The legislature in neighboring Wisconsin is currently considering a fairly dramatic change to their drunk driving laws, something that has surprised many in the state given the little public opposition the measure has sparked.
The new legislation, sponsored by two Republican lawmakers, would change the state’s law to require lengthy prison sentences for those individuals with repeated drunk driving arrests. Specifically the measure would mean that people who have been convicted of between seven and nine drunk driving incidents would be required to serve a three-year prison sentence. The measure would also require that judges impose a four-year prison term for anyone who faces a 10th conviction for drunk driving.
The most unusual and seemingly controversial aspect of the new law is the provision that requires the imposition of a 30-day jail sentence for any driver who causes an injury while behind the wheel and has a BAC between 0.04 and 0.08 percent at the time of the accident. Creating a criminal offense out of driving with less than the legal limit of alcohol in your system was expected to result in public outcry, but surprisingly little fuss has been raised at recent public hearings.
Similar measures were proposed in Wisconsin in 2009, but state courts have said they were not written in a way that requires judges to follow the recommendations. The recent iteration was advanced to correct that mistake and force judges to issue sentences according to the legislative mandate.
Though opposition so far has been scant, a few lawmakers have raised concerns about the legislation. For one thing, some are worried that it will lead to unnecessarily large increases in prison populations, something that most counties in the state are not equipped to handle. Another worry is that the new law does nothing to actually solve the underlying problem that leads to such repeat DWIs: chronic alcoholism. One legislator said that if the state really wants to reduce the incidents of repeat drunk driving, then more money should be directed towards providing treatment and rehabilitation to those with drinking problems. Punishment for punishment’s sake does little to solve the recurring problems posed by repeat drunk drivers.
A recent example of this occurred in Chicago when, earlier this week, a man from Lake County was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his eight drunk driving conviction. The man, now 43, received his first DUI at the age of 17 and has struggled with alcohol every day in between. Prosecutors say the man was arrested a total of 10 times for DWI and cited another two times for boating while intoxicated.
The man was arrested last year after an officer spotted him swerving in and out of his lane. He was convicted of driving drunk and prosecutors asked for a 15-year sentence, arguing that the man was a public safety risk. His defense attorney spoke out, saying the drunk driver had been severely abused as a child and has struggled with alcoholism ever since. Moreover, the man has a 12-year-old son that he desperately wanted to see grow up. The judge was unmoved and sentenced him to 13 years behind bars. Whether the lengthy jail term will actually do any good or lead to any rehabilitation remains to be seen.
Source: “Drunken driving bill draws little opposition at public hearing,” by Todd Richmond, published at PostCrescent.com.