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High court ponders DUI penalty case

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Darryl Enriquez
September 17, 2010
— The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday heard a case that questions whether someone can be convicted of being a four-time drunken driver in this state based on previous convictions for intoxicated driving in Illinois.

Gerard W. Carter, 29, of Lincoln, Ill., was charged in Walworth County Court in September 2007 of driving while intoxicated the previous month.


Carter eventually pleaded guilty to a fourth drunken driving charge and was sentenced to 240 days in Walworth County Jail. He also was ordered to pay more than $3,000 in fines and court costs and had his license revoked for 30 months, according to electronic court records.


Carter later disputed his single drunken driving offense here was actually his fourth overall, arguing two of his Illinois’ offenses were actually license suspensions for zero alcohol tolerance and therefore could not be counted for sentence enhancement in Wisconsin.


“In this drunken driving case, the Supreme Court examines whether out-of-state offenses should be ‘counted’ for sentence enhancement purposes in Wisconsin, and, if so, how,” according to a court document. “The Supreme Court is expected to interpret the statutes and address the question of how out-of-state drunken driving offenses should be applied to sentencing.”


State prosecutors alleged Carter had three prior offenses from Illinois, two for zero-tolerance and one for drunken driving, and that all of the offenses count as strikes against him in Wisconsin, according to the court record.


The circuit court concluded the two Illinois’ zero-tolerance violations did count as prior “convictions” under state statute and imposed judgment and sentence for a fourth drunken driving offense.


Carter appealed and, by unanimous decision, the state court of appeals reversed the lower court, ruling that zero-tolerance suspensions cannot be counted as “convictions” under state law.


However, state prosecutors argue that in a 2008 one-judge, unpublished opinion, the appeals court addressed the same question and reached the opposite conclusion.


A court spokesperson could not say when the high court would publish a decision.



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