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Wisconsin Criminal Law: An Overview

Wisconsin, “America's Dairyland” as the nation's leading dairy producer, is one of the safer states in the U.S. At a rate of 305.8 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, Wisconsin ranked as the 30th most dangerous state in the nation for a second year in a row in 2015.

In 2014, only one Wisconsin city, Milwaukee, ranked in the top 30 most violent cities with over 250,000 residents in the nation. The state's largest metropolitan city and the fifth largest city in the Midwestern United States, it has the fifth highest violent crime rate in the U.S.

Wisconsin Felonies and Misdemeanors

In Wisconsin, a crime that is penalized by imprisonment in a state prison is classified as a felony. All other crimes that are penalized otherwise are classified as misdemeanors.

There are nine classes of felonies ranging from Class A to Class I. Each class represents the seriousness of the crime and the base penalties it carries. Class A felonies are the most serious kinds of crimes including capital homicide, which is penalized with life imprisonment. Class I felonies are the least serious felonies and are penalized with up to 3.5 years of imprisonment plus a fine of up to $10,000.

Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies. There are only three classes of misdemeanors ranging from Class A to Class C. Misdemeanor penalties can start from 30 days of imprisonment plus a $500 fine and reach up to 9 months of imprisonment plus a $10,000 fine.

Wisconsin OWI Laws

Drivers in Wisconsin can be charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) if they are driving with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 percent or higher. Drivers can also be charged with an OWI if they are visibly impaired by other intoxicating substances such as prescription medications or drugs like marijuana.

While the first OWI offense doesn't carry a jail sentence, subsequent offenses can carry imprisonment sentences—up to a maximum base penalty of 12.5 years of imprisonment for the 10th and greater offenses. Aggravating conditions like vehicular homicide can increase the imprisonment penalty up to 40 years.

In addition to imprisonment, OWI offenses are penalized with a mandatory OWI surcharge of $365 plus fines reaching up to $25,000. Drivers can also have their licenses revoked for up to three or more years.

Criminal Record Expungement in Wisconsin

Criminal records are available for public access and viewing in Wisconsin. This can greatly impact a person's eligibility for jobs or other important career necessities. Should a person with a criminal history meet certain requirements, he or she may be eligible to expunge their criminal record. When a record is expunged, it is sealed and hidden from the public, barring some exceptions.

Not all criminal charges can be expunged in Wisconsin. Record expungement is a particularly useful tool to seal crimes from a person's youth that are affecting his or her adult life. A few examples of crimes that are eligible for expunction include misdemeanors, a few felonies, and crimes punishable by less than six years of imprisonment. Most felonies are ineligible for expungement.

Capital Punishment in Wisconsin

Wisconsin executed only one criminal two years prior to its 1853 abolition of capital punishment. The death penalty has since remained illegal in Wisconsin. The most severe penalty a felon can receive in Wisconsin is life imprisonment without parole.

Contact a Wisconsin Criminal Defense Attorney

Anyone facing criminal charges in Wisconsin has the right to mount a vigorous defense. A qualified Wisconsin Criminal Defense Attorney familiar with local criminal procedures and laws can be a crucial advocate.

Make sure you talk with an attorney about your case and your needs before hiring one. Most criminal defense lawyers should be able to handle any misdemeanor or low-level crime. Not all attorneys are qualified to handle serious charges.

A qualified criminal defense attorney could mean the difference between going to jail and going free.

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