and numerous others. With a long list of criminal defense legal honors and awards, Grieve Law attorneys are the DUI defense attorneys Milwaukee and the rest of Wisconsin trusts to get charges for a 1st DUI reduced or dropped completely.

When your court date arrives, it will be the officer’s word against yours. Your only chance at getting a 1st offense DUI in Wisconsin dropped or reduced is to hire an attorney specializing in DUI defense. There are many factors that go into proving someone is guilty of Operating While Intoxicated, and it's important to remember:

You Are Only Guilty If You Are Convicted®

También hablamos español. Si necesitas un abogado de defensa por conducir ebrio en Wisconsin, podemos ayudar.

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