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POLL: When Should OWI Offenders Receive a Felony Charge?

A nine-time drunk driver is arrested outside Wauwatosa as State Sen. Alberta Darling pushes to make three offenses a felony. Is three the right number?

When prosecutors recently following an arrest near Wauwatosa, it underscored again the issue of Wisconsin’s drunk driving penalties.

The laws are considered some of the nation’s most lenient. Drunk driving does not become a felony in Wisconsin until the fourth offense, one of only seven states to wait that long, according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), who represents Menomonee Falls, Whitefish Bay, Fox Point, Bayside and other communities north and west of Milwaukee, is pushing for tougher laws.  Her last attempt, authored last summer, died in the spring legislative session. She sought to make the third offense a felony, while also toughening penalties for first and second offenses, including at least five days of jail time for even the first offense.

The issue is complex, but our poll is simple — when should operating while intoxicated offenders be charged with a felony? Vote in the poll and leave additional thoughts in the comments below.

Michael July 23, 2012 at 09:42 PM
My kids think I'm a really cool dad
Str8shooter July 23, 2012 at 11:20 PM
In order to be sentenced to prison one must be convicted of a felony. Prison is a year or more and jail would be punishable for less than a year so if you feel killing someone from drunk driving should be more than a year, the only way to make it happen is by making it a felony. I do feel there is a difference between shooting someone and killing someone from drunk driving because the intent to kill is not there with drunk driving. The judges however do need to start utilizing the ability they have to start sentencing people with multiple owi offenses to real jail time and not the typical 10-30 days.
Bailey July 24, 2012 at 02:27 PM
There's no room in the jails for all of the OWI drivers. Literally. That's the biggest reason why people aren't being booked on their first offense. I also think the first OWI should lead someone to being arrested, but there isn't room.
Str8shooter July 24, 2012 at 03:45 PM
I agree with there not being room in the jails and court system but we need to start questioning our politicians why there is room in the jails and court systems in every other state for drunk drivers and all other crimes but not Wisconsin.
Johnny Paycheck July 24, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Wisconsin has 5x as many drunks as any other state... perhaps more. Locking them all up would bankrupt the state.
Str8shooter July 25, 2012 at 12:25 AM
But it's not just drunk drivers. It's many other crimes that people do little to no time compared to other states. And other than the obvious of having so many bars, maybe we should ask why we have 5x as many drunks...maybe because drunk drivers don't do real jail time? If it would cost me a bit more in taxes to know criminals were being sent to jail I'd be fine with that as I feel dangerous people off the streets is worth the money.
Andrew McKee July 25, 2012 at 05:10 AM
I have a friend who cost himself a police career with his "One time mistake". The thing about drinking and driving 1st offense is it is never a "1st time mistake", it is just the 1st time they were caught. 80+% of cars on the road on a Friday/Saturday night at 2:15AM are driven by impaired drivers. It is the culture in this state, it is socially acceptable to have an OWI it seems. I had a friend who lost her best childhood friend to a drunk driver. It was I believe his 5th offense in 3 years. We all know people who can function fine at .08 sure, hell some people posting probably drive better at .08 then the average 16 year old. But it is more about a cultural change. I would like to see more small businesses pop up to serve the drinking public as a result. Getting a cab is overly expensive and the delays are HUGE. Wisconsin needs a cultural change as to its drinking, it is something we do better then anyone else, and it has been socially acceptable, and to a degree encouraged and that needs to change for the betterment of all of us. Now with that all said I would MUCH prefer to be on the road with a bunch of drunks then with idiots who text and drive...but that is a different argument.
Anonymous September 04, 2012 at 09:27 PM
I got my second OWI with injury (the guy never went to the hospital.) I am mentally ill and my ex-husband used that against me in my divorce to steal everything I own (Judge Kiefer-Waukesha Co.) After 2-1/2 years of being put on the stand for being on Prozac, being stalked, having my parents lied to about all of the times I cheated and lied to my ex (they finally see that he was just manipulating them) I finally cracked. I started taking prescribed tranquilizers and mixing them with alcohol and started to dissociate due to the pressure I was under (my ex took out a life insurance policy before the divorce...his plan was to drive me to a nervous breakdown so that I would kill myself) and got in my car and tried to run away. I got in an accident (thank GOD the other guy wasn't actually hurt...however, my ex used the $80,000 he stole from all of the equity in our home & credit card advances before our divorce was final to pay off the guy I hit to not settle with the insurance company.) The accident happened about three weeks after the divorce was final and I realized I had lost everything (except gaining half of the credit card debt.) Prior to this...I was a business owner that paid taxes and supported my ex financially for ten years! Now, I'm a felon with nothing. I even lost custody of my son. I've been through counseling for PTSD and severe depression since the accident. Is this really justice? Should I just kill myself? I haven't had a drink in over two years!
