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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 legal consequences, including:

  • Driver’s license revocation for 6 to 9 months
  • $150 to $300 in fines
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) (required for BAC .15% or above)
  • High-risk driver status resulting in required SR-22 insurance
  • Occupational driver's license IID installation & service charges
  • Mandatory Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment (AODA)

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

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
1st OWI Offense & your record How to beat a 1st OWI charge Payment plans Free consult

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. Almost everyone who faces a second OWI offense gets a lawyer because they’ve already learned the hard way how much is at stake. Per data collected in February 2022, 494,939 drivers in Wisconsin had an OWI conviction during 2021.

An OWI could cost you more than thirty thousand dollars over the course of your life. Receiving an OWI will cause your insurance rates to increase and leave you with serious legal consequences affecting you for the rest of your life. If you were pulled over for being too drunk to drive, contacting an experienced OWI attorney is your best first course of action.

Myths about 1st DUI charges 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.”

Your first OWI is not just a ticket. An OWI first offense in Wisconsin is one of the most serious legal problems you will ever face. Getting one OWI can cost you your job, your driver’s license, and thousands of dollars. There is no way to get an OWI off of your public record once you are convicted. 

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. If you plan on working for a large company, moving out of state, or traveling in the United States, everybody will think you’ve been convicted of a crime and likely served jail time. Being convicted of an OWI has serious implications for your ability to work and travel for a long time. 

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 OWI attorney in Wisconsin and give us a call.

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Costs beyond the fine

Usually, if you’re convicted of your first Operating While Intoxicated offense in Wisconsin, the fine amount is between $150.00 and $300.00. In addition to fines, you will need to pay court costs and surcharges. This brings the total cost up to $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 be required to follow through with the recommended treatment. With the cost of both the assessment and your mandatory treatment, you’ll be on the hook for hundreds, 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. SR-22 insurance 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, your insurance company will not forget you had a drunk driving conviction - you’ll be facing years of significantly higher insurance rates.

IID costs:

Depending on the specifics of your case, you may have to install an ignition interlock device in your car. 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. People who are married and in a two-car household can expect to pay another $2,000.00 or more. 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 you successfully installed an ignition interlock device in any vehicle titled or registered in your name. The penalties for being caught operating a motor vehicle without a court-ordered IID include state criminal charges that could result in months, possibly even a year, of jail time and thousands of dollars more in fines.

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. Exceeding the adjusted limit could result in a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC) as a second offense charge. 

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: 

Right away you'll face the towing and impound costs for your vehicle after being arrested on the side of the road. 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 have to drive to meet people and do things outside those times. 

Your first offense drunk driving conviction in Wisconsin may wind up costing you over $10,000 depending on the result of the case. 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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You could be going to JAIL

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

Fact: You can go to jail for your first OWI.


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.

So what happened?

Getting convicted of a first drunk driving offense in Wisconsin is no joke. The consequences are steep and complex and the system is intentionally difficult to understand and navigate. 

Unless you perfectly navigate the complicated conviction process, 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. 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 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. You’ll need to check that box forever: “I HAVE been convicted of a crime,”. 

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

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.

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. IF you need to rent a car for a work trip, the same laws will apply. 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 potential 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. Your employer will likely be required 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%.

Whether you were impaired while driving is the central question in any drunk driving case. 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 (precisely why you need a team of experienced, award-winning criminal defense attorneys to review your case). 

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, delta-8 THC, 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 on whether you have a “restricted controlled substance” (such as cannabis, cocaine, or another schedule I controlled substances), a controlled substance (such as a prescription narcotic), or a drug drunk driving case.  These laws are extremely technical and complex. With an experienced, award-winning defense team on your side, you have the best possible chance at beating your drugged 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 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 an OWI conviction. It can count as a drunk driving conviction on your record if you ever get pulled over again - resulting in thousands of dollars in fines and fees. The most important thing to remember if you were pulled over for drunk driving is to save all your paperwork and immediately contact experienced and qualified drunk driving attorneys who can assist you in your case. Grieve Law 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 a 1st OWI stay on your record?

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

Hiring an experienced drunk driving attorney to defend your case is the best way to protect your record. You could avoid several costly, life-changing penalties. 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.

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. 

1st DUI in Wisconsin: Vehicular Manslaughter

Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated will likely lead to a class D felony. This type of charge comes with up to 25 years in prison and/ or fines up to $10,000. Learn more about vehicular manslaughter and the associated fines.

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.

References: Driver improvement surcharge. Wisconsin Statute § 346.655 (2022) | Operating under influence of intoxicant or other drug. Wisconsin Statute § 346.63 (2022) | Penalty for violating sections 346.62 to 346.64. Wisconsin Statute § 346.65 (2022) |

Hear from our clients

Went in with a very hard case and was extremely worried. But In a very professional way the system was explained and they set me up with an amazing plan. And ended up working out a deal that has turned my life completely around and never had to see the inside of a courtroom. Beyond grateful for my second chance.

Alex G. on

Mr. Grieve is a very capable attorney. I recently hired him and his associates (who were lovely) for a DUI where I had a firearm in my center console (CCW Wisconsin permit). I wasn't aware if you were drinking that you can't have your CCW on you in the car, and ultimately they wanted me to sit for six months in jail. Grieve got it dropped completely which is fantastic or my future career would have been nonexistent. 


Milwaukee Criminal Defense Attorney Amy Scholz is a "well-respected attorney for a good reason: she brings her years as a former state criminal prosecutor to the table for her clients each time she steps into court. Attorney Scholz has earned the experience and achieved the results that clients look for in an attorney. That experience combined with her strong communication and knowledge of the law is what makes her a sought-after attorney. I highly recommend attorney Scholz"


Great lawyers, very professional. They got to work on my case right away. Will use again if needed.

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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.

What happens to first-time DUI offenders in Wisconsin?

A first offense OWI in Wisconsin can come with penalties of a 6-9 month driver's license revocation, fines, AODA assessment, and possibly an IID in your vehicle for one year.

Do first-time DUI offenders go to jail in Wisconsin?

If there is no minor in the vehicle during the offense and the OWI did not cause injury or death, jail time is not possible for a first offense OWI. Potential penalties may include 6-9 month driver's license revocation, fines, AODA assessment, and possibly an IID in your vehicle for one year.

Is OWI a felony in Wisconsin?

An OWI offense can be a felony in Wisconsin in a few ways. First, any OWI 4th offense and above is a felony. Additionally, a second offense causing injury and above is a felony. Any OWI causing homicide is also a felony.

What is the penalty for driving while intoxicated in Wisconsin?

The penalties for an OWI vary greatly depending on which offense OWI you are charged with. They can range from a first offense with no jail time to mandatory minimum prison time.

Can I refuse a breathalyzer test in Wisconsin?

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.

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.