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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.