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Project Drive Sober: prosecuting drunken driving

Posted: 1:53 PM, Aug 15, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-15 14:53:43-04
State OWI Prosecutors.JPG

MADISON, Wis. — When a defendant walks into the courtroom while being accused of the most serious of drunken driving crimes, it's often Tara Jenswold and Emily Thompson waiting to argue the case for the state of Wisconsin.

As assistant attorney generals, they see how big of a problem the issue is here in Wisconsin.

"I would think it's right up there - a 9 or a 10," Jenswold said.

Jenswold and Thompson were in a Madison courtroom recently because Victor Benitez is trying to re-open a case after being found guilty of four counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.

"We hear from families who's lives have been ripped apart because of somebody else's actions," Thompson said.

Thompson and Jenswold try to find justice. It's not always easy when cases are complex and there's a culture here in Wisconsin.

"Some of those same societal attitudes about drinking and driving sort of transfer into the system, so we face challenges with jurors and judges in that regard," Jenswold said.

"The judges job is really difficult - they have to balance the humanity and the needs of that particular offender with the need to protect the public," Thompson said.

Jenswold said that in these cases it's not someone's choice to go out and kill someone. Still, there are other choices made..

"Everybody knows or should know you're not supposed to go out and drive drunk, so as hard as it is to see people who didn't intend the consequence - they knew better," Jenswold said.

It's that message the pair of prosecutors take across the state.