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7 surprisingly painful truths about first offense OWI Wisconsin

March 6, 2020 

First offense OWI in Wisconsin is a charge with serious fines & penalties:

7 Surprisingly Painful Penalties for First Offense OWI in Wisconsin

1 Is a first offense OWI in Wisconsin a serious crime or just a ticket?

It's estimated an OWI will cost you over thirty thousand dollars throughout 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. 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. A surprising number of Wisconsin drivers are not familiar with the severe consequences accompanying a first time OWI offense. This may be because people know that Wisconsin is the ONLY state in the nation where your first drunk driving charge is NOT technically a criminal offense.

The majority of people with a first offense OWI don’t think they need a lawyer - until after they’re convicted. Ask any DUI attorney and they’ll tell you: EVERYONE who faces a second DUI charge gets a lawyer because they’ve learned exactly how serious the charges are, and how much is at stake.

You are only guilty if you are convicted™

Criminal Lawyer Cost OWI Attorney Cost

Award-Winning Milwaukee Defense Attorneys Share the Hard Truth about Your First OWI Offense

It seems like multiple times per week we hear the same stories from people who were just arrested on an OWI first offense in Wisconsin: “The officer told me it is 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 kind of 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 that you will ever face. The consequences will follow you for a lifetime. They can cost jobs, your driver’s license, and many thousands of dollars. There is no way to get it off of your criminal record. It will not be dropped or somehow disappear from your record. It will stay with you forever.

Wisconsin OWI penalties chart (DOT)

Just because it is a ticket and not a crime in Wisconsin does not mean that your boss, future human resources officer, or in-laws will understand that. Wisconsin is the only state in the United States, and for that matter 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. That means that if you plan on working for a large company, plan on moving out of state at any time in your future, or plan on travelling in the United States, everybody will think that you have 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 that “it is 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.

1st offense OWI in Wisconsin misdemeanor
First offense DUI in Wisconsin can have severe penalties

2 There are real costs of conviction for a 1st offense DUI beyond the fine.

Usually if you are convicted of an Operating While Intoxicated as a first offense in Wisconsin, the fine amount, which is technically a forfeiture amount, is between $150.00 and $300.00. Then come the court costs and surcharges.

This brings the total up to somewhere around $700.00–$1,000.00 in immediate costs.

If you are convicted of a drunk driving first offense in Wisconsin you will be facing a mandatory AODA assessment (Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment) and follow through with the recommended treatment. With the cost of both the assessment and your mandatory treatment, you will be facing at least several hundred, sometimes even thousands, of dollars out of pocket. 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 will not have that auto insurance forever, do not think for one moment the insurance company will just forget that you had a drunk driving conviction. You will be facing years of significantly higher insurance rates, meaning thousands of dollars more out of pocket.

There is no avoiding these extra payments or tricks to lower post-OWI insurance. Insurance companies find out if you have an OWI as soon as you file the mandatory SR-22. And you will be required to have an SR-22 for several years.

Depending on the specifics of your case, and the strength of your attorney, you may not only have the above amounts to deal with but also an ignition interlock device. This device is something that is typically installed in the steering column of any car that is titled or registered in your name and usually runs $1,000.00 or more per year of use. For people who are married and in a two car household, there is another $2,000.00 or more before we even really get started. If there are any equipment issues, such as breakages or installation problems, expect additional charges that could run into the thousands of dollars. Keep in mind that you will not 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, if it’s part of your court order, in any vehicle that is 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 an ignition interlock device if you are required to do so include state criminal charges that could expose you to months, possibly even a year, of jail time and include thousands of dollars of even more fines.

Do these expenses sound like a lot? Because we did not even talk about your licensing fees and reinstatement costs with the Department of Motor Vehicles. We are also not even talking about the inconvenience and embarrassment of having an occupational license or needing to blow into an ignition interlock device when you pick up your friends or your children to go someplace before you can start your car.

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

What about your job?

And of course when you have your occupational license that does not mean that your need to drive places will end with the times on 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 new state criminal charges, you are going to need to hire taxis and get rides from friends and family members to go places. If it does not cost you dollars, it will cost you pride.

At the end of your first offense drunk driving case in Wisconsin, everything may wind up costing you over $10,000 depending upon how things go. That number could be many times higher if you end up losing your job either now or ten or twenty years from now as a result of this conviction. Make the right call and contact the best Milwaukee and Waukesha Criminal Defense and drunk driving attorneys.

