http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=809697Doyle wants checkpoints Sobriety tests among possible tools to fight drunken driving
By GINA BARTON and STEVEN WALTERSgbarton@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Oct. 24, 2008
Gov. Jim Doyle called Thursday for tougher laws to fight drunken driving — including legalizing roadside sobriety checkpoints in Wisconsin.
“Most of us are in much more danger from a drunk driver than we are from a person that is going to break into our house,” he said. “I don’t think we should have a ban (on checkpoints). . . . I think it can be a useful tool, used appropriately and in a limited way.”
The Democratic governor said courts have set criteria for the constitutionality of checkpoints. Any new Wisconsin law would have to follow those guidelines, ensuring stops are not made in a discriminatory fashion, he said.
Doyle made the comments in the wake of the Journal Sentinel series “Wasted in Wisconsin.”
State legislators, local officials and victims’ families also weighed in, saying the series highlighted a growing sentiment across the state that changes are needed. In addition to checkpoints, ignition interlocks and mandatory prison terms for fifth-offense drunken driving — a felony under state law — may be on the agenda when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Rep. Tony Staskunas (D-West Allis) said people he met campaigning door-to-door have never been angrier over the failure of the state’s elected officials to crack down on drunken drivers.
Those thoughts were echoed by Judy Jenkins of Mequon, who has become an advocate for change since her daughter Jennifer Bukosky was killed in April by a driver with three drunken driving convictions who authorities said was high when the crash occurred. In just over a week, more than 2,200 people have signed a petition on her Web site seeking tougher penalties, Jenkins said. Nearly 1,000 people have sent e-mail to their legislators via the site.
Wisconsin is one of 12 states that do not allow sobriety checkpoints. Mothers Against Drunken Driving endorses the change, while Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has said he opposes it.
Sobriety checkpoints have not been debated in the Wisconsin Legislature since at least 1995.
Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputies have been hampered by the checkpoint ban, said Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. Politicians should “stop dancing around the issue” and rescind the ban, he said.
“Are they going to side with special interests, or are they going to side with the people on this one?” he asked.
Clarke’s drunken-driving task force would like to set up freeway checkpoints between 11 p.m. on Fridays and 3 a.m. on Sundays in areas where a large number of drunken-driving arrests and fatalities occur.
Ignition interlocks, which require drivers to pass a breath test before their cars will start, also are at the top of MADD’s agenda for the state, and Staskunas said he plans to introduce a bill that would dramatically increase their use. Staskunas’ bill would require their use for 18 months for first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol content of 0.16 or more and for all repeat offenders. A 1993 Wisconsin law requires ignition interlocks or vehicle immobilization for drivers who want their licenses back after a third drunken-driving offense — a second offense if it is within five years of the first. Judges have the option of ordering the device on any second offense, regardless of the time span.
In 2007, judges ordered use of the devices about 8,460 times, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Staskunas said he also may push for another controversial change: requiring mandatory prison time for those convicted of five or more drunken driving offenses. Under current law, five-time offenders are subject to a mandatory minimum of six months in a county jail, which is often part of a probation term and can include work release. To be sent to state prison, a defendant must receive at least a one-year sentence.
Jenkins said she hopes the effort is successful.
“By the fifth offense, there’s no question they should be going to prison,” she said. “There are those who say prison doesn’t change behavior, but in our eyes, it protects the public. It takes them off the roads.”
Some Milwaukee County judges said mandatory prison time would limit an important sentencing tool: discretion. They said they worried that members of the public misunderstand felony fifth-offense sentencing patterns — specifically that if an offender is sentenced to probation, it must include the minimum jail time.
“I would like the public to understand that in 100% of the cases, probation includes a jail term, usually between nine and 12 months,” said Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David A. Hansher. “I think the public has to understand that. And if a person violates probation and their probation is revoked, they have to go to prison.”
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Timothy G. Dugan said it’s important to allow judges the ability to consider each case individually.
“There isn’t a simple answer,” he said. “Just giving a flat sentence isn’t in the best interest of the community to address the sentencing goals, which are the protection of the community and rehabilitation of the offender.”
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Richard J. Sankovitz said most judges go beyond the minimum jail time. Some people are absolutely dangerous and need to be in prison, he said; other cases aren’t as clear-cut.
“A judge typically puts the person in jail as part of probation for two purposes: to punish the person for doing something that is wrong and to lend structure to their life,” he said. “When a person has an alcohol problem, the first thing you need to do is get some structure to their life. (On work release) they have to get up on time, leave on time, come back on time, and every time they come back, they have to take a breath test every day. That puts them in the habit of not drinking at any time or any amount; otherwise, they go to prison.”
Buckley Meade, whose clients at Cedar Creek Family Counseling include drunken-driving defendants, said prison is not appropriate for everyone — even in the case of a fatal crash. And if treatment is part of the goal, prison isn’t the most effective place to get it.
The larger issue for Wisconsinites, though, should be to prevent the problem to begin with, Door County Administrator Mike Serpe said.
“You don’t come from the beer capital of the world without people liking to drink beer,” he said. “You have to break that cycle. If you’re going to devote all your resources to incarcerating people, how are you going to break that cycle?”
Ben Poston of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this story.