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Drunk Driving Laws In Wisconsin Are Insane, Graeme Zielinksi Case Proves The Point

October 22, 2013

I was not going to comment on the drunk driving conviction of a former spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin simply due to time constraints over the past few days.  I have, for the record, commented on this matter in the past, and also have taken Graeme Zielinksi to task for the more than sophomoric way he often conducted himself when employed with the party.  Frankly, I am glad he is no longer newsworthy.

But there was a part of his conviction story that I find most unsettling.

Normally, a third conviction always is treated as a third offense. But in this case, Zielinski’s conviction in Virginia could not be counted as a prior conviction. Zielinski’s attorney, John Bradley, filed a motion stating that his client did not have a lawyer represent him in Virginia and he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his right to a lawyer in that case.

Since records of the Virginia case were destroyed after 10 years, Assistant District Attorney Monica Hall was unable to prove otherwise. Thus, under Wisconsin law, the case cannot be counted as a prior conviction even though it does remain on his record.

Judge Koschnick ruled that the available evidence in the case did not support the conclusion that Zielinski validly waived his right to an attorney.

The Jefferson County case thus became a second offense. 

However, Wisconsin statutes state that if a person is convicted of drunken driving more than 10 years after his or her first OWI conviction, the new conviction will be treated as a first offense. Since Zielinski’s conviction came more than two decades after his first conviction — and 14 years after the Virginia conviction — the charges were then dropped to a first offense.

“It’s a very weird statute. It’s a loophole, basically, is what I like to call it,” said Hall. “I think that it’s an acknowledgement of the fact that the people in this state love their booze and they don’t mind so much if you drink and drive.”

What I have a very hard time understanding is how the state legislature can seemingly find every act under the sun to call attention to and find a legal remedy for if they deem it criminal, and yet our drunk driving laws are often resembling Swiss cheese.  Instead of plowing ahead and making needed changes when glaring omissions to those laws are made known, there is instead the turning of heads as they tell us that the remedies are too expensive for the taxpayers.

Requiring everyone arrested for drunk driving to appear in court and providing tougher penalties are ideas that are going no where in this state as there are too many members of the legislature beholden to the money and political power of the Wisconsin Tavern League.

This post is not aimed at making Graeme Zielinksi feel bad, or rub his nose with the facts.  Rather his story is yet one more stunning example of how much needs to be done in the legislature to make drunk driving laws that really work in this state.

Those who need to hear that message sit on both sides of the political aisle.

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