Gregory Kluck September 04, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Anonymous, hang in there. Don't give up. You can start over. Might be slow and it might be small...but you can overcome this trial and tribulation. I certainly did.
Kathy September 04, 2012 at 10:48 PM
@Anonymous: I have empathy for you, empathy not sympathy. It sounds to me like you are blaming mental illness and marriage for DUI's? I hope I am wrong because real recovery is about being accountable. Life is about choices, sadly poor choices have consequences. You made the choice TWICE to drink and drive. My neighbor has 5 DUI's and blames that on being bi-polar, yet she refuses to take her medication, she blames everyone for her losses as well. You Lost Everything? Hmmm I bet your still driving. Past Biz owner nd now Im a cripple who's husband ran off with a married woman, he drained the accounts and left me with all the bills and no way to get around. I didn't make a choice to be cripple, or to have my husband do the cruel things he is. I did though chose not to be a victim and to rebuild. Your journey to ruins a bit different but the path to self worth and accomplishment the same. Walk Like a Goddess mDear. Best Wishes...
Anonymous September 05, 2012 at 03:29 AM
In response to Kathy... NO, I am NOT driving. I do not even own a car. I take my medication daily (always have) and since the accident (the first OWI was about nine months prior to the second (about 1.5 years into the divorce. When you dissociate, you have no control over it (you only have control over the stress that triggers an episode.) So I quit working immediately and filed for SSDI, since I can only control the stress in my life which leads to these dissociative episodes where I start drinking and try to run or wake up in someone's yard or some horrible place. Since quitting working, cutting off all contact with my ex, and going through extensive therapy for PTSD and major depression (including inpatient treatment) I haven't had any more dissociative episodes in just over two years. My doctor says I can't work or have any contact with my ex or I will relapse, however, I've been denied for SSDI twice now (it's been over two years.) I guess I'm just sick of hearing how this was ALL my fault! How could I have stopped contact with my ex in the middle of a horrible divorce? He harassed me daily. Driving me to a nervous breakdown was HIS plan and HIS PLAN worked. What about HIS share of the responsibility? Is it okay to use someone's illness against them, stalk them, and drag them down until they "snap?" Now that I'm a felon I can't get Section 8 housing. I live with my boyfriend who financially supports me... be a prostitute or be homeless... Now THAT'S a CHOICE!
Gregory Kluck September 05, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Anon, I didn't know that your docs have suggested you not work. I still say hang in there. There are law firms that can go to bat for your SSDI claim. I know your financial situation is hard, but at least look into it.
Anonymous September 05, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Kathy, I agree with you on this one. If you have money for alcohol, you can afford your medication. I am living on $500 per month and about $300 of it goes for meds and doctor visits. The other $200 goes towards food and toiletries. I have always taken care of myself and NEVER have skipped my meds or doctor's visits. This is why I am so angry that my ex was allowed by the courts to use my illness against me and make me answer ON THE STAND to taking Prozac and Wellbuterin! Yes, I had a really bad 2010 and lost control over my mental illness due to harassment from my ex that I HAD NO CONTROL OVER!!!! Trust me...I would rather be diabetic or have some illness that people understand and doesn't cause you to lose your ability to reason if pushed to the edge. I have be dissociative episode free now for two years. Since the accident, I have cut off all communication with my ex, have been through PTSD treatment, and have quit working (doctor's orders.) All I'm saying is that I don't think I should be labeled a felon for what I did! I accept the consequences, but I think this was put on me only because my ex knows Atty. Tim Kay (who is now a Waukesha judge...imagine that.) My attorney said he has never seen the book thrown at anyone so harshly. Tim Kay (my ex's divorce attorney) was also the state prosecutor "randomly" selected for this case... hmmmmm?
Randy1949 September 05, 2012 at 05:56 PM
@anonymous -- The exacerbation of your illness may not have been under your control, but getting behind the wheel of a car was. If you had killed someone, illness or not, they'd be just as dead. That's where the felony comes in. People with mental illnesses that cause decreased judgement should probably not have drivers licenses or cars.
Anonymous September 05, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Randy! Yes! I totally agree with you! I don't own a car anymore and don't drive! I admit whole heartedly that I am not mentally stable! I even have a doctor that will attest to that! However, that brings me to my next question... how am I supposed to live? I have a felony so I can't get Section 8 housing and the state has turned me down twice for SSDI! I even had a daughter that I gave up for adoption about a year ago because I admit that I can't take care of her. I called Waukesha HUD and told them my situation and they said that my only option was to "hit the streets." I do have an attorney to help me with SSDI but he says that it can take 3 or 4 YEARS to get it (I'm about two years into the process!) Meanwhile, I have to be a "legal prostitute" to avoid being homeless? Do I REALLY deserve THIS?
