Wisconsin Court of Appeals Upholds Unique OWI Case

The Court of Appeals for Wisconsin’s Second District recently ruled on Village of Grafton v. Seatz. The case brought to issue whether an Operating While Intoxicated offense received in the past in a state other than Wisconsin could be considered as a “first offense,” thus making an offense in Wisconsin a second offense and warranting the installation of an ignition interlock device. Eric Seatz had done just this, being convicted of an OWI in Michigan in 1997, and a second over ten years later in Wisconsin. The court determined that his conviction was legally his second offense and ordered the installation of an ignition interlock device into his vehicle.

Seatz disagreed, claiming that this prior should not count due to Wis. Stat. 346.65(2)(am)2. The statute contains a look-back provision that would apply to the case and make it unlawful for Seatz to receive the order to install the device. Wisconsin law has a special exception, however, which in the Appellate Court judge’s opinion, makes the look-back provision irrelevant. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed and Seatz will either appeal or have to install the ignition interlock device.

Judge Reilly presided over the case and explained the rationale in affirming the lower. First, he cited Wis. Stat. 343.307(1), which makes it such that the statute under which Seatz was convicted can take into account convictions from other jurisdictions, such as Michigan. The statute references further the exception from Wis. Stat. 346.65(2)(am)2, which is Wis. Stat. 343.301 (1g). It states that a person who has one or more prior convictions, suspensions, or revocations, including [emphasis added] Wis. Stat. 343.307(1) can be ordered to install an ignition interlock device. The judge held that there were therefore “no restrictions on how to count prior convictions” and that the 10-year look back provision was wholly separate from, and inapplicable to, a case of this nature.

In the broader scope this decision reveals movement of the courts to get tougher on drunk driving issues in the state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is, and has long been, an only state where a first offense OWI is not a crime

This post was authored by Hamilton intern Jake Heyka.