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March 20, 2008

A tough sentence (but not tough enough?) for tenth DWI offense

Regular readers know that I am often complaining that repeat drunk drivers often do not seem to get tough enough sentences.  So I was pleased to get this local story from Texas about one state sentencing judge finally getting really tough on a defendant for his TENTH conviction for DWI.  Here are the details:

A Taylor man was sentenced to 60 years today for his 10th driving while intoxicated conviction. Anthony Lynn Falco, 54, was arrested in June for failing to use a turn signal while driving north on Mays Street in Round Rock.

He admitted that he’d been drinking beer at a Round Rock bar and failed field sobriety tests. Falco refused a breath sample, but a blood search warrant was obtained, according to a release by Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley.  The sample showed that he had more than two times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood, Bradley said.

Falco has nine previous DWI convictions, the first of which came in 1979, Bradley said. On his last three DWI convictions, he also served prison terms.  He will not be eligible for parole for 15 years.

Candidly, I am a bit troubled that this very dangerous repeat criminal will ever be eligible to be free to drive again, but maybe by 2023 we will have developed a technology that can truly ensure that this repeat offender is completely incapacitated and unable to put innocent lives at risk yet again.  If not, I hope he does not get granted parole.

Some related posts about getting tougher on drunk drivers:

Some related posts:

March 20, 2008 at 12:03 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Doug, here's another instance where Texas is plenty tuff - plenty of folks get longer than 60 years, all the way up to life, for multiple DWIs, as I've pointed out when you've discussed this topic before. And yet, according to our Comptroller, more Texans "are killed in alcohol-related crashes than in any other state," even California, which has a much larger population.

I don't believe California or any other states with lower DWI accident rates are locking people up for longer than Texas. Some other difference, then, must explain these outcomes. IMO the use of ignition interlock systems for probationers and wider availability of actual treatment programs in CA are what result in their superior safety outcomes.

This fellow you mention, by contrast, has been to prison thrice now for the same offense, but obviously that was not a solution to his problem. Since there's little assistance there for his addiction (all substance abuse funding for DWI was eliminated completely in TX in 2003 - a fraction was restored last year), he just leaves prison a dry drunk, subject to the same addiction and human frailties that led him there in the first place, having learned no new tools to withstand them. (There are likely other things, though, one learns in prison over 15 years that may be less pro-social.)

You seem to think that it's worth it for safety's sake to just keep him away from society because after 30 years he can't control his addiction. Fair enough. But I believe it'd be better if the system all along had been focused on assisting him to overcome his addiction and helping him get his life together. Judging the end of a failed, three-decade process doesn't mean that how we got to this point was inevitable. best,

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Mar 20, 2008 2:57:52 PM

he just leaves prison a dry drunk, subject to the same addiction and human frailties that led him there in the first place, having learned no new tools to withstand them.

Assuming that he can't drink in prison, is he really no less able to resist his alcohol addiction after decades without alcohol?

Also, how many people have ever served a sixty-year prison sentence? That has to be an effective life sentence if there's no parole.

Posted by: | Mar 20, 2008 3:52:17 PM

"how many people have ever served a sixty-year prison sentence?"

Well, if they're sentenced to "life," which happens not infrequently on multiple DWIs, they're not eligible for parole consideration for 30 years minimum. That doesn't mean they get out in 30 years, though, on a life sentence. At the moment, our parole board is releasing DWI offenders at rates lower than their own guidelines call for. In the case Doug described, he'll be there a minimum of 15.

Also you ask, "is he really no less able to resist his alcohol addiction after decades without alcohol?" The answer is "Yes, that's 100% correct." To think otherwise is to misunderstand the nature of addiction.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Mar 20, 2008 4:15:26 PM

As I am sure you know, Grits, I could not agree more. But only when Texas see the deeper folly of wasting money on all this incarceration (as opposed to paying the costs of innocent lives lost that the state does not directly bear) are we likely to start getting the changes we both hope started happening decades ago. In other words: follow the money!

Posted by: Doug B. | Mar 20, 2008 4:20:49 PM

"As I am sure you know, Grits, I could not agree more"

I sometimes think I know that, Doc, but (seriously) with all respect, then I see you calling for draconian sentences for DWI with "incapacitation" as your goal and nary a mention of treatment, DWI courts, stronger community supervision, etc., so I get a little confused about your position. In the post you called for not paroling this guy when he's eligible 15 years from now, then in your response you lament that Texas fails to grasp the "deeper folly of wasting money on all this incarceration." It seems like you and I do disagree SOMEWHERE on this, but I frankly can't put my finger exactly on where.

BTW, this same DA is out to get the longest sentences possible for every substance abuse offender he can lay his hands on right now to "send a message" to our parole board, and has been on a recent media rampage. (See here.) So this guy's really just a pawn in that DA's political game.

Speaking of diverting substance abusers from prison, be sure you take a look at the WashPost column today co-authored by one of our Texas reformers called "Cutting the prison rate safely." Pretty good stuff, I thought. best,

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Mar 20, 2008 4:37:31 PM

"As I am sure you know, Grits, I could not agree more"

I sometimes think I know that, Doc, but (seriously) with all respect, then I see you calling for draconian sentences for DWI with "incapacitation" as your goal and nary a mention of treatment, DWI courts, stronger community supervision, etc., so I get a little confused about your position. In the post you called for not paroling this guy when he's eligible 15 years from now, then in your response you lament that Texas fails to grasp the "deeper folly of wasting money on all this incarceration." It seems like you and I do disagree SOMEWHERE on this, but I frankly can't put my finger exactly on where.

