Green Bay, WI- Sometimes when lawmakers, both on the state a federal level, draft legislation, the language they use can be murky. Courts can be confused by the intent of the law. This is the case of Wisconsin’s DUI law pertaining to chronic repeat offenders, those with several DUI convictions on their record, and was recently clarified by the state’s high court. Now, some habitual drunken drivers will not be able to avoid jail, making a DUI attorney all the more necessary.
Last Tuesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that drunken drivers convicted of their seventh, eighth or ninth DUI offense must serve at least three years behind bars. This clarifies some confusion for judges and gives DUI attorneys the knowledge they need to advise their clients about the consequences of repeat DUI offenses.
The case before the Supreme Court centered on the 2010 arrest of Clayton Williams who was charged with his seventh DUI. Williams pleaded guilty to his seventh DUI offense and asked to be placed on probation, but a judge sentenced him to three years in jail.
Under Wisconsin’s DUI statutes, seventh or subsequent DUI charges up to a tenth conviction calls for a bifurcated sentencing- a combination of three years in jail and supervised probation. However, there appeared to be no requirement for a judge to impose a three year jail sentence, according to the Post Crescent. Up until now, judges were allowed to use their discretion and some chronic DUI offenders were allowed to escape a long jail term.
In William’s case, a judge sentenced him to three years in jail and three years’ probation. Williams said the judge erred in his decision and filed an appeal and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, asserting the law does not say the three-year jail term is mandatory.
The appeals court sided with Williams, agreeing that the language in Wisconsin state statutes was confusing and judges are not required to impose a mandatory jail sentencing. Because of their ruling, the appeals court said Williams should be re-sentenced.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court, however, disagreed with the appellate court ruling and said the jail sentence was, indeed, mandatory. As the Post Crescent reported, Justice David Prosser agreed the intent of the statute was unclear, but said the development of such laws were to ensure that individuals convicted of a seventh, eighth or ninth DUI serve a minimum of three years in jail.
Chronic drunken drivers need help with their addiction to alcohol and jail sentences may not be the best way to go about this. Nonetheless, legislators are tasked with weighing the safety of the public with the rights of those accused and convicted of repeat DUI offenses. Severe penalties are seen as the best way to combat repeat drunken driving.
Court decisions like these are important to anyone facing a repeat DUI offense. Our DUI attorneys know how court decisions like this one will impact their clients. They watch these types of decisions so they can provide an effective defense for the clients they represent and give them the opportunity to avoid harsh sentencing.