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Wisconsin man denied reduced sentence for drugged driving deaths

In January, we posted that Wisconsin residents can sometimes face DUI charges for drugged driving even if the drugs in their system are legal and prescribed by a doctor. An arrest often relies on the judgment of a police officer to determine if the drugs in the driver's system have caused impairment.

A Wisconsin man has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for a 2008 DUI car accident which resulted in the death of a woman, her daughter and her unborn baby. Before the accident, the man had taken Ambien, which is a sleep aid.

But it is sometimes difficult to know how much a specific drug has impaired a driver, and whether or not he abused the drug before driving. Factors like this can affect sentencing after a conviction.

For this reason, the man and his attorney recently filed a post-conviction motion for relief with a judge in Waukesha County. The motion was seeking a reduced sentence on the grounds that, at the time of sentencing, the judge had relied on inaccurate information about the man's level of impairment.

At the time of the original sentencing in 2009, an expert's report may have made it appear that the man had abused Ambien before driving. That expert recently testified that the dose was within normal range.

After hearing arguments, the judge denied the motion for a reduced sentence. He said that his original sentence did not consider the level of Ambien in the man's blood sample. Rather, he said the accident was sufficient proof that the man was impaired.

He said: "The facts and circumstances of rear-ending somebody without hitting the brakes when they are right in front of you in clear view shows a high level of impairment." The fact that he did not try to hit the brakes was an aggravating factor, the judge added.

As we have previously written, it is important to know how prescription drugs affect your body before you get behind the wheel. The drugs may be legal, but this case shows that accidentally driving impaired can have serious consequences.

Source: Journal-Sentinel online, "Judge refuses to reduce sentence in fatal crash," Mike Johnson, 08 June 2011

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