After Plea Deal, Judge Gives OWI Offender 10 Years Anyway.

no drunk driving plea dealWisconsin might not be heaven for anti-drunk driving activists. But it appears one judge is on a one-man crusade to make drunk drivers face the consequences that he deems are necessary to discourage the crime.

Mark B. Harmon was arrested in July for his ninth OWI. He was drinking vodka and hand-rolling a cigarette when his truck crossed the centerline and forced a police car to veer to the side to avoid a collision. Harmon was tested and found to have a blood alcohol level of .267 – more than 3 times the legal limit, and an amount which makes a drive generally incapable of controlling a vehicle.

The Drunk Driving Plea Deal

The driver’s attorney bargained the offense down to 3 years in prison and 3 years on extended supervision.

The judge, however, refused to rubber-stamp the deal and pass the agreed-upon sentence. Instead, he gave Harmon 10 years. According to news reports, he called drunk driving the most dangerous crime in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin and Drunk Driving Prosecution

Wisconsin remains an outlier in the country’s fight to reduce drunk driving. It’s the only state which does not criminalize a first offense – if you’re caught, it’s an infraction that results in a civil fine. And while some states do not let drunk drivers plea bargain in drunk driving cases, Wisconsin obviously does.

What Wisconsin Should Do

Wisconsin, an innovative state with many distinctions, has had a hard time ditching a drinking culture which leads many residents to take drunk driving in stride. There is room for flexibility in the judicial system, but a person who is arrested for a ninth OWI with a BAC of .267 has proved himself to be a persistent drunk driver. While 3 years’ jail and 3 years’ supervision is no wrist slap, it probably won’t do the job in this case. What’s needed, in addition to prison, is

  • A permanent ignition interlock order for very serious repeat offenders. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
  • Long-time supervision using a sobriety court model, in which a case officer ensures that data from the ignition interlock is monitored, and that the subject is continuing to attend counseling.
  • Restrictions on plea bargaining OWI cases, such as Kansas has.

Judicial discretion is an important part of the system, but it shouldn’t be up to judges to do the job that the legislature was meant to do. Wisconsin needs to get serious about drunk driving, and drunk driving laws are the place to start.