Author: Attorney David E. Saperstein
Phone: 608-257-0945

As of December 1st, 2018, the drastic OWI law changes ushered in by Wisconsin’s legislature in the enactment of 2017 Wisconsin Act 172 are now in effect. These changes will have potentially life-altering, employment-crippling consequences for anyone charged on or after December 1, 2018, and ultimately convicted of a fourth or subsequent intoxicated driving offense.

This law change, embodied in Wisconsin Statutes section 343.31(1m), creates a permanent, lifetime, revocation of a person’s operating privilege (driver’s license) for anyone convicted of a fourth or subsequent intoxicated driving offense. Further, if the new offense is a person’s fourth offense, then this lifetime revocation penalty will apply if the new (4th) offense is within fifteen (15) years of the previous intoxicated driving conviction.

What’s more, the new statute section states that a person revoked permanently under this law change is not eligible for an occupational driver’s license. (An occupational driver’s license, now only available to those with first, second or third offense intoxicated driving convictions, allows a person to drive for work, school, and essential business. It is limited in hours and geographic scope.) The only consolation offered in the new law is that, after ten (10) years of the permanent revocation period have elapsed, the person may apply to the Department of Motor Vehicles for reinstatement of his or her regular driver’s license, assuming there have been no additional countable offenses during that 10-year interim and the person is otherwise eligible (not classified as a habitual traffic offender).

To illustrate the magnitude of these changes – prior to December 1, 2018, the maximum revocation period for a fourth or subsequent intoxicated driving offense had been three years, and a person was generally eligible for an occupational driver’s license forty-five days after conviction. In addition, anyone convicted of these offenses would have been ordered to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in any vehicle that he/she owned, registered or operated. Apparently those protective measures were not enough for lawmakers.

It is perplexing (to say the least) that our legislators, who live in the same rural state that we live in, with precious little public transportation, found it reasonable to deprive citizens of any means to drive to work, school or for other life necessities. We all have an interest in keeping our roads safe from drunk drivers, but at the cost of making people unemployable? This is even more puzzling given that IIDs were already being required for most convictions. Why not a lifetime IID requirement, instead of stripping a person of their ability to drive at all, potentially for life? Sure, this law change has the appearance of “being tough” on repeat offenders, but what will the effect be to our economy and our tax base/burden?  Most people who can’t drive can’t work.  They can’t pay taxes.  They need public assistance.  More concerning yet, what will the effect be on the innocent victims –  the families and children of these offenders?

One thing seems certain, with the stakes that much higher I suspect we’ll see an increase in those charged with fourth and subsequent offenses electing to aggressively defend their cases, all the way to jury trial.