DWI laws are tough. The first offense is traumatic enough, involving a big fine and court costs, alcohol counseling, loss of drivers license, and more, but there is no mandatory jail time.
On the second offense, the sky falls: mandatory jail time and loss of drivers license–often for five full years. Third offense is a felony. Don’t even think about it.
The law has a little-used option that avoids the mandatory jail time on 2nd and 3rd offenses if the offender completes a truckload of community service. Not a bad idea, but offenders in other types of cases are typically ordered to complete 20 or 40 hours of community service. In these DWI cases the community service option is 30 or 60 DAYS.
This such an overwhelming obligation that the defendant:
- cannot do it without losing his job, or
- cannot do it due to some disability, or
- won’t do it because he’s a bum.
So while the law would permit a defendant to trade thirty or sixty days of community service for some jail time, DWI defendants almost never ask for or are given community service. Better to serve five or ten days in jail during their vacation than to lose their jobs.
I always thought it would be better to lower the requirements to realistic levels; and if not, then remove this useless, unused option.
Now comes Senate Bill 975, sponsored by Sen. Luann Ridgeway, which would require continuous alcohol monitoring (you need to think: booze-sniffing ankle bracelet) for persons convicted of their 4th or 5th alcohol-related offense in exchange for a shorter jail or prison sentence.
Second and 3d time offenders, could likewise have their jail time removed altogether under the bill. But those 2d & 3d timers (who are far more numerous than the hard-core 4th & 5th timers.) cannot take advantage of this option unless they complete ridiculous amounts of community service (i.e. 30 or 60 days)
Senate Bill 975 simply dumps alcohol monitoring on top of the original (and unworkable) community service option. It would better hit the target if it made the monitoring option usable by 2d & 3d time offenders.
If alcohol monitoring is to have any chance of working, why not do this instead:
In exchange for cutting down or eliminating the mandatory sentences, the court would require no more than forty hours community service; and add the alcohol monitoring on top of that.
It remains to be seen if alcohol monitoring can be effective at anything beyond swelling the pocketbooks of those who manufacture and furnish the equipment, but we will never find out unless the plan is structured as a viable option.