No easy solution to stop drunken driving repeat offenses

Recently, there have been people charged with multiple drunken driving offenses — some into the double digits.

So where do you draw the line? The answer to that question is a lot more complicated than just extended jail time or revoking someone’s license for good.

It just depends on a case-by case-basis and each one presents its own challenges and solutions.

“No question, it’s a very serious crime,” said La Crosse County Judge Scott Horne. “It results in way too many people being injured or killed.”

When it comes to sentencing people for drunken driving, Horne said there’s no clear-cut answer.

“Any individual brings a unique history and background into the court,” said Horne. “We’re obligated to take all those unique factors into account. I would certainly anticipate that the public would expect that in any system of justice that we would take all of the factors that would pertain to a particular offender into an account at sentencing.”

But while jail time may be an option for repeat offenders, Horne said it isn’t an option for everyone.

“Individuals who have simply been incarcerated and released without any effort to modify behavior, historically, have come back,” said Horne.

In La Crosse County, the number of people with high numbers of repeat OWI offenses is rare.


Horne credits that to the success of the OWI treatment court, a rigorous alternative designed to get participants on the right track. It’s an option for judges in La Crosse County, provided they have a good candidate. In exchange, participants could see their fines or jail time reduced if they successfully complete the requirements.

Ronda Lettner of Coulee Council on Addictions has been working with the OWI court and said part of the success is finding the right treatment.

“When people have multiple charges, there probably is something other than alcoholism or in addition to alcoholism that’s happening,” said Lettner.

While OWI treatment court may not end the problem of drunk driving, Horne said it’s a step in the right direction.

“What we do hope it accomplishes is that it reduces the likelihood that an individual is going to be back before the court for another OWI,” said Horne.

Horne said of the people who successfully complete OWI treatment court, there is an extremely small number who are back in court again for another OWI offense. However, for those people, their past history and whether they’ve completed or been a part of the OWI treatment court is taken into consideration for their next sentencing.

In any sentencing, the courts are obligated to weigh three factors — the gravity of the crime, whether rehabilitation will be successful and the need to protect the public.