Despite the commonly-held idea that a person's first drunk driving offense isn't a "big deal," it can bring life-changing consequences, not all of which may be apparent at first.

What's more, very few people realize that they can be convicted even if they are driving within the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit.

If the court determines a driver was "incapable of safely driving" while under the influence of any amount of alcohol, the penalties are the same.

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Penalties for a First Offense OWI in Wisconsin

Your first offense OWI in Wisconsin is a civil offense and can bring penalties such as the following:

  • Driver's license revocation (six to nine months)
  • A fine between $150 and $300
  • An additional $435 OWI surcharge
  • Ignition Interlock Device (IID) as a condition of license reinstatement or 24/7 sobriety program requirements if over .15 BAC level (An IID measures your BAC before enabling you to start a vehicle. You must pay the costs of installing, maintaining, and renting the device.)
  • Mandatory alcohol and/or other drug assessment
  • Higher insurance rates and SR22 verification

In addition to the penalties listed above, you'll likely need to pay additional fees totaling $240 when you apply for an occupational license.

Many penalties increase significantly for those who were pulled over in a car with a minor under the age of 16. Penalties can also increase from excessive BAC and OWI causing injury, great bodily harm, or vehicular homicide.

Additional Penalties for First Offense OWI in Wisconsin

  • Penalties for first OWI excessive BAC in Wisconsin: If your blood alcohol content is .15 or above at the time of your first OWI, you may be required to have an IID for 12 months. Your legal BAC limit drops to .02% during this mandatory IID period.
  • Penalties for first OWI with a minor passenger in Wisconsin: A first OWI with a minor under 16 years of age in the vehicle increases penalties in the following ways:
    • Your fines can increase to $350 - $1100 (plus a $435 surcharge).
    • Your driver’s license may be revoked for up to 18 months (1 and a half years).
    • You may receive 5 days to 6 months in jail.
    • You may need an IID installed for 12 to 18 months.
    • You will no longer face a civil offense but a criminal misdemeanor charge.
  • Penalties for first OWI causing injury in Wisconsin: You may face additional penalties, including up to $2,000 in fines and 30 days to a year in jail. Importantly, these penalties double if the person injured is under 16.
  • Penalties for first OWI causing great bodily harm in Wisconsin: This is a Class F felony. Penalties can include up to $25,000 in fines and up to 12 and a half years in prison. These penalties increase if a pregnant woman is present in the vehicle at the time.
  • Penalties for vehicular homicide while OWI in Wisconsin: If you're convicted of vehicular homicide while operating while intoxicated with no prior OWI convictions, you're facing a Class D felony. Penalties can include up to $100k in fines and up to 25 years in prison. Again, these penalties increase if a pregnant woman was present in the vehicle at the time.

Read also: 5 Ways You Might Incur Extra Penalties For OWI-Related Incidents

Answers to Common Questions About First Offense OWI in Wisconsin

  • "What is Prohibited Alcohol Concentration (PAC) in Wisconsin?" — In Wisconsin, you are considered to be intoxicated and in violation of the state's prohibited alcohol concentration law if you are found to have a BAC of 0.08% or above for first, second, and third offenses—and .02 for fourth and higher offenses. A PAC charge would be added in addition to drunk driving charges.
  • "How long will my first offense OWI conviction stay on my record?" — In Wisconsin, this can—and almost certainly will—stay on your criminal record forever. The best way to protect your record is with the help of an experienced drunk-driving attorney who can help you potentially reduce or dismiss your charges. Contact me today.
  • "How long will an OWI conviction in Wisconsin affect my car insurance rates?" — In Wisconsin, you must maintain an SR22 for at least three years after your OWI conviction, and you will likely pay higher insurance rates for five years after your conviction.
  • "Can I have my OWI expunged in Wisconsin?" — There's almost zero chance—it's next to impossible to get an OWI expunged in Wisconsin. And even in the very, very remote chance you do manage to, the Wisconsin DOT does not recognize these expungements, so they will stay on your driving record forever. Bottom line: Do not count on expungement under any circumstances. It's much smarter to work with an experienced attorney to fight the OWI charges to try and have them reduced or dismissed instead. Contact me today so we can get started.
  • "What is a Notice of Intent to Suspend Your License in Wisconsin?" — When you are issued a temporary license after being arrested for drunk driving or driving under the influence, the arresting officer will give you a piece of paper called a "Notice of Intent to Revoke" or "Notice of Intent to Suspend" which demands your immediate attention. The purpose of this notice is to inform you that you will lose your driver's license 30 days from the date the notice was written—unless you request an Administrative Review Hearing. The minute that "Notice of Intent" to suspend or revoke your driver's license is written, the clock starts ticking.
  • "Is jail time required for a first OWI in Wisconsin?" — Jail time isn't a standard penalty for the first OWI unless a child under 16 was in the vehicle or the incident caused injury or death. For subsequent offenses, jail time is mandatory.
  • "Can first OWI charges be reduced or dismissed in Wisconsin?" — Yes, there are circumstances and legal strategies that can lead to the reduction or dismissal of charges before the case reaches the courtroom.
  • "What if I Refuse a Breath, Blood, or Field Sobriety Test in Wisconsin?" —Refusing a field sobriety test doesn't incur additional charges, but refusing a breath or blood test can lead to fines, up to a year of license suspension, mandatory AODA, and potentially an ignition interlock device requirement.

