Wisconsin is famous for a multitude of reasons. The state is home to notable sports teams, has a strong educational system and is known for exports including dairy products and great beer. However, the structure of DUI penalties in Wisconsin is famous for largely critical reasons.

This is mainly because Wisconsin is the only state in the union that does not characterize most first-time drunk driving offenses as criminal. Rather, first-time offenders face civil penalties for their behavior.

In many ways, this structure makes a great deal of sense. Imagine a scenario in which responsible adults celebrating various occasions with a drink or two may sincerely believe that their blood alcohol content (BAC) is below the acceptable driving limit of 0.08 percent. Then, after flashing lights and a traffic stop inspire a shock to their system, they discover that the two glasses of wine they had with dinner did not metabolize as quickly as they believed.

Many first-time DUI infractions occur in situations just like this one. For most adults, a one-time, relatively innocent mistake does not warrant stiff penalties and a permanent criminal record. However, many Wisconsin legislators and traffic safety advocates believe that penalties should be increased for every kind of DUI offense that occurs in Wisconsin, including first-time offenses.

A bill mandating stiffer penalties was introduced in the last legislative session but did not progress to the point of becoming law. However, legislators plan to introduce the same bill this year. What would this bill and other initiatives on the horizon mean for potential drunk driving offenders convicted in the Dairy State? Please check back later this week as we continue our discussion on this important topic.

Source: Urban Milwaukee, “What’s Stopping Tougher Drunk Driving Laws,” Bill Lueders, Jan. 18, 2013

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