Life in Prison…For Drunk Driving

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on August 21st, 2013

The insanity continues…

Waco Man Gets Life Sentence for Driving Drunk

Waco, TX.  June 10 — A man has been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of drunken driving — his ninth such charge since 1984.

Russell Don Sneed faced a minimum 25-year penalty when McLennan County jurors sentenced him in Waco on Thursday, a day after his conviction. 

Defense attorney Melanie Walker had told jurors no one was seriously injured in last year’s rollover accident and her client suffers from alcoholism.

However, prosecutor Lauren McLeod said alcoholism is no excuse for criminal behavior.

The Waco Tribune-Herald reports that the 52-year-old Sneed and his wife both testified that she was driving. Karroll Sneed told jurors she fled over fears of being jailed on misdemeanor warrants. Sneed said he took the blame out of concern for his wife, who had recently suffered a stroke.

Life in prison for a DUI?  Rape gets 15 years, 2nd degree murder 25.  Just an aberration, right?  Wrong.  See, for example, Third DUI = Life in Prison (Mississippi, alcoholic with 2 priors), Another Life Sentence for Drunk Driving (Texas, alcoholic with 9 priors), 99 Years for Drunk Driving (Texas, alcoholic with 7 priors). 

One of the premier DUI attorneys in the country, Troy McKinney of Houston, made an Open Records Act demand on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, asking:  How many Texans are serving sentences of 60 years to life in prison for drunk driving? Not for drunk driving resulting in injury or death — just for drunk driving (or driving over .08%). The response from the Department:

21 to 25 years    125 
26 to 30 years     39 
31 to 40 years     55 
41 to 59 years     16

And finally:

60 to 98 years     23 
99 years 6 Life     13

Repeat: These are sentences just for drunk driving or driving over .08% — not for DWI causing death or serious injury. To trigger the longer sentences, the DWI was at least the offender’s fourth offense.

It would be a fairly safe assumption that these prisoners are alcoholics. In other words, life in prison for having a genetically-predisposed disease and being unable to control it…..without help.

So, what if they got help? What does it cost to keep a citizen in prison for the rest of his life? For even one year? And what does it cost to offer that person rehabilitative therapy? Even, perhaps, to involuntarily commit him to a facility for treatment of the disease?

Justice and humanity aside, do the math….

For a more effective, inexpensive and humane approach to dealing with drunk drivers who are suffering from alcoholism, see Time for a Change.
  • Luke

    You are being a bit disingenuous by equating a ninth offense of a DUI with a first offense of murder/rape/etc. You better believe that a 2nd offense of murder/rape/etc would be a life term.

  • Andre Smith

    As much as I support giving someone lots of thinking time when they rack up 8 DUI convictions and STILL don’t get it, I really don’t see much being accomplished by a life sentence. Unless, after a couple years or so, there is a possibility of parole contingent on attending an appropriate alcohol rehabilitation program. Sadly, most residential treatment facilities will charge more for a 90day stay than it costs to warehouse an inmate for a year. That alone will put the help out of reach of the majority of people who need it the most.

    Then again, the only real way to put a dent in the number of people drinking and driving in the vast majority of US is to put enough taxes on gas to make it as expensive as alcohol on a gallon-for-gallon basis, and to channel the proceeds towards improving public transportation until it becomes a reasonable alternative to driving (don’t even mention the cab – the cost for a typical driving distance to the bar and back will likely be on par with the bar tab itself).

    For that matter, if drinking and driving is so bad, why the hell do bars have parking lots in the first place? Oh, and how many MADD types will instantly scream bloody murder at the mere thought of reforming zoning laws to allow someone to open up a tavern in their residential neighborhood so that people living there can simply walk back home after drinking? Of course, most Americans would rather vote for cranking the penalties for the few drivers who get caught, rather than contribute even a penny of their own money to dealing with root cause of the problem.

  • Bill in IL

    Luke, are you kidding me? Rape and murder have VICTIMS! They are crimes against another person. This person got life for being over an arbitrary limit. Wake up and smell the tuna fish.

  • Incunabulum

    I don’t agree with your implication that having a genetically pre-disposed condition should merit any leniency (lot’s of violent condition can be correlated with genetic and upbringing factors), I *do* think that long jail sentences for DUI are abhorrent. Doubly so if the sentence is levied for simply having a breathalyzer read more than .08.

  • Luke

    Bill, I never said I agreed with a life term, I was just stating that equating a first offense of a very serious crime with a ninth offense of a less serious one is a straw man argument at best. Obviously this guy needs to do jail time, not just for the DUIs but he is obviously also driving without a license for times 3-9. At some point you can’t slap a wrist anymore.

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  • Marylou Alvarez

    Can anything be done for the Waco,Texan man that received life? Is it oh well, so sad everyone else goes on with their life? I paid an Attorney that told my husband to take a five year deal because he was facing life. He never even spoke to me and I hired him. I walked in the court room and the judge was sentencing him. Can an Attorney do that that even if you paid him? The attorney stated he was my husbands. Attorney not mine. He didn’t say that when I paid him or when he said he would defend him. My husband is 62 years old he didn’t want to die in prison and yet five years he still can.

  • Tina Harley

    Life in prison for DUI??? Are you kidding me? This doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. The offender should have treatment not be behind prison walls. How about taking away driving privileges for life instead of taking away the person’s freedom? Or at least make sure that he has some type of device in his car that would make the car undrivable if he did drive? There’s so many other options instead of prison for a person who has Alcoholic dependency.