Stangl Law knows clients must act quickly to ensure they will receive the best defense against drunk driving charges. When you contact an attorney to help you defend against OWI charges, it is very important to ask for assistance in keeping your driving privileges. This means you must request an Administrative Review Hearing as part of your defense—and soon. Contact Stangl Law immediately.

» You can learn more about this in our other guide, How to Protect Driving Privileges While Fighting an OWI in Wisconsin.

A Brief Summary of Wisconsin OWI

What is an OWI in Wisconsin?

OWI is an acronym for “Operating [a Motor Vehicle] While Under the Influence of an Intoxicant.” It is the official term used in Wisconsin for the more general term “drunk driving” offense. The terms OWI, DUI, DWI, BAC, and PAC are synonymous and also apply to the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of a “controlled substance” or "intoxicant."

Attorney Stangl has a proven record of success defending Wisconsin OWI cases, including those with enhancements and all types of criminal cases in both State and Federal Courts.

Receiving an Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) charge can be an intimidating, stressful experience with serious consequences. If convicted, both first-time and repeat offenders face mandatory fines and penalties, jeopardizing their employment prospects, housing, and personal credit. Additionally, a host of related offenses may also be implicated if you are charged with an OWI in Wisconsin.

Common Misconceptions About 1st Offense OWI in Wisconsin

There are many misconceptions about the first OWI in Wisconsin. Below, we clarify a few key points:

  • Misconception #1: "A first OWI is no big deal." A first OWI conviction is very serious, despite what many have come to assume. It's not "just a ticket" you can "move on" from. It's a serious legal issue with severe consequences, such as losing your job and driver's license and incurring thousands of dollars in fees. Additionally, it's next to impossible to be removed from your public record once convicted. Despite being a civil offense in Wisconsin, having an OWI conviction can affect your employment and travel opportunities, as it may be seen as a criminal conviction.
  • Misconception #2: "A first OWI isn't that expensive." An OWI can get very expensive. In addition to fines, court costs, and surcharges can bring the total cost from $700.00 to $1,000 — and that's just the immediate expense. Mandatory Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment (AODA) and recommended treatment can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. You may also need to replace your existing auto insurance with Wisconsin's high-risk SR-22 insurance, which can double or triple your insurance rates. Installing an IID may also be required, costing around $1,000 or more per year of use. Additionally, there are towing and impound costs and transportation costs when you have an occupational license. It is best to consult with an experienced Wisconsin OWI attorney to evaluate your chances for reduced charges or dismissal.

A Few Common Defenses for OWI in Wisconsin

The circumstances of a first offense can vary widely. The best way to understand whether you can get your charge reduced or dropped is by talking with an experienced attorney about the specifics of your arrest. In general, these are some of the ways that an attorney may be able to help you:

  • An improper stop: Some things constitute the right to stop someone for suspicion of driving under the influence. The Fourth Amendment states that law enforcement has to have specific grounds to stop someone. Police must have either a warrant or reasonable cause to stop you. It's technically an illegal search and seizure if they don't, and your breathalyzer results might be inadmissible. Without that evidence, there may not be a firm case against you.
  • Law enforcement does not follow the following protocol for field sobriety testing (FST): There are specific rules police must follow when conducting a field sobriety test. If a law enforcement officer doesn’t follow those protocols, the test becomes inappropriate and is inadmissible in court. Since these assessments are highly subjective, field sobriety tests alone cannot be the only admissible evidence that the police officer can use to win a case against you. An experienced OWI attorney can assess the FST for errors.
  • Improper BAC samples from blood: If you were given a blood test, it's possible the analysis was done improperly for a number of reasons. Following an arrest, any blood samples collected have to be stored in a specific way. The blood is not admissible if any of these protocols are not followed.
  • Medical conditions: You may have a medical issue that can cause you to appear like you're driving under the influence. Additionally, some neurological problems can cause you to fail a field sobriety test. There is also a possibility that, unless you fail a breathalyzer test, your attorney might be able to show that your failure to pass is due to your pre-existing medical condition.
  • Improper communication with the defendant: If a prosecutor attempts to contact you without you having an attorney, and you have not waived your Miranda rights, then you have a case to make whatever you said inadmissible. If you have requested an attorney, you cannot converse with the prosecutor unless your attorney is with you.
  • Other procedural violations: There are other ways to fight OWI charges. Incorrectly calibrated BAC instruments and using unapproved equipment are some of the technicalities that an experienced OWI defense attorney can use to help you fight your charges. Even if you fail a breathalyzer test, that does not necessarily mean that you will be convicted of OWI and other charges. Since many procedures and types of protocols must be followed to convict someone of OWI in Wisconsin, Attorney Patrick Stangl can fully assess your situation and find opportunities for defense.


FREE 10-Minute Legal Consultation

Nationally recognized OWI Defense Attorney Patrick J. Stangl has over 32 years of experience protecting the rights of clients accused of OWI across Wisconsin.

If you're facing OWI charges in Wisconsin, including drug charges or repeat OWI charges, click below to request a FREE 10-minute consultation to discuss your drunk driving or driving under the influence case and help explore options for your defense.


Madison OWI Attorney Patrick J. Stangl, is committed to exploring options for your best defense and has defended clients across the state since 1991. To this end, he is pleased to offer a FREE 10-minute consultation at no obligation to discuss the specifics of your case and take the first step in putting this stressful time behind you.

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