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A first OWI offense in Wisconsin is a civil offense carrying severe penalties. If you are facing an OWI (1) charge in Wisconsin call Grieve Law at 262-786-7100. Penalties for a first OWI in Wisconsin include: 

  • $150-$300 fine
  • Revocation of your driver's license for 6-9 months
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle (if BAC exceeds .14%)
  • Required SR-22 insurance for high-risk driver status
  • Mandatory Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment (AODA)
  • Occupational driver's license IID installation & service charges

One OWI conviction will also result in penalties outside the Wisconsin courthouse, including travel restrictions to other countries, increased insurance rates, and the possibility of losing your job.

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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Common misconceptions about your first OWI in Wisconsin

OWI laws in Wisconsin are strict and often difficult to understand. Some of the most common misconceptions about your first OWI include:

  • “Your first OWI charge is just a ticket.” - Your first OWI is not just a ticket. An OWI first offense in Wisconsin is one of the most serious legal problems you could 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.
  • “You can’t lose your job because of an OWI.” - Depending on the job, you could get fired for being convicted for your first OWI. If your job requires you to drive, travel, or rent a car, you will more than likely have to start considering other options.
  • “I can’t be convicted if my BAC was below .08%.” - You don’t have to blow a .08% to be charged with drunk driving. If the court determines you were incapable of safely driving while under the influence of ANY amount of alcohol (even 0.01%), penalties could be the same as exceeding the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08%.
  • “You can’t go to jail for your first OWI.” - You can go to jail for your first OWI in Wisconsin if you injured someone or there was a minor in the car at the time of the stop.
  • "You can't get an OWI for driving high on marijuana." - You don't need to be under the influence of alcohol to be charged with an OWI in Wisconsin. You can get charged with an OWI for marijuana, cocaine, and just about any other drug.


How much does a first OWI cost in Wisconsin?

The fine amount given to you for your first OWI in Wisconsin will be between $150 and $300. However, many other costs and expenses such as increases in insurance will come as a result of an OWI conviction, increasing the total to anywhere between $700 to $1,000. Depending on the details of your case and the insurance provider you work with, the total cost of your OWI could be even higher.

Mandatory AODA cost

If convicted of OWI in Wisconsin, you’ll be required to partake in a mandatory Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment and be required to follow through with the recommended treatment. AODA and treatments for alcohol-related issues can cost thousands of dollars out of pocket.

Insurance costs after an OWI

If convicted of an OWI, you’ll be required to replace your existing auto insurance with Wisconsin’s high-risk auto insurance (SR-22). SR-22 insurance can sometimes double, triple, or quadruple the rates you are currently paying.

Cost of required IID

Depending on the specifics of your case, you may have to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your car. The cost of having an IID installed in your vehicle can cost $1,000 or more per year, per car.

Driver’s license fees and reinstatement costs

After you’ve been convicted of an OWI, your driver's license will be revoked for 6-9 months. Once you’re allowed to drive again, you’ll need to pay to get your license reinstated with the DMV. The cost to reinstate your driver's license for OWI-related revocation or suspension is $200.


First DUI in Wisconsin with an out-of-state driver’s license

Being convicted of a first DUI in Wisconsin with an Illinois license, Michigan license, Minnesota license, or another out-of-state driver's license is often more severe. If you receive a DUI conviction in Wisconsin and your home state finds out, you'll face penalties from both states. 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.


First OWI in Wisconsin while under the age of 21

If you are under the age of 21 and received an OWI charge, your penalties will be far more severe than someone who is 21 years old or older. Some of the penalties for an underage OWI include a $200 fine and an immediate 3-month license suspension. Your car insurance rates will rise dramatically and you could lose your scholarship if you're in college.


How long does a 1st OWI stay on your record?

In Wisconsin, a first OWI will stay on your personal record forever. OWI charges and other criminal records are open to the public, so an OWI conviction could cause some problems down the road with new employment opportunities and background checks. However, if an experienced OWI attorney is hired to defend you in court, it’s possible the charges could get dismissed or changed to a lesser offense.

Can an OWI get expunged from your record?

An expunged OWI charge in Wisconsin is unlikely - almost impossible. Even if you get lucky enough to get an OWI expunged from your record, the DOT will not recognize the expungements and the OWI conviction will remain on your driving record forever.

4 common defenses for a first OWI charge

The best way to find out whether your first OWI charge can be reduced or dropped is by talking to an experienced attorney about the specifics of your arrest. There are some commonly used defenses experienced OWI attorneys use to get drunk driving charges dismissed or reduced, including:

  1. Illegal Stop: If the details suggest you were stopped illegally by the police, your charges could get dropped. People get pulled over all the time, even when they weren’t speeding or breaking any traffic laws. If you were pulled over legally, the traffic stop can become illegal if the scope or duration went beyond its initial purpose.
  2. Blood alcohol test was 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The curve defense: Your blood alcohol level continues to rise once you stop drinking because it takes time for the alcohol to make its way into the bloodstream. In some cases, it can be successfully proven a person was not 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.


First offense OWI attorneys in Wisconsin

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 trust 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®

Why you need an expert OWI defense attorney

Wisconsin is the only state where a first offense drunk driving offense is a civil rather than criminal charge. This means that if you are looking for legal representation in fighting your drunk driving charge a public defender will NOT be able to represent you. You will need to hire an OWI defense attorney to fight for you.

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

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. 

on Grieve Law Google Reviews

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"

on Grieve Law Google Reviews

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

Jesse P. on Grieve Law Google Reviews

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.

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