The final straw for us was the July conviction of Nathan L. Leopold for killing David P. Leck, 70, in a head-on crash in 2017. That’s the second time Leopold, a Janesville man, killed somebody while driving under the influence. In 2002, he killed a 28-year-old woman jogging along the side of a road.
His conviction demonstrates the futility and inadequacy of our current system. The drunken driving epidemic demands not tougher laws but smarter laws.
We’re tired of waiting for the Legislature to figure out a solution. So, we came up with our own proposal. It’s novel and certain to be controversial, but hear us out.
It’s not enough to punish repeat drunken drivers. They have a disease beyond their ability to control, and no amount of time spent in prison will cure it. This group requires 24/7 monitoring even after they’ve been released from prison and after they’ve completed their parole.
Our proposal would allow the state to supervise repeat drunken drivers indefinitely after their fourth convictions or sooner if any of the convictions include homicide. Through court orders, the state would place repeat offenders under the supervision of the state Department of Health Services, similar to how the state handles sexually violent offenders.
Unlike the sex offender program, however, repeat drunken drivers wouldn’t be sent to a treatment facility. Rather, their supervision would occur remotely and revolve around a single condition: complete sobriety. Everyone under the state’s supervision would be prohibited from drinking.
To enforce their sobriety, repeat offenders would be outfitted with alcohol sensing devices, which come in different forms, including bracelets and breathalyzers. The state Department of Corrections and the Rock County Sheriff’s Office already use these technologies, though for different purposes. For the Department of Corrections, alcohol monitoring can be a condition of probation or parole (As of Sept. 1, 1,005 people were being monitored for alcohol use, according to the DOC). At the sheriff’s office, alcohol monitoring is reserved for inmates serving their sentences outside the jail through the county’s diversion program. Alcohol monitoring also is a feature of Rock County OWI Court for defendants admitted to the program while facing their third intoxicated driving charges.
When these sensors detect an inmate or parolee has been drinking, they alert authorities. What happens next depends on the department, program and agent handling the alert.
Our proposal would expand the use of alcohol sensing technologies but only under the Department of Health Services. Our expectation would be for law enforcement to immediately take into custody anyone whose sensor indicates they’ve been drinking. The goal must be to ensure violators do not drive.
Repeat drunken drivers pose a risk to society not unlike sex offenders. Their crimes are very different, but sex offenders and repeat drunken drivers often are powerless to overcome their diseases. Neither group can be trusted to reform without intensive treatment and long-term monitoring.
The purpose of alcohol monitoring should be to create accountability for repeat offenders. Monitoring systems also should include treatment programs to help repeat offenders learn to cope with stress and life’s setbacks without turning to alcohol.
As for the cost, it would be high. Program participants would pay part of the bill and taxpayers the rest. But our hope is that effective alcohol monitoring would lead to fewer crashes, fewer criminal investigations and fewer civil suits, ultimately reducing long-terms costs to society. Most important, there would be less heartache.
Since Aug. 1, The Gazette has reported 15 intoxicated driving arrests of people with three or more prior convictions, including an Edgerton man, Daniel B. Good, charged with killing a Madison woman in an Aug. 3 crash near Evansville.
During a spate of intoxicated driving arrests last month, Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore advised residents to take precautions. “I don’t even go through a green light anymore without looking left and right,” Moore said.
The public realizes our current system is a failure. We can continue to complain about drunken drivers and lament the deaths caused by their impulsive actions, or we can actually do something about this problem.
Today, we propose to do something. Now, it’s up to the Legislature.