Kathy September 05, 2012 at 09:09 PM
@ Anonymous & Randy- EXACTLY what Randy pointed out, that being; perhaps you should have not been driving at all. When I could work no more and filed for SSDI I started a new treatment with new meds. When approved for SSDI I decided I wanted to try and work PT. I drove for county ride share taxi, during my comeback my meds were switched again. The new meds affected my driving, I stopped working and driving. #1 - One of the meds for pain and I could get a ticket for that. #2- I could not live with myself if I caused any issues. IE: one time while driving I forgot where I was going and why on the road I was on. So...even knowing you have episodes you still made the choice to continue driving, and you were drinking. You're husband (ex) did not force you into a car, YOU made the choice. The court will never see it any different. Shame on doctors for not advising you to not drive. I am a firm believer that people with mental illness need a representative to assist in life choices, sadly there are not enough people to place in these positions. People with mental illness are still viewed as a threat to themselves and society, it's an out-dated mindset as it is the medicines that stabelize. It sounds like you got a raw deal but let go of the hate, your posts tremble of anger. Move forward VS stewing over what happened because you cannot change that. You have the power to change the future, won't be easy but nothin worthwhile ever is.
Randy1949 September 05, 2012 at 09:32 PM
@Kathy -- People with certain forms of mental illness ARE a danger to themselves and others unless they can develop the insight into their own conditions that warns them that their judgment can be very poor even on medication. Bi-polar individuals can feel so grandiose at the top of the cycle that they decide not to take their meds or that they can drink and drive. Conversely, the depression can lead to reckless behavior. I had a bi-polar relative who took her own life in an auto crash, seemingly with no thought to the other deaths and injuries that might have been caused. What do we do with these individuals? I have no idea, but institutionalization or incarceration might be the last resort for people who cannot control themselves.
Anonymous September 05, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Well, yes, I agree! I shouldn't have been driving at all. But I honestly had no idea that the clonazapam prescribed to me would have this effect on me when mixed with my extreme stress. Right after the accident, I was taken directly to the mental hospital where I spent a week. The doctors there explained how clonazapam was making me dissociate (dissociating means that you act without being aware of it.) Both OWI's occurred within the short period of time that I was taking PRESCRIBED clonazapam. I quit taking it immediately and sold my car. I have not driven since the accident nor have I taken any other prescription benzos. I really had no idea that prescribed meds could have this effect on me. Okay...I'm done. Everyone keeps telling me it is my fault for dissociating...whatever. I don't take the damn pills or own a car. I haven't since I was given the information about the drug. I have even quit working and only leave the house for groceries and doctor appointments. My $500 per month runs out soon and this is the money I spend on meds, food, and doctors. Hopefully I get SSDI benefits before that happens... it doesn't look hopeful.
Anonymous September 05, 2012 at 09:36 PM
I say just shoot us... it's more cost effective.
Randy1949 September 05, 2012 at 10:00 PM
I'm sorry, but the first OWI should have been a clue, especially mixing tranquilizers with alcohol. One can't complain about the second offense being a felony under those circumstances.
Kathy September 05, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Randy - I agree to a point. @ Anonymous: More excuses. "I did not know the med did this and that...." i RESEARCH every medication the doctor gives me. The FDA requires the pharmacy to give you information about RX...READ IT. Now your anger turned on forum posters with a passive aggressive statement of "just shoot us...." All the more reason I am for loss of DL after 1st offense because someone like you on the second offense got into a wreck and could have killed someone....Like Randy stated, the first one should have been a wake up call. Instead more excuses...just like my neighbor ...who still drinks and drives because her life situation is not her fault and no one helps her. No one helps me either and I didn't break any laws. *insert violin* Im not trying to be mean...it's just reality. MOVE FORWARD.
Kathy September 05, 2012 at 11:19 PM
PS @ Anonymous; You stated not drinking for two years. Congrats - you have beaten odds for relapse so give yourself some credit. You're not the total mess you see yourself as. ;-)
Randy1949 September 06, 2012 at 12:06 AM
@Kathy -- I'm usually much more sympathetic, but I began to catch a tone here. It was everybody's fault but anonymous's. "My husband caused me stress and made me take tranquilizers and drink, and then he stole my money, and now you people made me a felon so I can't work." A therapist might say there's still some work to be done here. Prescriptions say right on the bottle not to mix with alcohol. About mental illness, modern medicine has its limitations still. With bi-polar disorder, medication only eases the highs and lows; it doesn't flatten them entirely. Without an understanding of this, a person may make some very poor decisions during the highs and lows. It may get so bad as to be beyond their control. And then they, and the rest of us, need protection.