Criminal Lawyer Cost OWI Attorney Cost

3 Penalties could include jail time.

True, a first offense OWI in Wisconsin is not a crime, but you can still go to jail.

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 does not need to happen, but it still happens every day around the state. People are convinced “since it is only a ticket and not a crime” that they do not 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 who is willing to spend hours sitting down to explain everything to you? They are are 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 is a very good chance that you will wind up going to jail. There are many do’s and don’ts that 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 are an EXPERT at filling out the Department of Motor Vehicle Occupational License forms or are aware of all of the ways that you can get arrested (or get your vehicle towed), you should be talking to somebody who is.

Additionally, following a conviction you will be required to abide by the occupational license restrictions.  Failure to follow those restrictions could result an arrest for Operating After Revocation.  That charge is a misdemeanor criminal charge that carries 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 that if you have two driver’s license suspensions or revocations in any 12-month period, you will not be eligible for an occupational license.  This means you will not be able to drive for any reason whatsoever as long as your license is revoked.

Explaining to your future employer about 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 that job interview. And needing to check that box forever, “I HAVE been convicted of a crime,” is not going to be the best way to distinguish yourself for that promotion. And after a first conviction, subsequent DUI arrests become OWI misdemeanor or felony charges.

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

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First offense DWI in Wisconsin can have serious consequences
1st offense DUI Wisconsin Laws come with harsh penalties

4 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 your company 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.

A first drunk driving offense in Wisconsin is an extremely serious event. Odds are that your company’s fleet contract car insurance coverage will not 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 mistakenly believe that you have been convicted of a crime if you have been convicted of a drunk driving offense. This means they will believe that you have 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 sales, missed opportunities, missed company training events or conferences, and 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 a loss of 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 learn about that. 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 it is not a crime does not mean you won't go to jail (see above). And just because it is not a crime does not mean that your job is safe. For a free, no-obligation case review, contact Milwaukee’s best drunk driving offense attorneys.

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5 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 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 that you were operating a motor vehicle. No doubt the officer told you something different. And the prosecutor will do the same. That is why you will need a team of experienced, award-winning criminal defense attorneys to review your case. An experienced team will analyze and decide whether or not a “curve” defense, otherwise known as retrograde extrapolation, will apply. That is basically saying "after I was pulled over, my blood alcohol levels continued to rise to an illegal level." Just because you were higher than .08% after the stop does not mean that you were higher than .08% while you were driving.

Having attorneys on your side who are familiar with these issues 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.

First offense DWI Wisconsin laws can lead to license suspension
Wisconsin penalties for first offense DWI Wisconsin

6 You can get an OWI for Marijuana.

Not every drunk driving case involves alcohol. Sometimes drunk driving cases can be about drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, or even other substances that are perfectly legal in Wisconsin such as prescription medications and even over the counter drugs such as 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 your blood stream.

This means you could be taking your prescription medication, as prescribed, and still be convicted for drunk driving. This means you could have smoked marijuana two weeks before driving 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 marijuana, 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 result is, with an experienced and award-winning defense team on your side, you will never have a better chance at beating your drug drunk driving case. Give our marijuana drunk driving defense and drug drunk driving defense team a call for your free no-obligation consultation.

Criminal Lawyer Cost OWI Attorney Cost

7 You can lose your license 10 days after your ticket.

What is the 10 day notice?

If you have recently been arrested for a drunk driving offense, it is extremely important that you check your paperwork. You may notice, or you may not, that 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 when it needs to be done by. We will clearly explain what the process is and what your options will be throughout that process.

Remember, if you do nothing, then you may get convicted and lose your license. Immediately contact our drunk driving Milwaukee attorneys for a free no-obligation consult and case review.

Penalties for first offense OWI Wisconsin

Additional Fines and Penalties After Your First OWI in Wisconsin

A first offense OWI in Wisconsin carries significant, life-altering penalties. Worst of all, you could be convicted 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, DUI penalties are the same as if you exceeded the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08%.

When you reapply for a new driver’s license or apply for an occupational license you’ll pay an additional OWI suspension reinstatement fee of $200. If you had a minor under age 16 in your car when you were pulled over for your first drunk driving offense, penalties increase significantly. The offense becomes criminal and you will face mandatory jail.

