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Agencies: OWI mandatory minimum has big price tag

State Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, an author of the bill, has said the proposal stems from reports of judges choosing not to impose adequate prison sentences on people who drive drunk and kill someone while driving.

State Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, is one of the authors of the bill intended to increase mandatory minimums for those who kill someone while driving under the influence. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

A proposal to create a mandatory minimum prison sentence for homicide by intoxicated operation of a motor vehicle would put a heavy financial burden on the state, according to reports filed by three state agencies Wednesday.

Under current law, a person is guilty of a felony if he causes the death of another by operating a vehicle while being under the influence of alcohol. The same is true if he was under the influence of some other controlled substance or had a prohibited blood alcohol concentration when he was behind the wheel.

A person with no convictions and a clean driving record now faces a fine of up to $100,000, up to 25 years in prison, or both. A person with prior convictions could be punished with the same maximum fine or up to 40 years in prison. Those convicted must also spend part of their sentences under extended supervision.

As for mandatory minimum sentences, current law imposes them only in some cases of seventh or subsequent offense related to driving while intoxicated.

If Assembly Bill 446 became law, judges would have to sentence people convicted of homicide by drunken or intoxicated driving to at least seven years in prison. To sentence a person to less than the minimum, a court would first have to put its reasons for the reduced punishment into writing.

State Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, an author of the bill, has said the proposal stems from reports suggesting that various judges have chosen not to impose adequate prison sentences on people who drive drunk and kill someone while driving.

Still, no matter how strong the reasons behind such arguments, the changes threaten to be expensive. Cost estimates for the proposal came Wednesday from the Department of Corrections, State Public Defender’s Office and the Department of Administration.

The DOA reported that the bill would increase litigation around the state and that four additional assistant district attorneys would be needed to handle the resulting cases.

The SPD reported that the proposal would indirectly increase the number of cases for which it appoints private attorneys.

The proposal would cost the state more than $1.4 million a year in operating costs, according to the DOC. DOC officials said the result would be an increase in the number of inmates in state prisons, giving rise to a need for additional programs and employees.

Ott has said that he expected that the fiscal notes would show the proposal would have a big price tag, so the agencies’ estimates released Wednesday were not a surprise.

The bill is one of a package of OWI bills Ott and state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, introduced in October.


About Erika Strebel, [email protected]

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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