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Drunken Driving Sentence a Knee-Slapper

Driver gets three years prison, victim is victimized again and the judge makes a fool of himself — can we rethink this?

for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated with alcohol and while he was riding his bicycle. 

Stelling isn’t likely to serve the entire three years in prison, but she will have to serve three years of extended supervision and pay a fine plus Splan’s medical costs. 

It was Stelling’s third drunken driving arrest.   According to news reports, her insurance company advised her not to say anything in court.

Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy is quoted as saying, “You’re not being punished because you drank a lot. You’re being punished because you made the decision (to drive drunk again).”

Is this a circus or what! 

First of all, one would presume a judge would understand that alcohol impairs judgment. It is bone-headed to expect a person to make a sound choice with over twice the legal limit of alcohol in her system. 

Drunks believe they can drive their car competently. 

"Drink Responsibly" campaigns by beer companies are based on the false premise that people can consume alcohol and still make good decisions.  So just to be clear, for the judge and for the advertising guys: alcohol impairs judgement.

But this judge seems to think it’s okay to get hammered, so long as one doesn’t drive. Apparently, he feels so strongly on this issue that he was willing to go on record to that effect in court. It makes a person wonder if the judge accepts campaign financial support from alcoholic beverage producers.

Otherwise why would he say, "You’re not being punished because you drank a lot?" 

It makes no sense. Is it necessary to continue the charade that alcohol doesn’t affect our brain function?

Let’s talk about an insurance company that elects to cover a person with two drunken driving arrests on her record, then tells her clam-up in court. Is that tampering with a witness? Who do they think they are protecting? Her?

Too late. 

The public?

Too late. 

Themselves?  They should have to pay through the nose for being stupid and covering her in the first place.

What about the sentence? Does Splan have a beef? Is the sentence too lenient? Frankly, yes! The only thing that will stop Stelling from drinking and driving again is complete sobriety. 

I think the appropriate sentence is to keep her behind bars until she is sober, and then it should be a felony for her to use alcohol under any circumstances. 

Finally, she should be randomly tested for the presence of alcohol in her system throughout her lifetime. It's the sensible thing to do, but there isn't a politician in Wisconsin with the spine to reform our drunken driving laws, and there isn’t a judge in Wisconsin with the spine to make them stick.

Jaime Sommers August 23, 2011 at 01:28 PM
Drink responsibly means planning ahead because you know yourself and know it's possible or probable you will become impaired. In case she might be an alcoholic, the judge has to be careful not to imply he is punishing her for her disease, though he can punish her for not managing her disease given all of the information and resources available to do so including free AA and AA affiliates. Yes, it stinks and it's not fair at all for the victim. I so wish I could fix it for him and hope some good comes out of it in some way for him. How terrible. He will likely never see the cash she owes and just be bankrupt as medical bills and disability can do. Judge can only punish to the extent of the law and can't make an example out of someone without a new law or a case precedent to do so without scandal. JPM is just not particularly eloquent. But, in my opinion, people can make sound choices after consuming alcohol, typically pre-choices, given that they have planned ahead to account for the impaired judgment. If they do this often, yes, brains do shrink. Not saying I disagree with you in regards to the circus reference or ill logic, but this isn't his worst... I don't think over-consumption is one of his pet peeves. I'm not a fan of "it's ok to get smashed but not ok to annoy me" stance from the bench. If you get a chance, hang out there a few days and see what you gather. Looking forward to a new generation in robes. Thanks for listening and for your colorful opinions. Peace.
Rik Kluessendorf August 23, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Howard, Just for clarification: Judge Malloy was limited in the sentence that he could dole out for this crime. In effect, he did give out nearly the maximum sentence available. The crime of OWI - causing injuries - is a class H felony in Wisconsin. That means that the maximum penalty is 6 years imprisonment. In addition, Stelling was charged with a misdemeanor count of OWI 3rd (maximum penalty of 1 year imprisonment). Effectively, the maximum amount that Stelling could serve on this was 7 years (6 for the felony, 1 for the misdemeanor). By that, it seems the sentence was light. HOWEVER, Wisconsin has an additional little wrinkle in what we call "truth in sentencing." Under TIS, a judge must bifurcate any prison sentence to include prison time and extended supervision time. The time under extended supervision could end up (if she fails) putting her in prison for the remaining total of the sentence (in other words, she has 3 years of ES, plus 3 years of prison. Once released to ES, she has up to 3 years remaining. If she violates ES - even on the last day she is on ES, she can get the full 3 years remaining in prison). Under that scenario, the sentence is a little more defensible. Judge Malloy gave out the maximum amount of time on the felony. The question becomes whether the bifurcation makes sense (3 in, 3 ES). On that, again, Judge Malloy was limited by the law. According to TIS, a bifurcated class H felony = a max of 3 years confinement.
Rik Kluessendorf August 23, 2011 at 03:31 PM
In other words, he gave her the maximum amount available on the felony, no matter what his words were. He also, according to online records, gave out the maximum amount of time on the misdemeanor - 1 year - but elected to give one break and one break only to Ms. Stelling: the misdemeanor time was to run concurrent to te felony (meaning that it applies a credit for the time spent on both sentences until the sentences are up). More than likely, that break was because she saved the court he trouble of having to go through a trial and saved the victim the hassle of testifying. Again, just for clarification - Malloy gave the maximum penalty he could (aside from running the time concurrent).
Tom Kamenick August 24, 2011 at 03:16 PM
In addition to Rik's comments, I want to point out that the judge said exactly the right thing. The law does not punish drinking a lot. The law punishes driving after having drunk - even a fairly small amount of alcohol. If the judge had said "I'm punishing you because you drank a lot," that would probably have been fertile grounds for an appeal.
Brian Carlson August 25, 2011 at 11:47 AM
There is, to my mind, a gordian knot in this whole conversation re: alchohol and criminality. This state, perhaps as much as any, not only approves of drinking alcohol, it celebrates it profusely. Its not quite a religion yet.... but the temples are set up in every state fair, in every festival, and on every fifth street corner across this state. I am not a teetotaler....but how do you legislate against the actions of alcoholics when a huge portion of the state's economy, and...if I may say so... culture, is based in the promotion and consumption of alcohol.... with little, if any, serious attention paid to responsible use? Do we think people walk home from festivals and bars? Of course people are driving drunk all the time.... and, indirectly, it is encouraged as the precipitating factors... drinking often, drinking a lot, drinking as recreation... are all raised high where we live.
Rik Kluessendorf August 29, 2011 at 06:33 PM
I think that there is a definite need for reform when it comes to OWI law, no question. However, I am not certain that the other states provide a worthwhile model. Essentially, all states treat OWI in this manner (based upon Federal grants pulling the laws to a norm): Offense # 1 is a crime of x severity, Offense # 2 is a crime of slightly increased severity, Offense # 3 is a crime of increasing severity, and so on. What would make more sense is to structure penalties on the severity of the offense. First offense blowing a 0.24? Instant felony (because you really have little reason to believe you're capable of driving at a 0.24). First offense at a 0.08? Give a little wiggle room - maybe a civil fine makes sense there. Somewhere between? You can use a range of felonies and misdemeanors based on BAC / actual inability to drive (i.e. - injuries caused) / and notice of the likelihood that you are impaired. Now that might make some sense...

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