Alcoholism Effects: When The Law Is A Joke
By Ned Wicker
I really should stop reading newspapers, because invariably there is going to be something in there regarding alcohol abuse that is going to make my blood boil. This was the case this morning.
Ms. Gina Barton of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote:
“Jason M. Sterling has been convicted of drunken driving four times since 1991 - most recently for driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.263 last year. But Sterling got lucky at sentencing when a Fond du Lac County court disregarded his first three offenses.
“As a result, Sterling's fourth offense was treated like a first: with a civil ticket, fine and driver's license suspension. It happened because Sterling, 37, of Fond du Lac, was able to prove that judges in his first three cases didn't give him all the necessary information before he gave up his sixth amendment right to an attorney.”
All the necessary information? You’re drunk and you’re operating a motor vehicle and you tested at .263! What part of “you’re completely irresponsible” do you not understand? The law is a joke here in Wisconsin. If someone has a proven history of drunken driving the last thing you want to do is search for a loophole in the law to let them off.
It doesn’t help the offender, it doesn’t help the community and it certainly doesn’t motivate the cops to constantly stop drunks on the road when they’re going to be let off the hook by foolish judges.
The law is supposed to be a shield, to protect. All too often the law is used as a sword to attack. In this case the law is more like a whoopee cushion. I heard about a Michigan court case once where a man was found innocent of fondling his neighbor’s wife because at the time of the incident he was too drunk to formulate criminal intent. How did Sterling convince a judge that he didn’t understand his sixth amendment rights...on three separate occasions? Now that takes some doing.
The DUI laws in this state are in serious need of revision. Attorneys can challenge the sixth amendment issue and do so in about 10% of the cases, according to the story. Think of the money and time tied up in litigating this nonsense when it is clear cut that a person was driving drunk. I’m sorry, but the blood alcohol level is the key. DUI is epidemic in Wisconsin and the laws protect it. In winter they drink and drive their snowmobiles and thumb their nose at law enforcement.
There is change in the air in Wisconsin, but don’t hold your breath in anticipation of positive change. The law is one thing, but as I’ve written many times before, the culture has to change. All of us have to come to the point where we say that drunk driving is no longer tolerated. Society will pressure politicians, even do nothing politicians, into re-writing laws, throwing out the old ones and replacing them with legislation that makes sense.
The first step will be to get the drunks off the roads. Step number two will be to properly deal with the individual offenders to prevent further offenses. That will include provisions for treatment, not just completing a course, but real treatment with follow-up procedures and accountability. Want to put a few million dollars back into state budgets? Stop the silly litigation for one thing, all of the senseless manipulation of the law. It’s not going to be easy, but it has to be done.
If a person is a repeat drunk driving offender it is obvious they can not be trusted. Maybe they can’t help it, in which case we need to be the ones in charge, not some attorney getting them off the hook.
Blood Alcohol Level
Most states regulate drunk driving by the amount of alcohol that's in your system. Blood Alcohol Level is a measure of exactly that how much alcohol is in your system and therefore how impaired are you. Most states view anything above .8 as impaired. Below are two stories of very high alcohol levels and what the effects were.
Ignition Locks Not So Foolproof
In late June a man was working on his car, or so he says. He wasn’t operating the car, but he was doing something rather strange—he was installing a balloon on his ignition interlock device. He had already been convicted of Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) five times and the court had ordered the ignition interlock to prevent him from operating his car after a few drinks.
Bright boy that he is, he decided to allow the balloon to blow into the device, and so he attempted to rig the system to allow the balloon to do its job. When the ignition interlock device is installed, the operator must blow into a tube and if they are over the limit, the car will not start.
The police were called by neighbors who saw the man stumbling around in the parking lot of his apartment building. When the police pulled up, the man had the engine running and was holding the balloon. He told the officers that he had been drinking vodka, but refused to allow a breathalyzer test. He also told the police that he had no intention of driving the car.
The police cited him and soon he was standing before a judge. He told his story, and of course he said he was merely working on the car and not trying to circumvent the law.
The judge didn’t buy it. She slapped him hard, with a three-year prison term for his six OWI, and three years of extended supervision when he got out. He was still on parole for that fifth violation when he got caught tinkering with the court-ordered device.
The judge, not amused by the story or the parole violation, ordered the new sentence to be served after the old one was completed, meaning that the man went back to prison to serve the final three years of his first conviction and would then serve the three years of the current conviction. A balloon and a bright idea cost him, in effect, six years.
That seems like a harsh sentence, but consider the rest of the story. The man was working on his car at 9:30 at night, and registered a blood alcohol level of .325. The legal limit is .08, but for those convicted of OWI, that limit is .02. The judge saw through any explanation.
In the newspaper story filed by Mike Johnson for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the 46 year-old defendant was sternly rebuked by the judge, who scolded, "I know you claim that you only had the car running to charge the battery and that you were working on the vehicle.
