Wisconsin Alcohol Laws: Learn about Them

Wisconsin alcohol laws express the will of the state’s residents. But they also apply to visitors. Visitors may forget that Wisconsin drinking laws may be different from the ones they know. But breaking them can cause big problems.

An example. Furnishing alcohol to someone under 21 could lead to life-long effects. Conviction might prevent a person from going into law enforcement, education, social work, law, or other professions. Nor knowing the law is not a legal defense.

I. Minimum Age Laws


I.   Minimum Age Laws
II.  Alcohol Violations
III. Resources
IV.  Seek Good Advice

Many young people want part-time jobs. Many are in hospitality. People may want to know the ages needed for these jobs. Many involve working with alcohol. What are the required ages for bartenders, servers, and cashiers selling alcohol?

Wisconsin alcohol laws permit adults of any age to be servers or bartenders in any venue that sells alcohol for drinking on-site. The laws also permit adults of any age to sell alcohol in stores for off-site consumption. That means that those who are 18 or older my hold these jobs.

wisconsin alcohol lawsThose of any age under 21 may drink with a parent, guardian, or spouse present. They may do so in any location where drinking by persons age 21 or older may legally drink. This would include such venues as homes, restaurants, bars, etc.

Many parents model good drinking behavior and teach their offspring to drink in moderation.

But no one under 21 may buy alcohol. Under Wisconsin alcohol laws it is a criminal act to buy alcohol with a false ID. It is also illegal for those under 21 to drive with any alcohol in their system. Their BAC must be 0.00.

II. Alcohol Violations

Selling Alcohol

Grocery stores may sell beer, wine, and distilled spirits. Spirits are bourbon, rum, gin, vodka, tequila, scotch, etc.

Alcohol-licensed businesses may sell beer from 6:00 a.m. until 12:00 a.m. any day of the week. Wine and spirits may be sold from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. daily.

However, no alcohol may be sold at any time in Ephraim, Wisconsin. It’s totally dry.

Parents guardians may buy alcohol for their offspring of any age in in any restaurant or other licensed venue. However, the person under 21 must consume it in the presence of the parent or guardian. Or a spouse 21 or older may purchase for a younger partner. But service is at the discretion of the licensee.

Purchasing Alcohol

wisconsin alcohol lawsIt’s illegal for anyone under 21, including adults, to buy alcohol. Or to attempt to buy it. This includes the use of a false ID.

Making false IDs is an even more severe crime. The penalty for making and selling a false ID is imprisonment for up to three years. In addition, the fine can be as high as $10,000.

Any drinking age conviction stays on the offender’s record for five years. This can have negative impact on educational and career choices.

Driving and Alcohol

wisconsin alcohol lawsWisconsin alcohol laws concerning motor vehicles are the most complicated of any state. Drivers are guilty of operating while intoxicated (OWI) under any of these conditions.

(1) Under the influence of of an intoxicant so their ability to drive is impaired.

(2) Have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08. Wisconsin calls this the prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC). The PAC is 0.08 for first, second, and third offenders. However, it drops to 0.02 for fourth and subsequent offenses. It’s also that for all drivers forced to use an ignition interlock device on their vehicles.

(3) Have a detectable amount of any restricted controlled substance in their blood.

wisconsin alcohol lawsDrivers under age 21 may have no alcohol in their systems. Conviction is penalized with a driver’s license suspension of three months. In addition, there are fines and fees.

Most states set the limit at 0.02. There are several reasons they do this. One is the impresision of breathalyzers or breath testers. In fact, they don’t actually measure BAC. They only estimate it.

Another reason is that every person’s body produces alcohol 24/7. It’s endogenous ethanol production. A third is that many medications and some foods contain alcohol. Setting the limit at 0.02 helps prevent innocent people from being falsely convicted.

About OWI  Penalties
  • All convictions for those 21 and over carry a $435 OWI surcharge.
  • An Excessive BAC Escalator occurs for all third or subsequent OWI convictions. With this penalty, forfeitures and fines are increased depending on BAC level.
  • They’e doubled if the BAC was between 0.17 and 0.199. If the BAC was between 0.20 and 0.249, they’re tripled. And if it was 0.25 or higher, they’re quadrupled.
  • The “Safe Street” option is a modified probation available for certain second, third, fourth OWI offenses. It may also be available for a first offense causing injury to another. Mandatory jail sentences are reduced if the offenders complete probation. That includes alcohol and other drug treatment. The “Safe Street” option may only be used once in a person’s lifetime.
  • wisconsin alcohol lawsAn ignition interlock device (IID) prevents a vehicle from starting if there is alcohol on the driver’s breath. The state imposes it for certain OWI offenses.
First Offense

For a first OWI offense with a BAC of 0.08 to 0.149 the fine is $150 to $300. The driver’s license is revoked for six to nine months. If the BAC is 0.15 to higher, there’s an additional penalty. It’s an IID or 24/7 sobriety program for one year.

