The time between Labor Day and New Year's Day is a busy one for Wisconsin police agencies. The extended holiday season brings joy, merriment, festive gatherings and holiday "cheer" in the form of alcoholic beverages, so law enforcement agencies around the state regularly increase OWI/DWI/DUI patrols in an effort to keep drunk drivers off the street.
A dubious distinction
According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Wisconsin has the highest rate of drinking and driving in the nation, something which has led state lawmakers to propose several new bills that would hopefully deter people from climbing behind the wheel after drinking. There are several bills currently being touted by some of the state's legislators, including proposals that would, among other things:
- Mandate criminal penalties - not just administrative consequences - for first offense OWI convictions where the driver had a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher
- Make a third-offense OWI charge a felony instead of a misdemeanor
- Order a court appearance for everyone facing a first-time OWI charge
- Grant the court the authority to seize the vehicle of a driver once he or she has been charged with a third OWI
- Establish minimum sentencing (three years) for an injury-causing OWI and one that results in a fatality (10 years)
The right idea?
Legal minds around the state - including some legislators - disagree on what the best approach should be for dealing with the state's high drinking and driving rate. Some feel that the answer is to increase penalties for those convicted of OWI, essentially advocating a deterrence-first method of addressing the problem, while others feel that the state's alcohol and drug courts should be expanded to deal with offenders, placing the emphasis on substance abuse treatment instead of punishment.
Given that every state in the union has vehicle operators who drive after drinking alcoholic beverages or taking drugs that impair their faculties, there are no easy solutions to the problem, and there isn't a single "one-size-fits-all" approach that works all the time in every situation.
Regardless of which - if any - of these proposals actually ends up being incorporated into Wisconsin law, the penalties for a drunk driving conviction are serious, ranging from fines and jail time to mandatory alcohol abuse treatment and license revocation. With such serious consequences on the line, if you or a loved one is facing OWI charges, it is important to mount an aggressive defense; consider speaking with a local OWI defense attorney to learn more about your legal rights and options.