In our last post, we began a discussion about the ways in which Wisconsin legislators are currently approaching drunk driving penalties in Wisconsin. We mentioned that the structure of DUI penalties in Wisconsin is unique in at least one way.
The Dairy State is the only state in the nation that does not generally treat first-time drunk driving offenses as criminal. Rather, they are usually classified as civil infractions. Though this approach is arguably quite fair in regards to the unintentional and accidental nature of most first-time offenses, many legislators want to see the law change.
In the 2013 legislative session, a bill will be reintroduced to heighten punishments for DUI infractions across the board. The exact same bill did not become law in this past session. It is unclear whether or not it will gain traction in 2013. On the one hand, various groups support the legislation and no major group has formally opposed it. However, the extra costs associated with enforcing a heightened drunk driving law has many legislators wary of voting in favor of it.
In essence, heightened penalties result in higher prosecution costs, incarceration costs and human costs. During an era of serious budgetary problems, adding significant costs to law enforcement, courts and incarceration facilities does not seem particularly appealing to many.
It is this cost factor that has consistently kept lawmakers in Wisconsin from imposing ever-tougher penalties on drunk drivers. Many advocacy groups and legislators hope that 2013 will be the year Wisconsin cracks down even harder on negligent drunk drivers and increases penalties for first-time offenders, even in cases of unintentional DUI. However, their success is far from guaranteed.
Source: Urban Milwaukee, "What's Stopping Tougher Drunk Driving Laws," Bill Lueders, Jan. 18, 2013