Remember, though: You Are Only Guilty if Proven Guilty.

How Long Will a First Offense OWI Conviction 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.

How Long Will a DUI Conviction Affect Your Car Insurance in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, you’ll have to maintain an SR22 for at least three years after your OWI conviction, and you will probably pay higher insurance rates for five years after your conviction. Your insurance company may change your rates based on the circumstances of your OWI and your driving record.

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. 

1st DUI in Wisconsin: Penalties for BAC Below 0.15%

Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. where a first offense DUI is not considered a criminal offense. Despite the fact that a 1st offense DUI in Wisconsin is not criminal, it still carries severe penalties and a long-standing stigma. Fines for being convicted of a 1st offense DUI in Wisconsin (with a BAC below 0.15%) range from $150 to $300. In addition to the fine, a “Driver Improvement Surcharge” of $435 will also be applied.

Your driver’s license will also be revoked for 6 to 9 months. While many of those convicted of a 1st DUI in Wisconsin are eligible for an occupational license, obtaining one involves added financial expenses.

Getting a first DUI in Wisconsin also includes a mandatory drug and alcohol assessment (which the convicted person is required to pay for) and successful completion of a traffic safety course, also known as DUI school or DUI class. The cost for this course falls on the convicted.

1st DUI in Wisconsin: Penalties for BAC 0.15% or Above

There are additional penalties for a 1st DUI in Wisconsin if your BAC (blood alcohol content) was 0.15% or above. The court will require you to install a breathalyzer in your car, also known as an ignition interlock device or IID, for 12 months. IIDs require you to perform a breathalyzer test before you can start your vehicle. Additionally, if you are ordered to have an IID in your vehicle, your legal limit just became .02% for the length of time the IID is required on your vehicle.

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.

1st DUI in Wisconsin: Minor Under 16 in the Vehicle

If you got pulled over for a 1st DUI in Wisconsin and there was a minor under the age of 16 in the vehicle, the offense changes from a non-criminal ticket to a criminal misdemeanor offense. Fines increase to between $350 and $1,100 (plus the $435 surcharge). Your driver's license may be revoked for up to 18 months, and you could face up to 6 months in jail. You may also be required to have an IID installed in your vehicle for up to 2 years.

In Wisconsin, these DUI penalties apply even when you are below the legal alcohol limit. If you are under 21 and busted for an OWI, there are even more penalties due to the "Not a Drop" alcohol laws.

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.

1st DUI in Wisconsin: Should I Get a Lawyer?

When charged with a 1st DUI in Wisconsin, many people wonder, "Should I get a lawyer?” The common misconception is lawyers will be more costly than the actual DUI itself. FALSE! When you hire an attorney who has experience in 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, as well as to check the attorney’s reviews.

DUI's and criminal cases are virtually everything we do at Grieve Law. Don't jeopardize your future and trust a second rate general practice attorney. Contact our award winning team of former state prosecutors for a free, no obligation consult today.


If you were arrested for a DUI in Wisconsin—whether in Milwaukee, Waukesha, or anywhere else you need help—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.

What is an OWI in Wisconsin? Per Wisconsin State Legislature statue 346.63(1):

The DUI Defense Attorney Milwaukee Trusts to Get Charges for a 1st DUI in Wisconsin 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 surrounding areas trust to get charges for a 1st DUI in Wisconsin reduced or dropped completely.

Note: We also represent the accused with charges for OWI in Wisconsin with an Illinois license.

What If I Have Prior OWI Charges?

Back in the 1990s, lax drunk driving laws allowed one Wisconsin man to rack up a record number of DUIs before he finally went to prison. Penalties for a first offense DUI in Wisconsin are getting a lot stiffer.

A collateral attack is one potential option for reducing penalties and lowering fines.


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 a Milwaukee attorney specializing in DUI defense. Learn more about drunk driving statistics in Wisconsin

También hablamos español, si necesitas un abogado de defensa por conducir ebrio en Madison, WI podemos ayudar. 

Contact your OWI law firm in Milwaukee to set up a free consultation.

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By: Attorney Tom Grieve on 03/06/2020

Tom Grieve is a former prosecutor who now runs a successful Wisconsin criminal defense law firm with offices in Milwaukee, Waukesha and Madison. If are facing new charges initial phone consultations are free: contact online or call 262-786-7100.

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