Wisconsin Domestic Violence Laws

Learn how Wisconsin law treats and penalizes domestic abuse crimes.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 4/04/2024

In Wisconsin, domestic abuse incidents can result in mandatory arrests, protection orders, criminal charges, enhanced penalties, and firearm restrictions. This article provides an overview for anyone who's been accused of domestic abuse or is interested in understanding the law. Read on to learn how Wisconsin addresses domestic abuse and the penalties and consequences for harming a current or former spouse, co-resident, or co-parent.

What Is Domestic Abuse in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin law defines "domestic abuse" as physically or sexually assaulting:

  • a current or former spouse
  • a current or former co-resident, or
  • a co-parent (someone with whom they share a child).

The definition also includes placing a victim in fear of an imminent physical or sexual assault.

(Wis. Stat. § 968.075 (2024).)

Domestic Abuse Crimes and Penalties in Wisconsin

Wisconsin doesn't have a crime specific to domestic abuse. However, the law imposes several enhancements for offenses involving domestic abuse, including battery, sexual assault, strangulation, stalking, victim intimidation, and violation of a domestic abuse injunction.

Battery Crimes

Battery is a common domestic abuse crime. A person commits battery by causing bodily harm to another. Penalties range from a class A misdemeanor to a class E felony depending on the level of harm inflicted and intended and who the victim is.

For instance, a person who inflicts bodily harm on another faces a class A misdemeanor. However, the penalty increases to a class I felony if the victim has a domestic abuse injunction against the defendant. It's also a class I felony to cause another substantial bodily harm. Battery resulting in great bodily harm carries class E felony penalties.

Class A misdemeanors carry up to 9 months in jail and $10,000 in fines. A person convicted of a felony faces prison time with maximums of 3½ to 15 years' incarceration and $50,000 in fines.

(Wis. Stat. §§ 940.19, 940.20 (2024).)

Sexual Assault Crimes

A person who sexually assaults another commits a class B, C, or G felony. The exact penalties depend on the circumstances of the offense (such as whether a victim suffered injuries or the defendant made threats or used a weapon). Marriage is not a defense to sexual assault crimes.

Class B and C felonies carry up to 40 or 60 years of prison time. A person convicted of a class G felony could see up to 10 years in prison.

(Wis. Stat. § 940.225 (2024).)

Stalking Crimes

Stalking offense may involve physically or electronically monitoring a victim, repeatedly sending electronic messages or other communications to a victim, or recording a person's activities, among other acts.

Generally, to secure a conviction, a prosecutor must establish that the defendant engaged in a course of stalking conduct (2 or more acts) knowing their conduct would place the victim in fear or distress. If a defendant has a prior conviction involving domestic abuse against the same victim involved in the stalking charges, the prosecutor does not need to prove the defendant's intent. Stalking is a Class I felony, punishable by up to 3½ years in prison.

(Wis. Stat. § 940.32 (2024).)

Strangulation or Suffocation Crimes

A person who intentionally tries to stop the normal breathing or blood circulation of another by applying pressure to their throat or neck or by blocking their nose or mouth commits a felony. This crime carries class H felony penalties for a first offense and class G felony penalties for a subsequent conviction. For these offenses, a person faces a maximum prison sentence of 6 or 10 years.

(Wis. Stat. § 940.234 (2024).)

Victim Intimidation Crimes

It's a crime to try to prevent a victim from reporting a crime to police or to dissuade them from being a witness or talking to the prosecution. Victim intimidation is typically a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 9 months in jail. However, it becomes a class G felony if the underlying crime is a domestic abuse crime. This felony level carries up to 10 years of prison time.

(Wis. Stat. §§ 940.44, 940.45 (2024).)

Violating a Domestic Abuse Restraining Order or Injunction

A victim of domestic abuse can seek a court order directing the abuser not to contact or harm the victim. This order may be called a domestic abuse injunction or restraining order. A knowing violation of the injunction by the abuser carries up to 9 months of jail time and a $10,000 fine. As noted above in the battery section, a violation in which the abuser causes bodily harm to the victim increases the penalty to a class I felony, punishable by 3½ years in prison.

