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Rusk County District Attorney strengthens DWI policies

By Angela Ward award@news-journal.com
Sept. 6, 2011 at 11 p.m.


People who choose to drive while intoxicated in Rusk County will face tougher penalties.

District Attorney Micheal Jimerson recently released a statement saying the former county policy had the benefit of uniformity, but was a "one size fits all" policy that failed to reflect his office's commitment to the core values of the county.

Assistant District Attorney Zack Wavrusa, who will be primarily in charge of implementing the policy, said it's ultimate goal is to end DWI in Rusk County.

"This gives us more flexibility to deal with the individual circumstances of each case," Wavrusa said. "It also allows us to enhance charges from a Misdemeanor B to Misdemeanor A if the blood alcohol count is high."

Generally speaking, a first-time DWI offense is a Class B Misdemeanor, he said. However, the new policy will allow the office to handle the offenses differently depending on the amount of alcohol consumed.

"We'll no longer be treating people who are just barely over the legal limit the exact same way we treat people who are severely impaired," Wavrusa said.

About one-quarter to one-third of all the misdemeanors prosecuted in the county involve DWI offenses, he said. Repeat DWI past the second offense or circumstances such as having a child in the vehicle at the time, turn driving while intoxicated into a felony.

All jail time for DWI will be served up front, in contrast to the previous policy which allowed offenders to serve their time at any point within two years of when they were convicted.

"We're hoping the more immediate consequences of driving while intoxicated will help to really drive home the point that we're serious about prosecuting this crime," Wavrusa said.

Jimerson said that sentences handed out by juries in recent DWI cases have made it clear that residents of Rusk County will not tolerate drivers who operate vehicles while impaired as a result of substance abuse.

"I foresee a day when rapidly improving technology will prohibit vehicles from being driven by drivers impaired from substance abuse," Jimerson said. "Until that time, we will continue to rely on the hard work of our officers to protect our community from the needless tragedies of drunk driving deaths."

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