Life Sentence for a DWI in Texas – An Extreme Case

Recently a Texas court has upheld the most severe DWI sentence imaginable: life imprisonment.

If there were a poster child for DWI punishments, it would be the offender, Rose Ann Davidson. Her sentence resulted from the “three strikes” law, which prescribes life imprisonment for a third felony conviction. Davidson had three DWI convictions since 2008, two others in 2002, and one in 1996. She has served at least 8 years in prison for impaired driving.

Davidson’s lawyer appealed the conviction, calling the sentence “grossly disproportionate, and … thus cruel and unusual.”rose-ann-davidson-mug-shot

But the Texas Third Court of Appeals didn’t agree. The purpose of the recidivist statute, said the judges, is both to “deter repeat offenders” and “to segregate that person from the rest of society for an extended period of time.” The segregation is based on “propensities [the offender] has demonstrated over a period of time…” In other words, Three Strikes laws remove from society habitual offenders who don’t modify their behavior as a result of incarceration.

Opinions on news sites run the gamut, from throw-away-the-key to it’s-a-waste-to-imprison-nonviolent-offenders.

It’s a fact that Davidson endangered her fellow citizens, though she had not harmed them. And it looks as if she would continue to do so if not imprisoned.

But some see the sentence as an example of politicians wishing to appear tough on drunk driving. For example, Lawrence Taylor, a DUI lawyer, does not believe that a sentence normally imposed on murderers is appropriate:

“Habitual offender”.  Translation: suffering from alcoholism.

So, was the Texas Third Court of Appeals fair? Was life in prison the only way to keep Davidson from drinking and driving again, or was it a showier alternative to prescribing the addiction treatment that she really needs?

In discussing what should be done, “license revocation” should be off the table. Davidson didn’t have a license since 2010, and the restriction did nothing to keep her from behind the wheel.

Life sentence for DWI? Ten years followed by lifetime ignition interlock? A full-on treatment program?

What do you think?