If anyone age 15 or younger was in the vehicle, there’s a jail sentence of five days to six months. In addition, the IID is for 12 to 18 months after the imprisonment.

Second Offense

These are the penalties for a BAC ≥ 0.08 with no OWIs within ten years. And with no Great Bodily Harm or Homicide by Intoxicated Use offenses during offender’s life. The state revokes the license for six to nine months and the fine is $150 to $300.

If the BAC was 0.15 or higher, there’s also an IID or 24/7 sobriety program for one year.

However, if anyone age 15 or younger was in the vehicle, incarceration is five days to six months. The Safe Streets option may be available. Fines increase to $350 – $1100. An IID is needed for 12 to 18 months after incarceration.

Third Offense

wisconsin alcohol lawsFor a third OWI offense with a BAC of 0.08 or over the fine is $600-2,000. Imprisonment is 45 days to one year. The license revocation is for 12 to 18 months after imprisonment. The Safe Streets option might be available

If there was anyone age 15 or younger in the vehicle, imprisonment is 90 days to two years. The fine increases to $1,200 – $4,000. And an IID must be used for four to sex years after release from prison.

Fourth Offense

A fourth conviction can result if a driver has a BAC over 0.02. Incarceration is from 60 days to six years. The fine is $600 – $10,000. Safe Streets option might be available. License revocation is one to three years after incarceration.

If anyone under age 16 was in the vehicle, imprisonment is for 120 days to 12 years. The fine is $1,200-20,000. Revocation is for two to three years after imprisonment. After license re-issue, an IID or 24/7 sobriety program is required for one to three years.

Driver Rights

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants drivers the right to decline taking BAC tests. However, Wisconsin punishes those who use their right. The state suspends their driving license, fines them, and sometimes imprisons them.

wisconsin alcohol lawsBut punishments do not apply to refusing a field sobriety test. These tests are highly subjective and unreliable. In fact, about one-third of people with a BAC of 0.00 fail them.

Lawyers strongly urge drivers to never take them. Never, ever.  Officers may falsely say the law requires it. It doesn’t. Lawyers say to politely refuse. Learn more at Never Take a Field Sobriety Test Say DUI Lawyers.

Boating and Alcohol

Wisconsin alcohol laws prohibit anyone from boating under the influence (BUI) of alcohol or drugs. More specifically, they may not operating a motorboat or ride water skis or similar devices.

“Under the influence” is having a BAC of 0.08 or higher. Or it’s being incapable of operating safely because of alcohol and/or drugs

wisconsin alcohol lawsA first BUI offense brings a fine of $150 to $300. A second within five years is a fine of $300 to $1,000. A judge may also order imprisonment. Penalties increase with additional BUI convictions.

In addition, convictions require completion of an Alcohol and Drug Assessment. In addition, a judge may choose to order a boating safety course.

Operators may use their Fifth Amendment right to refuse a BAC chemical test. But the state will punish them if they do. They face driving license suspension, fines, and possible imprisonment.

III. Resources on Wisconsin Alcohol Laws

IV. Seek Good Advice

Laws can be hard to understand. For example, here a clarification about a law summarized above.

No person, including a member of the licensee’s or permittee’s immediate family, other than the licensee, permittee or agent may serve fermented malt or alcohol beverages in any place operated under a Class “A,” “Class A,” Class “B,” “Class B,” or “Class C” license or permit unless he or she has an operator’s license or is at least 18 years of age and is under the immediate supervision of the licensee, permittee, agent or a person holding an operator’s license, who is on the premises at the time of the service.

wisconsin alcohol lawsWisconsin alcohol laws can be dense. With law, the devil is in the details. Part of the details is their interpretation by the courts. Lawyers study for years in law school.

Obviously, do not rely on this or any other site. Get information and advice about Wisconsin alcohol laws from an expert. That’s a lawyer who holds a license in the state.

Alcohol attitudes and enforcement vary across the state. Therefore, it’s a good idea to select a lawyer who practices in the locale of concern.