Wisconsin’s Vehicular Homicide Laws and Penalties

A motorist who kills another person while intoxication or driving negligently will like face vehicular homicide charges.

Wisconsin has two types of vehicular homicide: “homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle” and “homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.” Homicide by negligent operation is aptly defined as causing the death of another through criminally negligent operation or handling of a vehicle. And homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle is where a motorist kills another person while driving intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.

Criminal negligence. A person acts with criminal negligence by doing something the person should realize creates a substantial and unreasonable risk of death or great bodily harm to another person.

Intoxicated. For purpose of the vehicular homicide statute, “intoxicated” means the driver:

  • is impaired by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two to “a degree which renders him or her incapable of safe motorboat operation”
  • has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater (.04% for commercial drivers), or
  • has a “detectable amount” of a controlled substance in the blood.

This definition is the same as that for Wisconsin’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws.

(Wis. Stat. Ann. § § 939.25, 940.09, 940.10 (2017).)

Vehicular Homicide Penalties

The consequences of a Wisconsin vehicular homicide conviction depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties include:

  • Homicide by negligent operation. Vehicular homicide based on negligent operation is a class G felony. A conviction carries up to 10 years in prison and/or a maximum $25,000 in fines.
  • Homicide by intoxicated operation. Vehicular homicide based on intoxicated driving is usually a class D felony. Convicted motorists face up to 25 years in prison and/or a maximum $100,000 in fines. However, if the motorist has at least one prior DWI conviction or DWI-related license suspension or revocation, the current offense will be a class C felony. Class C felonies carry up to 40 years in prison and/or a maximum $100,000 in fines.

A vehicular homicide conviction leads to a license revocation of at least one year. And, depending on the situation, the driver may have to install an ignition interlock device (IID).

(Wis. Stat. Ann. § § 343.31, 343.301, 940.09, 940.10, 939.50 (2017).)


Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney

A vehicular homicide conviction can have serious consequences. If you’ve been arrested for vehicular homicide—or any other crime—get in contact with a criminal defense attorney right away. The facts of every case are different. An experienced defense attorney can explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide on the best course of action.

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