February 6, 2016

Drunk driving penalties advance

Six bills providing increased penalties for people who drive drunk in Wisconsin advanced Thursday. The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved the measures. One bill requires a mandatory ten-year term for homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle, another requires a three-year term for causing great bodily harm while driving drunk.

Democrats on the panel raised concerns regarding those mandatory minimum sentences. “I don’t want the judges to just be puppets. We’ve elected them to make those decisions. We trust their judgement,” said Representative Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie). “I don’t agree with mandatory minimums in almost any circumstance. I don’t think they work,” said Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee). “I trust the judges the make the right decision.”

“We heard some of the testimony in our public hearing a few weeks ago. People killed by drunk drivers with no mitigating circumstances, and the sentences handed out were really outrageously light,” said the author of all six bills, committee chairman Representative Jim Ott (R-Mequon). “I think most times the judges sentence appropriately. But the mandatory minimums would deal with those cases where there are no mitigating circumstance and someone say is confined to a wheelchair by a drunk driver.”

Democrats also worried that the bills carry no increased budgetary support for local prosecutors. “We’re going to have DAs who are going to have a great deal more cost,” said Hebl. “We have to make sure that all elements of the legal system are properly funded.” Ott said the costs associated with increased prosecutions could be addressed in the next state budget.

Other bills would make the third and fourth OWI offenses felonies, require first-time offenders to appear in court or face arrest, and allow judges to order the vehicles of repeat offenders to be confiscated

“Obviously I don’t think that all six bills will pass, certainly not in their present form, but if we get three or four passed, I would consider that a success,” said Ott.


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