Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that judges in Wisconsin are required to sentence habitual drunk drivers to at least three years in jail. Well, judges in the state have always been required to do so, but a recent DUI case raised awareness of unclear wording in the associated law.
In 2010, Clayton Williams was arrested for driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.248. That’s more than three times the legal limit of 0.08! Despite his high BAC and the fact that he was pleading guilty to his seventh DUI offense, Williams asked for only probation. But According to Judge J. David Rice, Wisconsin law states that seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-time DUI offenders must spend at least three years in prison, but the law doesn’t expressly state that a judge is required to impose this sentence.
While even Rice said that sentencing for habitual DUI offenders in the state is unclear, he believed he was required to sentence Williams to at least three years in prison, so he did. Williams didn’t agree and turned to the 4th District Court of Appeals for a sentencing reversal. The Court of Appeals sided with Williams but not without capturing the attention of the Supreme Court.
After analyzing the law and its history, the Supreme Court not only re-sentenced Williams to at least three years in prison, but clarified that the law requires judges to sentence habitual drunk drivers to at least three years in jail.
Justice David Prosser agreed that the DUI law was a bit obscure, but he also noted that its history shows otherwise. According to a Legislative Reference Bureau analysis of the law’s 2009 bill, the language clearly states that such sentencing is a requirement. Prosser added that such a sentence makes sense because it’s in line with Wisconsin’s push for gradually harsher sentencing for habitual offenders.