Victim families, lawmakers renew push requiring prison in OWI homicide cases

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) Lawmakers are making yet another attempt at forcing drunk drivers who kill someone to go to prison.

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Four years ago, after cases in Northeast Wisconsin where a drunk driver received little to no jail time, Target 2 Investigates uncovered what families called a serious problem with the law.

There is no law requiring prison time for OWI homicides.

The push is underway again to change that.

Time and again, families have shared their stories. They are the survivors but forever victimized when their loved ones were killed by impaired drivers.

Marla Hall's son and his three friends were killed in 2016 by a speeding, wrong way drunk driver.

She's testified before and vows to do it again, begging and pleading lawmakers to create a minimum prison sentence for drunk or drugged drivers who kill someone.

"They can't just slap people on the hands, because you've killed someone. And to me, my son dying that way, it's no different than putting a gun to his head," says Hall. "Murder is murder."

Minimum sentence bills have been proposed the last several sessions, but failed to gain enough traction for a full Senate or Assembly vote.

But lawmakers aren't giving up.

"When you consider the impact on families, if you lose a loved one to a drunk driver and you see the judicial system maybe treat it like it's not that serious, I think that's a real affront to the families," says republican Rep. Jim Ott from Mequon.

Representative Ott and Senator Alberta Darling are leading the charge to make anyone convicted of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle be sent to prison for a minimum of five years.

  • Click here for the complete text and updates to Senate Bill 8
  • Click here for the complete text and updates to Assembly Bill 17
The bill would create an exception if the person who died was a passenger in the person's car and the court finds the public would not be harmed without prison time.

We found reports submitted by the Department of Corrections showing between 2016-2018, 33 people were convicted and sent to prison for OWI homicide.

All but two were sentenced to at least five years, but that doesn't take into account those sentenced only to jail, which has happened in Northeast Wisconsin in the last several years.

To lawmakers and families, any number is too many.

"Like my son's life was nothing... he's just going to be another Wisconsin statistic of our culture. Well, I'm not going to let that happen," says Hall.

The bill has bipartisan support, and Rep. Ott hopes it will be scheduled for a hearing in the Assembly in April.



 
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