New OWI Penalties Fix Some Problems; Create Issues

By: Clare Kaley Email
By: Clare Kaley Email

A change in Wisconsin legislation is helping prosecutors put repeat OWI offenders behind bars.

Wisconsin Act 224 makes changes to the penalties for convictions of repeat OWI offenders. Now, anyone convicted of a 7th - 8th- or 9th OWI will spend at least 3 years behind bars. For a 10-time offender -- the minimum is 4 years in prison.

"There's going to be consequences whether its jail, prison, fines, treatment, its serious," Molepske said.

Louis Molepske is the Portage County District Attorney. He says while the changes to OWI penalties is a good thing, it can also lead to some issues.

"Potentially more jury trials, more work for the courts, and it does take away flexibility where the court believe it should have flexibility," Molepske said.

Flexibility like offering probation, where offenders have the opportunity to go through treatment and service in the community. Despite those setbacks, he says putting away repeat offenders can help break the cycle.

"As people re-offend, they become more of a threat to the public," Molepske said, "and research has shown many people who are just getting picked up, have driven drunk before, they just haven't been caught."

There is an issue with Act 224. Language was removed that allowed prosecutors to criminally charge offenders with what is called a 'simple injury': one that doesn't require a stitch or invasive surgery.

"Now we need substantial bodily injury before we can prosecute for OWI first, with injury, as a crime," said Molepske.

Many believe there needs to be harsher punishments for first time offenders. Molepske says right now, this is a step in the right direction.

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