Heading to the bar with friends, family or colleagues is a favorite pastime of many Wisconsin residents. If you’re enjoying yourself after a long day, you may have an easy time convincing yourself that one extra drink is harmless. Yet, it could also be the difference between a safe drive home and facing charges for operating while intoxicated (OWI). If you have received charges for previous OWI offenses, it is crucial that you understand whether your latest could qualify as a felony.

The threshold for felony OWI charges

In Wisconsin, your first three OWI offenses qualify as misdemeanors in most cases. Upon committing your fourth OWI offense, you will receive felony charges instead, which come with stiffer penalties. If convicted of your charges, you will have to pay a fine of up to $10,000, and you will spend between 60 days and six years in jail. Furthermore, you will have your license revoked for between two to three years. You will also have to install and use an ignition interlock device on your vehicle for between one to three years, plus your length of confinement. Alternatively, you will have to take part in Wisconsin’s 24/7 sobriety program for this period.

The impact of aggravating factors

Besides having four or more offenses on your record, you will receive felony OWI charges in three other situations. For this to happen, your offense must have resulted in:

  • Injury (if you have a prior OWI offense on your record)
  • Great bodily harm
  • Homicide

The penalties for these charges differ. Yet, in most cases, they will be harsher than if you received OWI charges alone. Often, they will include a hefty fine and a lengthy jail sentence. You may also, if convicted, face a long-term license revocation. Furthermore, you may also have to install and use an ignition interlock device on your vehicle – or take part in Wisconsin’s 24/7 sobriety program – for longer than otherwise.

Because Wisconsin’s penalties for felony OWI offenses are harsh, you will not want to work through your charges alone. A criminal defense attorney can help you understand your options for mitigating their effects.