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Cost could prevent tough state drunk driving charges

Body size, gender, age and genetics can determine how alcohol affects a person. One or two drinks might help one person feel relaxed while causing another to have impaired balance and slurred speech. When stopped by police for suspicion of impaired driving, these differences may not be considered by law enforcement or prosecutors who want to bring drunk driving charges. Anyone facing these accusations would do well to find out what the law actually states to protect their rights and reputations.

Those convicted of a first drunk driving offense in Wisconsin may face fines, lose the right to drive or have to get alcohol counseling, but they will not be sentenced to jail. That is because in Wisconsin, first-time DUI offenses are not a crime. Some state lawmakers and lobbyists want to change that.

One lobbyist for the Wisconsin Medical Society says the group has unsuccessfully been pushing for tougher drunken driving laws. He hopes new efforts will be more successful. Two state lawmakers say they will reintroduce drunk driving bills that previously failed to be approved. One bill would increase penalties for first-time offenders and make it a crime for those with a high blood-alcohol level. A second bill would make it a felony to commit third and fourth drunk driving offenses and would increase the severity of any offenses after the fourth.

According to the lobbyist, money may be the reason DUI laws have not been strengthened. He says tougher laws mean more work for prosecutors and more jail costs. Wisconsin's Department of Corrections has estimated it will cost up to $204 million a year to pay for tougher penalties for third and fourth offenses.

While there should be repercussions for repeat offenders, everyone facing DUI charges should not face the harshest penalties. Field sobriety and breath tests may have incorrect results or were improperly administered. The various factors that often lead to convictions could also lead to charges being dropped. Accusations or charges of impaired driving are serious, but knowledge of what the law states and how it works could help the accused get the best legal outcome.

Source: The Star, "Cost key in debate about drunk driving," Bill Lueders, Jan. 26, 2013

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