But the court doesn't find that to be a credible explanation - for someone to be working on their car in October at 9:30 p.m. You most likely would have been driving it. Most people aren't going to be out drunk working on their car…This is your sixth offense. . . . Unfortunately, it's probably just a matter of time before you end up killing someone or yourself or both. Every day people like you are out on the roadways drunk behind the wheel and somebody ends up dying.”
I share this story because it is just one of so many. People can rationalize anything, but driving while intoxicated is indefensible. Hopefully in the next six years the man will receive treatment and will be able to overcome his disease. Even with the prior convictions, it is obvious that he either did not receive treatment, refused treatment or that any treatment he received was insufficient.
Drying out a person is not treatment, and regardless of the amount of time they spend behind bars, they are still addicted. The man had five prior convictions, which speaks volumes about his condition.
The debate over what to do about drunk drivers wages on in the Wisconsin Legislature. The example of this man ought to be the perfect one for re-examining existing laws and re-writing those laws to ensure that offenders get treatment. Prison is not the answer.
Very High Blood Alcohol Level: Beyond Drunk, Alcohol Poisoning
Binge drinking is most often linked to college campus fraternity parties, dorm escapades and athletic event celebrations. Walking down the street on the campus of the University of Wisconsin on our way to Camp Randall Stadium for a football game, we see the young men hanging out dorm rooms, frat houses and apartment buildings, guzzling beer and ten sheets to the wind at 11:00 in the morning. Call it a right of passage, or just something young men in college do, but it has potential for being very deadly. Beyond drunk is alcohol poisoning and the party is over.
Simply put, alcohol poisoning is the body absorbing too much alcohol over a short period of time. The college campus binge drinking is a good example, but it happens just about anywhere, any time. It can also be caused by drinking ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, or methyl alcohol (wood alcohol). Home made alcohol such as moonshine or white lightning can be potentially very dangerous. The body can only take so much. Because alcohol depresses the central nervous system, massive amounts of alcohol, or the wrong kind of alcohol in heavy amounts, not only can cause a person to pass out, but stop breathing as well.
The slowing of breathing is just one sign of trouble. Before they pass out, a person might have vomiting, be confused or in a kind of drunken stupor, their temperature might drop and their skin might have a “blue” tinge to it. They may experience seizures. Even if all of these symptoms are not present, alcohol poisoning might still be happening. If someone has had way too much and passes out, they may be at risk of dying.
Binge drinking at parties is intentional, but alcohol poisoning can occur quite unintentionally. Take for example the child who drinks a household product like mouthwash, or an over-the-counter medication. Their little system may not handle the ethanol content in those. Other products like rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), or hand sanitizers, or other cleaning products are dangerous. Kids have been known to drink antifreeze.
Most alcohol poisoning cases are, however, from drinking too much alcoholic beverage. Your body can probably handle a 12-ounce beer and eliminate the alcohol from your body in about an hour, if you don’t have another beer. But what if you have three or four beers in an hour, which is not at all uncommon? What if you have a few beers each our over several hours? Your blood alcohol content is going to go up. Take this simple fact and accelerate it, as in the case of binge drinking, and you can see the potential for trouble. The body just can’t keep up. Even after you stop drinking, your blood alcohol level can go up because the stomach passes the beer into your colon.
So often at college parties where the beer is flowing, maybe people are doing shots, there’s always that one person who passes out drunk. “Oh, there’s Hal, he’s passed out. Let him sleep.” His friends don’t necessarily think he’s in trouble. Maybe he’s not, but alcohol poisoning is serious business. One thing to do if you suspect your friend is in trouble is to call 911, or call 800-222-1222, which will connect you to a local poison control center. Just letting him sleep is not a good idea. The help on the phone will guide you through the process and instruct you on what to do. They will probably ask you what he has been drinking, so offer that information. One thing not to do is let your friend vomit. Remember that his central nervous system is depressed and his gag reflex might be impaired. He might choke to death.
Alcohol poisoning requires medical intervention and some of the treatments include oxygen treatment, airway precautions to prevent him from choking and help him breathe, intravenous fluids (alcohol causes dehydration) and even dialysis to rid the blood of alcohol and toxins. If a person has really consumed a lot of alcohol, the first 24 hours of this treatment can be touchy.
The way to prevent alcohol poisoning is moderation. But sometimes “moderation” is a meaningless word. What is moderation? As a guideline, it’s one drink a day for women and two drinks for men. It’s a 12-ounce beer, or 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. For an alcoholic, moderation means nothing. People with the disease can’t stop drinking and, therefore, are at risk of alcohol poisoning.
The guy passed out at a frat party, or the alcohol abuser who’s had a very bad day, or the alcoholic who craves a drink when they get up in the morning, are not in a position to help themselves necessarily, and so it becomes necessary for friends, family and co-workers to assist. They may look like they’re peacefully sleeping it off when they’re passed out on the couch, but it’s only when they don’t get up when we realize something was wrong.
Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes.