JANESVILLE

Marijuana and Christmas were keys to the sentencing of a man to prison on Wednesday.

Mark A. Hall Jr., 28, formerly of Janesville, asked Judge Karl Hanson to spare him from prison so he could spend his Christmas with his children, something he had missed in past years because he was incarcerated.

But Hanson said Hall had endangered other children when he sped past them and their parents at a Christmas event last year.

People were gathered along Palmer Drive in Janesville at the time to get to the annual holiday lights display at Rotary Botanical Gardens.

Hall pleaded guilty Sept. 5 to two counts of second-degree recklessly endangering safety. Dismissed as part of a plea agreement were two more counts of the same charge, plus fleeing and possession of marijuana.

Hanson noted marijuana figured in several of Hall’s previous crimes, including two convictions for possession with intent to deliver the drug.

“Your case, sir, I think, screams out perhaps more than most I see that this isn’t just a gateway drug. This is what’s destroying your life,” Hanson said.

“And I get it. I get that there’s a debate in Madison. There’s a debate around the country about what role marijuana should have in people’s lives and where it should be illegal and how it should be regulated,” Hanson said. “And that’s fine. That’s a good debate for the country to have.

“But when I look at your case, whether it’s legal or not, … It’s very clear that your choices about marijuana are destroying your life,” Hanson continued. “You’re choosing this drug over freedom. You’re choosing it over being there for your children. You’re choosing it over making good decisions to keep other people in the community safe.”

Assistant District Attorney Jerry Urbik recommended five years in prison followed by five years of supervision, followed by five years of probation.

Urbik noted Hall’s previous convictions also include burglary while armed and hit and run.

Hall was on extended supervision after a prison sentence when police stopped him on Palmer Drive near Rotary Gardens on Dec. 23.

Hall then sped past many parked cars and a stream of people walking along the street with police in pursuit, as Urbik showed in a police body camera video.

As to Hall’s request for another chance, Urbik said, “The problem I have is how many chances Mr. Hall has already had. He has already shown he cannot comply with the law. He cannot comply with the terms of his supervision.”

Defense attorney Peter Anderson said his client had gotten a job in 2017 and had settled into a stable life. The Dec. 23 incident was a moment of panic because he feared going back to prison if police found marijuana in the car, Anderson said.

Hall needs to realize he has a drug problem and get treatment, and treatment is more effective in the community than in prison, Anderson said, calling for probation.

Hall apologized and said he has grown up in the past few years and wanted a chance to be with his family.

Hanson acknowledged Hall had made progress toward becoming a better person, “but in those critical moments, you revert to this purely selfish thinking. … The community needs to know you won’t be making these kinds of decision out there on the streets.”

Hanson sentenced Hall to 3½ years in prison plus four years of extended supervision plus four years of probation.

Hanson made Hall eligible for a prison substance-abuse program and the Challenge Incarceration Program, which could trim time from his sentence.

But Hall won’t be home for Christmas this year or next. Hanson said Hall must serve at least two years before being eligible for the programs. He said Hall must realize he needs help with his marijuana problem before he starts the programs.

Urbik noted that Hall’s mother testified for the prosecution in a murder trial in which a defendant was found not guilty on Friday. Urbik said he wanted to make a record that she helped the prosecution’s case but received nothing for her testimony, and it did not figure into his recommendation in her son’s case Wednesday.

The defense attorney in that trial suggested people testifying against his client were hoping for consideration from the prosecution, even though no actual deals were made.