Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Drunk Driving Law Revisions

By John DiMotto

I read in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (on line version) that the Wisconsin Legislature will be taking up more "drunk driving" legislation. While I agree that revision is an absolute necessity, I believe it is missing a HUGE component that, if adopted, could really reduce the number of second offenses.

I believe that the Wisconsin Legislature should make a first offense "conditionally" criminal. By this, I mean that if you are found guilty after a plea or trial, the conviction does not immediately become a criminal conviction. Instead, if the offender will agree to a complete alcohol assessment and participation in whatever program is designed specifically for him/her by the Department of Corrections during a period of probation, the court will stay the imposition of a fine and incarceration and place the offender on probation. Upon successful completion of probation, the offense will be on ones record as a noncriminal offense - as it is currently. If the offender refuses to do the assessment and participate in the program on probation, or does not successfully complete the program on probation, then the offense will be on ones record as a criminal conviction and a sentence will be imposed that includes a fine and incarceration. The cost of the assessment and program must be born by the offender. It seems to me that the incentive of avoiding jail and not having a criminal conviction will encourage people to address their alcohol issue after the first offense and thereby reduce the likelihood of a second offense. This, in my opinion, is "getting tough" and getting positive results for the offender and the community as a whole.

If you want to reduce recidivism, you must address the alcohol issue immediately after the first offense by assessment and treatment on probation.


  1. I agree with John. We tend to discount how serious even a first offense OWI is. To be able to drink enough to drive the BAC up to .08 is a sign of a serious problem. If we have an identified problem, we should use the tools available -- including the threat of a criminal conviction, if not also jail -- to incentivize treatment.

  2. This is an interesting solution to the problem. It's a wonder no one in the Legislature has apparently thought of it.