BTW, this same DA is out to get the longest sentences possible for every substance abuse offender he can lay his hands on right now to "send a message" to our parole board, and has been on a recent media rampage. (See here.) So this guy's really just a pawn in that DA's political game.

Speaking of diverting substance abusers from prison, be sure you take a look at the WashPost column today co-authored by one of our Texas reformers called "Cutting the prison rate safely." Pretty good stuff, I thought. best,

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Mar 20, 2008 4:37:56 PM

Sorry about the double entry, he said sheepishly.

Just as I was hitting post, the 17-month old grandbaby I'm babysitting thought it'd be the perfect time to slap the computer keyboard!!

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Mar 20, 2008 4:49:18 PM

The problem, Grits, is that REPEAT criminals always will (and perhaps always should) be the last to get free/easy/costly access to treatment and other services that can help (but do not always work) to break cycles of addiction/crime. Whatever else we know about the defendant in this case, he has had at least 9 prior chances to get help and he again failed to find a way to do better. At some point --- and I'm comfortable after say the 7th or 8th chance --- I think society can sensibly decided give up.

This same rationale also drives my agnosticism about the death penalty, especially for certain types of extreme REPEAT offenders. Though I always hope the state will devise sound (and economically wise) ways to deal with very bad humans, I'd rather have the state spend its money and energy first on trying to help the not-quite-so-bad humans.

In other words, in a world with limited resources, I am essentially driven by a notion of criminal justice triage. Does that make sense?

Posted by: Doug B. | Mar 20, 2008 6:49:28 PM

Doug, particularly in a world with limited resources, I don't see incarcerating drunks for long periods as having significant public safety value. As stated, CA doesn't have nearly the DWI death rate we do, and it's not because of long sentences but use of smarter technological solutions and expanded treatment options.

We incarcerate a lot of these guys for a long time (drug possession cases, too), and besides getting one person off the streets, with three more ready to replace them, I just don't see that it's solving anything when the real-world result is MORE DWI deaths, not less.

You say the fellow had "9 prior chances to get help," but I'll guaran-damn-tee you he wasn't offered any from the Texas criminal justice system. Unless by help you mean incarceration, fines, impediments to employment, etc.. "Punishment" is not a synonym for "help."

Finally, you write, "At some point --- and I'm comfortable after say the 7th or 8th chance --- I think society can sensibly decided give up."

Addiction, whether to alcohol or illegal drugs, is a health problem masquerading as a criminal justice dilemma. "Giving up" on one person won't solve the bigger problem, and indeed, if that's the ultimate solution for recalcitrant or relapsing addicts (and there are many of them), then "giving up" has become our de facto public health policy. (And we wonder why we're losing the drug war, having by our very tactics already surrendered!)

I'm NOT saying folks like this aren't a serious problem, or even that incarceration isn't part of the answer. I'm just saying that there's little evidence that long-term incarceration contributes much to solving the DWI problem, particularly compared to less expensive community-based solutions that empirically produce superior outcomes across the board. I wish you were more frequently promoting those ideas on DWI, personally, instead of just lamenting we don't see longer prison terms.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Mar 20, 2008 7:17:56 PM

I think it is interesting that at least one other person subscribes to my view that incarcerating people for a long period of time indicates a failure of society.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 24, 2008 4:17:08 PM

There is no measure for circumstance for this crime. When I was young, DWI was a charge not worth fighting. I was a very troubled youth and I racked up three DWI’s in Texas with the last one being over 18 years ago. On the second arrest, I was made to blow in the machine 7 – 9 times before the police could get a reading that put me over the limit. Now I find myself 18 years later charged with DWI and the laws in Texas have changed. The 4th DWI was non-accident as were the others. Now I find myself facing 2 – 10 years in prison. Personally I do not think I was drunk but I sure was not going to take any tests after what happened before. During those 18 years I went from a useless drunken member of society to being a productive member of society that rarely if ever drank. Another issue is that I had a hip replacement 16 years ago that was a result of a car wreck in which I was not driving. To be blunt, a prison sentence for me equates basically a death sentence because I will be marked by a limp when I go in and we all know the victimization that follows the weak in prison. So in essence I will endure a punishment that out weights the crime. I would have been better off being an Enron defendant that crushed the investments and life savings of thousands. After all Jeff Schilling was my neighbor.

Posted by: Roman Holiday | Nov 4, 2008 9:46:35 AM

I'm a Pastor & I have been corresponding with this individual. It is my personal assessment from what I have read on his case that he did not get his due process & was lied to by attorneys, & three different D.A.s. Tough on Crime & giving someone life due to an addiction is futile. It's a crime in itself. It also facilitates a "safety net" that is completely false. This man needs to be in mandatory substance abuse treatment and monitored. The judge who gave this man this outrageous sentence will have to face a higher judgment one day. Woe until him on that day. Shame on Williamson county for throwing this man's life away. He needed help not punishment.

Posted by: Laura P. Oaks | Aug 19, 2011 12:51:47 PM

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