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Leah Thomas May 6, 2013

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals recently held that, at a jury trial for a second or subsequent OWI offense, the State does not have to prove the first offense beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Verhagen, 2011AP2033 (Jan. 23, 2013). Why is that important? Well, a first offense OWI is a civil violation (unless there is a minor under 16 in the car at the time), which doesn't require the prosecutor to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt – the burden of proof is lower.

So that got us thinking about the consequences of a first offense OWI. Most importantly, if you are ever convicted again of drunk driving, you face mandatory jail time. That is often a harsh reality that our clients are not prepared for. There are also significant fines and costs, an ignition interlock device if your blood alcohol is above .15, and a mandatory license suspension and alcohol treatment.

Is it likely that the penalties will be reduced in the future? Not likely. In fact, Wisconsin is the only state where a first offense is not criminal. There has also been recent legislation introduced to increase the penalties for a third offense, making it a felony, which would carry the possibility of prison.

Mastantuono Law Office has decades of experience defending against drunk driving cases all over Wisconsin, including Waukesha County and Milwaukee County, and will continue to monitor these issues on behalf of our clients and take the time to explain them.