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Misdemeanor vs. Felony OWI

Gavel, alcoholic drink, and handcuffs

An OWI, or operating while intoxicated, is a charge that can significantly impact a person’s life, both professionally and personally. The charge's level will also have an instrumental role in determining the penalties a person may face. Like many charges, an OWI can be classified as a misdemeanor or felony.

First OWI Offense

Wisconsin is unique compared to other states in that a first OWI offense is typically not considered a misdemeanor or felony but rather a civil crime. Knowing this is critical when agreeing to a background check for a current or potential employer or other organization that requests this information.

A standard first OWI conviction can result in penalties such as:

  • Driver’s license suspension for up to nine months;
  • Fines ranging from $150-$300;
  • A drug/alcohol assessment;
  • An ignition interlock device (IID) installed in your vehicle at your expense; and,
  • Higher insurance rates for years after the conviction.

A driver will face more significant penalties if they are a minor or have a minor in the vehicle during the offense.

Misdemeanor OWI

If a driver is facing an OWI charge for the second time within ten years or the third time overall, then the driver will most likely be charged with a misdemeanor. These charges are considered criminal offenses and can have a consequential impact on a driver’s career or personal life.

A misdemeanor OWI is typically charged when a driver has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher (or .04% or higher if operating a commercial vehicle). Still, there are other circumstances that can result in a misdemeanor OWI charge even if the driver’s BAC is below 0.08%. For example, if the driver is involved in an accident that causes property damage or personal injury, they can be charged with a misdemeanor OWI.

The penalties for a misdemeanor OWI are more serious than those for a traffic infraction or non-criminal moving violation but are less serious than those for a felony OWI. The penalties for a misdemeanor OWI can include:

  • Fines of $300 up to $2,000;
  • Five days to one-year imprisonment;
  • License suspension of six months up to three years; and,
  • Additional penalties that are similar to a first OWI offense such as IID installment.

Felony OWI

A felony OWI is typically charged when a driver has a BAC of 0.15% or higher or if it is the driver’s fourth or subsequent OWI offense.

Depending on the offense’s classification, a driver will be charged with a Class E, F, G, or H felony. Each felony conviction results in its own set of consequences:

  • Class H — fines from $600-$1,000 and imprisonment of 60 days up to six years;
  • Class G — fines from $600-$25,000 and imprisonment of one to ten years;
  • Class F — fines up to $25,000 and imprisonment of three to 12.5 years; and,
  • Class E — fines up to $50,000 and four to 15 years imprisonment.

Additional penalties including driver’s license suspension, alcohol treatment, and more are usually associated with felony OWIs.

Drivers should also keep in mind that factors such as the accused causing great bodily harm or killing someone with their vehicle could result in a first OWI as a felony charge and the consequences being more severe than a typical felony. For example, a homicide while OWI can result in the driver being imprisoned for up to 25 years.

OWI Attorney in Milwaukee

If you are facing OWI charges, whether it’s your first, second, or subsequent offense, it is essential to reach out to an experienced OWI attorney. A OWI attorney will be able to help you understand the charges against you and the potential penalties you are facing. The team at The Law Offices of Jason D. Baltz will work with you to develop a defense strategy and ensure that your rights are protected throughout the legal process. Contact our office today at (414) 375-0797.

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