(Wis. Stat. §§ 813.12, 940.20 (2024).)

Sentencing Provisions for Domestic Abuse Crimes in Wisconsin

Wisconsin law has several sentencing provisions specific to domestic abuse, including increased sentences for repeat offenders, longer probation periods, use of aggravating factors, and special surcharges.

Domestic Abuse Repeaters

In Wisconsin, a "domestic abuse repeater" faces increased penalties, even if the subsequent offense involves a different victim. A person qualifies as a domestic abuse repeater if they:

  • commit an act of domestic abuse within 72 hours of being arrested for a separate domestic abuse incident, or
  • have two or more prior domestic abuse convictions on record (in Wisconsin or a different state) within a 10-year period.

Under this section, the maximum felony sentence increases by two years and a misdemeanor charge increases to a felony.

(Wis. Stat. § 939.621 (2024).)

Enhanced Probation for Domestic Abuse Convictions

Wisconsin sets the standard probation period for a misdemeanor at one year. However, for a misdemeanor involving an act of domestic abuse, the probation period must be a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of two years. Probation for a violation of a domestic abuse injunction can extend the length of the injunction, which can be 4 years or longer.

(Wis. Stat. § 973.09 (2024).)

Aggravating Factors in Sentencing: Domestic Abuse in the Presence of a Child

When sentencing a defendant for a domestic abuse offense, the judge can consider whether the abuse occurred in the presence of a child (who could hear or observe the abuse). Aggravating factors, such as this, allow the judge to impose a longer sentence than they might normally impose (subject to the maximums in the law).

(Wis. Stat. § 973.017 (2024).)

Domestic Abuse Surcharges

Anyone convicted of a domestic abuse offense must pay a domestic abuse surcharge on top of other penalties. For a violation of a domestic abuse injunction, the judge can also impose a GPS tracking surcharge.

(Wis. Stat. §§ 973.055, 973.057 (2024).)

Arrest, Bail, and Firearm Restrictions for Domestic Abuse in Wisconsin

In addition to imprisonment and monetary costs, Wisconsin law establishes the following conditions, restrictions, and penalties for domestic abuse cases.

Domestic Abuse Arrests

Wisconsin law mandates that an officer arrest a person for domestic abuse if it appears likely the abuse will continue or the victim has suffered injuries. The officer cannot issue a citation and cannot release the person until they post bail or appear before a judge.

For 72 hours after the arrest, the person must not return to the victim's residence or make contact with the victim. A violation of this requirement is a crime, punishable by up to 9 months of jail time and a $10,000 fine. The arrested person must acknowledge this requirement and the penalties in writing. Police can hold the person in custody for refusing to sign the notice. (Victims may waive the 72-hour no-contact requirement but must do so in writing.)

Bail and Pretrial Release in Domestic Abuse Cases

Persons arrested for domestic abuse offenses may be subject to special pretrial release conditions. The judge can also require the person to post bail. Examples of special release conditions include attending a batterer's intervention program, participating in mental health treatment or counseling, and obeying no-contact orders. The person may also be prohibited from possessing a firearm.

(Wis. Stat. §§ 969.02, 969.03 (2024).)

Firearm Restrictions in Domestic Abuse Cases

Any person who is subject to domestic abuse injunction cannot possess a firearm. This firearm prohibition also applies to a person upon being convicted of a domestic abuse misdemeanor or felony. Possession of a firearm by a prohibited person is a class G felony.

(Wis. Stat. § 941.29 (2024).)

Obtaining Legal Assistance

A domestic abuse conviction or injunction order can have serious consequences. If you're arrested for domestic abuse or served with an injunction, contact a Wisconsin criminal defense attorney. An attorney will be able to tell you how your case is likely to be treated, depending on the assigned judge and prosecutor, and help you prepare a strong defense to achieve the best possible outcome in your case.

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