NEWS BLOG (WSAU) You be the judge. On the docket today is a sentencing hearing. You have to decide what the appropriate punishment is for a drunk driver. Guilt or innocence is not the question for the Court today. He’s already pled guilty.
The 23-year-old admits to drinking on his birthday last June, and then driving his pick-up truck. He hit a man on a motorcycle and killed him. His blood-alcohol level was three-times the legal limit. He has a prior OWI conviction.
At the time of the plea bargain, prosecutors said they would ask for five years of jail time, and 10 years probation. You, as the judge, have the choice of accepting or rejecting the sentencing recommendation. The law allows you to impose a jail term of up to 40-years. You can also be more lenient, if you wish.
What would you decide?
Judge Vincent Howard, normally a temperate and wise jurist, accepted the plea bargain as-is with 5-years of jail time. Judge Howard was wrong.
Drunk driver Matthew Vissers turned to his victim’s family and asked for forgiveness... it was a tragic accident. It was not. Someone who drinks to a blood-alcohol level of .25 is in a near stupor. It is not a borderline call about whether they are able to drive home safely. Someone who is that drunk is likely to crash. Others on the road are fortunate if they only kill or injure themselves. And Vissers escaped these consequences once before. He’d already benefited from Wisconsin’s “OWI freebie” where a first offense is treated with the same severity as a traffic ticket. Imagine how many other times he drove drunk without getting caught.
The family of victim Gregory Davis told the judge they did not accept the plea bargain. They traveled from Oshkosh to several court hearings with the same message: the sentence was too light.
Five years in jail. Is human life that cheap? Are our attitudes towards drunk driving that tolerant? In 2015, Matthew Vissers will have the opportunity to drink and drive again. That is an outrage.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau