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The criminal justice system can be daunting. The changes that occur nearly every year can make an already complicated system even more complex. Over the past five years, Wisconsin criminal law has seen significant changes. Your criminal defense attorney needs to know and understand these changes to ensure that you are sufficiently defended in the criminal court system. The article will address Wisconsin criminal law changes since 2017, including, among others, the following topics:  

  • Good Samaritan Law  
  • Use of force  
  • Operating While Intoxicated  
  • Expungement  
  • Package theft  
  • Battery  
  • Use of Force  

Suppose you face any of the above criminal issues or other criminal charges. In that case, you may need an experienced Wisconsin criminal defense attorney.  


The criminal law reforms in 2017 focus on protecting those seeking aid for an individual suffering from an overdose and increasing the severity of drunk driving charges for those with multiple prior charges.  

As of July 19, 2017, Wisconsin enacted a Good Samaritan law. This law provides immunity from revocation of probation, parole, or extended supervision for a person who aids someone suffering a drug overdose and the aided person. Aiding an individual means calling 911, bringing an individual to a hospital, fire department, or police department, or bringing the individual to a paramedic, healthcare worker, or law enforcement officer.  

In these situations, the person who aided the other individual is immune from prosecution for the possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of a masking agent if those charges could be brought in the pursuit of aid. For the aided person to not have their probation, parole or supervision revoked, they must complete a treatment program or agree to be imprisoned in the county jail for at least 15 days. Additionally, if an aided person is subject to prosecution for possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of a controlled substance, or possession of a masking agent due to seeking aid, the prosecution must offer a deferred prosecution program. A deferred prosecution program must include the completion of a drug treatment program. Upon completion of the program, any criminal charges will be dismissed. This criminal law encourages those who witness an individual overdosing to seek the necessary aid.  

As of January 1, 2017, any fourth operating under the influence (OWI) offense is a felony, regardless of your previous criminal record. Previously, when a driver was charged with their fourth OWI violation, the severity of the charge was not increased. Additionally, if charged with a fifth or sixth offense, defendants face up to five years in prison; if charged with an eighth or ninth offense, defendants can face up to seven and a half years in prison. If charged with ten or more offenses, a defendant can face up to ten years in prison.  


In 2018, Wisconsin enacted a forfeiture reform bill that requires law enforcement officials to obtain a criminal conviction before permanently taking a person’s cash or property. Before this law, police would often practice civil asset forfeiture and seize and keep cash, real estate, and other property from people suspected of criminal activity. A conviction was not necessary to seize the property. Wisconsin became the fifteenth state to enact a forfeiture reform bill.  

In March 2018, Wisconsin continued to pass stricter laws when it comes to drunk driving. The law now dictates that your license will be permanently revoked if you are convicted of a fourth offense related to drunk driving. Offenses that fall into this category include:

  • Homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle.
  • Operating while intoxicated (OWI).
  • Homicide by OWI.
  • Felony charges under Wisconsin’s motor vehicle code.

However, this only applies if the fourth offense occurs within fifteen years of their last drunk driving-related conviction.  

This new drunk driving law is not retroactive. However, if you have already been convicted of three applicable offenses, the new fourth conviction does apply. If you then decide to drive with a permanently revoked license, you will face up to a year in jail and a fine of $2500. A second offense of driving on a revoked license can result in a year in jail and a fine of $10,000.  


2019 saw even more additions to drunk driving laws. If an individual is found guilty of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle, they face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.  

Additionally, the law addressing property damage has expanded. Before these amendments, an individual who intentionally causes damage to any physical property of another without the person’s consent is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. The individual is guilty of a Class H felony if the damaged property is owned, leased, or operated by an energy provider. The new law expands the scope of the felony to include property owned, leased, or operated by public water utilities; cooperative associations are producing or furnishing water and companies that operate a gas, oil, petroleum, refined petroleum product, renewable fuel, water, or chemical generation, storage transportation, or delivery system.  


In 2020, Wisconsin enacted a law that makes it a felony to take ten or more packages or take one package from an elderly person or an at-risk adult. If an individual takes fewer than ten packages, they can be charged with a misdemeanor.  

Wisconsin also took steps to provide extra protection to specific categories of people. Before 2020, if an individual commits battery against firefighters, jurors, and emergency medical care providers, they face an increased penalty. The new law now adds RNs and LPNs to that protected category. If an individual causes intentional bodily harm to a nurse acting in their professional capacity, the individual now faces a felony.    


Currently, Wisconsin has strict criteria to qualify for an expungement. There are two main criteria as follows:  

  • If the crime was committed on or after July 1, 2009, you must have been under the age of twenty-five at the time of the offense.  
  • If the crime was committed before July 1, 2009, you must have been under the age of twenty-one at the time of the offense.  
  • The punishment for the crime was six years or less.  

In June 2021, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a decision that has made it even more difficult for individuals who wish to expunge convictions from their criminal records. The Court stated that judges could not interpret the law. They must strictly apply the law to each situation. This means that the judge cannot consider each individual’s unique situation.  

2022: The Most Recent Updates

On August 6, 2021, Wisconsin Act 75 was enacted and went into effect on January 1, 2022. The new law requires that when Wisconsin police officers use force, they must act in good faith and assess:  

  1. The seriousness of the crime that is being alleged;  
  1. Whether or not the suspect poses an imminent threat to the safety of the public or other police officers;  
  1. Whether or not the suspect is actively resisting or evading arrest by trying to leave the scene.  

Wisconsin police officers may only resort to deadly force as a last resort. They must use a verbal warning before utilizing deadly force. Additionally, police officers now have a duty to intervene to prevent another officer from using unreasonable force. Police officers are now afforded whistleblower protections for reporting unreasonable amounts of force by other colleagues.  

Along with the amendments to the Wisconsin use of force policy, a law took effect on January 1, 2022, that requires that Pharmacy Benefit Managers be licensed by the office of the Commissioner of Insurance.  

If you or someone you know has questions about Wisconsin Criminal laws, please give us a call at (630)-324-6666 or fill out our confidential contact form and a member of our team will be in touch.

July 11, 2022
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