Change in law affects prosecution of revoked drivers

MILWAUKEE — A change in the law allows revoked drivers the ability to get behind the wheel and not face jail time, despite mountains of citations against them. How do revoked drivers who can’t pay their citations get their license back, and what can be done as far as punishing revoked drivers who continue to get behind the wheel?

Every day, just like the day before, Sarah Limberg makes a decision — whether to grab her car keys and get behind the wheel.

“I usually just pray. I’m not supposed to be driving,” Limberg said.

Limberg hasn’t had a license in nearly 10 years. She says she probably owes at least $3,000 in tickets. In just one week last month, Limberg was pulled over three times.

Angelina Konaha’s license is also revoked. She works at Silk Exotic night club, but she’s not using her earnings to pay off her fines. FOX6 News found her shopping, partying at the bar and inking up her arm.

“You find people that are suspended for not paying a fine, but are driving a pretty nice car, they’re up to date on their payments, they got the latest iPhone,” Dodge County Sheriff Todd Nehls said.

On the day Konaha was supposed to be in court for her 11th revocation citation, FOX6 News cameras caughter her coming and going, but not to the courthouse.

Since 2004, Konaha has racked up citations in Dodge County, Waukesha County, Milwaukee County and Ozaukee County.

Two weeks after Konaha’s no show in court for citation number 11, she was cited in Jefferson County twice in one week.

Michael Dorsey has 19 citations, and also does not have a license. But Dorsey can keep on driving because of a change in the law back in 2009.

Before 2009, if revoked drivers kept driving and were caught without a license, the judge could throw them in jail.

“The courts were absolutely packed with these operating after revocation, or OAR cases,” Julius Kim with Kim & LaVoy said.

Governor Doyle and state lawmakers decided to decriminalize driving after revocation to deal with the jail overcrowding situation, and now, no matter how many times a revoked driver is cited, unless it’s tied to an OWI or the driver causes a crash, all police can do is give them another ticket.

FOX6 News interviewed Christopher Brugger back when the law changed in 2009. He had already been charged with operating after revocation 17 times and had served time in jail. With the new law, and no more potential for jail time, Brugger said he’d never stop driving, despite his lack of a license.

Six months ago, Brugger was cited again.

Revoked drivers don’t just cause a problem for police, but also for other drivers on the roadway. Statistics show revoked drivers are more dangerous drivers. There are more than four million licensed drivers in Wisconsin, and just over 80,000 suspended and revoked drivers — less than 2%. Of the 515 fatal crashes last year in the state, over 10% involved a driver who had been suspended or revoked. A seven-year nationwide study by AAA found a similar trend.

Sarah Limberg is a single mom, with three kids to shuttle around in a small town with no public transportation.

“I don’t know what to do anymore. I wasn’t drunk. I wasn’t doing any drugs. I was just driving to get to the laundromat that day. I got pulled over and couldn’t pay it all at once. I’m never going to get my license back, no matter how hard I try,” Limberg said.

Even though the courts will often offer a payment plan if you prove you don’t have the money to pay citations, that doesn’t protect you from new tickets if you keep driving.

“You pay a little off, but the next year they keep pulling you over. You can’t ever catch up. It’s a constant battle,” Limberg said.

Retired judge Jim Gramling heads a program that helps revoked drivers unravel that web. He says go to court, make your case and if you don’t have the cash, offer community service.

“If someone comes in front of them with a practical solution, the judge is going to welcome it. It always helps if that person has talked to a non-profit agency already and can come in front of the judge and say ‘I’ve talked to the YMCA, I’ve talked to the food pantry at my church, and they’re willing to let me do the work,'” Gramling said.

FOX6 News floated the idea to the head of the Assembly Transportation Committee, Paul Farrow.

“If we give them the opportunity to do some community service, to give back, it gives them the opportunity to get back on their feet and get themselves on the right path,” Farrow said.

However, Kim with Kim & LaVoy says there are some people in this world who simply won’t obey the law.

Orpheus Houston, Jr. got busted in Waukesha County in March for operating after revocation — for his 26th time!

“That might be a problem that’s insurmountable at this point. He might be an individual who simply can’t get a license,” Kim said.

However, as long as the law lets him drive without a license, the tickets won’t be worth the paper they’re printed on, and revoked drivers facing a mountain of fines will realize they can get behind the wheel at will.

What a lot of people driving revoked don’t realize is, there’s jail time involved if they seriously injure or kill someone. Gov. Scott Walker signed that law late last year.

Revoked drivers in Milwaukee County can contact the Drivers License Recovery Program for help getting their license back.

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