Van Hollen & DUI

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I was surprised today to see a post by Paul Soglin about Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s crusade against budget cuts in the Department of Justice. Van Hollen has not only claimed that the cuts are the result of partisanship, but he has advised DOJ employees to lobby legislators against the cuts. Democrats in turn have accused Van Hollen of expecting special treatment in times of recession, and Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker wrote an op-ed criticizing the AG for driving up the DOJ’s budget in past years.

Soglin effectively sides with Van Hollen, saying that the ageny cuts probably represent “a decades-old flawed bipartisan Wisconsin tradition.” Perhaps not the best worded phrase but what that means is that the budget has always been a favored means of political retribution in Wisconsin.

What is more intriguing however is how the issue of drunk driving relates to these cuts. Creating stricter laws for drunk driving offenses is supposedly a priority of Wisconsin lawmakers now. However, implementing the proposed changes will no doubt require increased spending on law enforcement, including more prosecutors, judges, and other administrators. For instance, if the state makes a third offense a felony (currently you need five), considerably more offenders would have an incentive to take their case to trial because the penalty would be more severe.

The drunk driving issue in this state is mind-boggling. I remember discussing it once with Mike Verveer, who told me that the state (or at least Dane County) did not have the resources to prosecute drunk driving if for instance the first offense was criminalized (currently it’s more of a “traffic infraction”). What is definitely needed is stronger deterrents for drunk driving, including increased enforcement on the highways and ignition interlocks, which require past offenders to blow into a breathalyzer before the car starts. This would really hit at the huge percentage of people who drink and drive out of convenience, or because they think they can get away with it.

The people racking up multiple offenses are generally another story completely. When people who have spent time in jail for DUI get out and re-offend immediately, it’s probably not because the penalty is not stiff enough. Most of these people have serious issues with alcohol and would benefit more from treatment, not prison.

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