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State supreme court ruling may increase felony convictions for DUIs

MADISON - A ruling by the state Supreme Court could result in an increase in felony convictions for driving drunk.

Last year the legislature enacted a new law making a fourth drunk driving offense a felony. This week the Supreme Court ruled 5-1 that when judges are counting DUI offenses to determine what the penalty should be they must also include violations of juvenile absolute sobriety statutes. The ruling found that because Gerard Carter had twice had his license suspended as a juvenile in Illinois under that state's zero tolerance law those suspensions should count as OWI convictions even though he was not found to be over the legal limit for sobriety.

For Carter, that meant when he was convicted of his second Wisconsin OWI violation. The court ruled it was actually his fourth and therefore a felony. Carter's attorney Craig Kuhary says the case should be appealed to federal court. But Department of Justice attorney Michael Sanders says the court did a good job of interpreting state law. He says the only motorists in Wisconsin who need to worry about the ruling are those who choose to drink and drive.