Anonymous September 06, 2012 at 01:18 AM
I can't work because I have an adrenal disorder...nothing to do with the felony. I see I will get no sympathy here or anywhere else. Goodbye.
Kathy September 06, 2012 at 10:22 AM
So Anonymous, you came to a forum about drunk driving laws as a two time offender seeking sympathy? Hmmm you cannot work now because of PTSD and adrenal disorder? You're a felon so you qualify for no sec 8 housing or asst. WOW. I have a very painful syndrome and worked , I also worked thru chemo,I worked until my legs gave out and then even after I got SSDI I went back to try and work. You want sympathy from me? You appear to have some computer skills, all the time you spend posting could have been put to some other gainful time. my .02. People help those who try to help themselves.
jackie September 06, 2012 at 11:11 AM
Anon, Its going to be a tough journey back. But you have to fight for it. Sounds to me like you are giving up because all that has happened. I am dead set against drunk driving regardless of reason and I will tell you why. Like many others, I lost my love one (mother) at the age of 14yrs old. The person ran after he rear ended her causing her to lose control and hit a truck head on. The driver of the truck was also injured. Back then the laws on drunk driving wasn't as severe, the people got little time. My point? When you drive drunk, you affecting everyone involved. If you kill someone because of whatever reason, Do you really think the family of the person you killed is going to care?. They are going to ask, then why drive if you have health issues?. Drinking is a responsibility, if you have the conscience to drink then assume the responsibility. Get a room nearby and walk there. Get a desiginated driver. Drink at home. Drink responsible. I know there are people out there who has a drinking problem. But after the 2nd DUI, you would think people will learn their lesson. 1st Dui is a mistake ( everyone is entitled). 2nd is plain stupid. Anything after that is a problem drinker, Or someone who doesnt care.
Anonymous September 06, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Thank you. This is all I am saying. No one actually got hurt in the accident. I served my sentence. I've been through counseling. I've paid my fines. I don't drink anymore. I don't own a car anymore. Isn't that enough? I have an adrenal disorder & suffer from major depression. Because I'm labeled a felon and gave my newborn baby up for adoption last year to a local family that could care for her right before serving my sentence (I chose NOT to have an abortion,) I cannot get Section 8 housing or Badger Care. So now I need to choose between being homeless or a legal prostitute. My point is, I did my time and paid my dues. DO I REALLY DESERVE TO HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN BEEING HOMELESS OR A LEGAL PROSTITUTE WHILE WAITING 3 OR 4 YEARS TO GET SS DISABILITY BECAUSE I HAVE A DUI FELONY?
Randy1949 September 06, 2012 at 02:56 PM
What is a 'legal prostitute'?
Kathy September 06, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Highly unlikely you will get SSDI for depression and adrenal disorder. In another area you stated PTSD...which is it? Nothing is physically preventing you from working, the adrenal is treatable. The SSDI lawyer will tell you otherwise, he gets 20%. SSDI benefits are approved based on 2 mental and one physical or 2 physical and one mental that prevents work for 12 months plus or will end in death. I got my SSDI with no lawyer, and I've tried to go back to work twice. Referring to yourself as a legal prostitute says to me you are living with a man and having sex in exchange for shelter. Does he know this? I so, this is enough to qualify for womans shelter, call advocates. Honestly I think you should try and work, feeling productive might see you gaining a better view of yourself VS playing the victim. "No one actually got hurt" as to your drinking citiations. I thought one time you said car damage and person paid off - thats emotional stress, or are you only allowed that?
Patti S.J. Mackenzie February 01, 2013 at 01:21 AM
Thing that I think is very bizarre is that there are top officials in this state that magically have their hard copy documents disappear before the data even hits the CCAP or what is now known as 'Wisconsin Circuit Courts Access' website. I know this for a FACT! It's NOT a fair system considering there are those that do go out for a cocktail reach out for assistance from the drinking establishment for a safe ride to their destination and find themselves set up or left with a choice of walking in the freezing cold or dying in their cars from exposure. 'If' this state chooses to display 'all' cases on their legal website then there should definitely be some repercussions for the people or establishments that over pour their patrons and allow them to walk out the door!!!! The establishment should be held legally liable and pay money for having also contributed to a crime and should go to jail too. It's far to easy for establishments with the ability to serve the liquor to coheres a patron into a next drink, and a next despite the fact that the patron does not have the 'mens rae' or mind set or criminal mind or intention to drink and drive and truly believes that he/she can put his/her trust in the establishment for a safe ride to his/her destination only to be booted out into the cold because the establishment 'plays a mind game' and decides to close early and tells them that they must leave the establishment, out into the sub zero weather with no where to go.

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