Wisconsin passes tougher law for unlicensed drivers
A recent bill passed by the Wisconsin legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott Walker will make it much more difficult for unlicensed drivers who cause injuries on the road. Prior to the passage of the new law, if a driver was unlicensed and caused a death on the road, but was not drunk, negligent, or reckless, the most the driver could be charged with was a Class A misdemeanor.
That is what happened last year when Lucia Torres-Bisarraga’s Toyota Corolla collided with the body of a volunteer worker picking up litter on the side of a Wisconsin highway. Torres-Bisarraga did not have a driver’s license at the time of the accident. She was attempting to avoid a car that had pulled out in front of her. She lost control of the wheel and hit 70-year-old Cornelius “Corky” Van Handel. He eventually died from his injuries.
Torres-Bisarraga was sentenced to two years probation and is also required to spend four days per month in jail during the time she is serving her probation. The possible maximum sentence under the old law was 9 months in prison. Under the recently enacted law, the possible sentence jumps to 6 years. The new law makes it a felony to cause a death by vehicle while knowingly driving without a license. The new law also bumps up the punishment for causing serious injury on the road while knowingly driving without a license. That charge will now carry a possible 3 and ½ year prison term.
Everyone, however, is not as excited about the new law as the legislature and the governor. Torres-Bisarraga’s lawyer does not think that the change is a good idea. His problem with the new law is that it has no regard for which driver caused the accident. He is reported as saying, “I could fail to pay some parking tickets, have my license suspended and, through no fault of mine, be looking at a felony… It could be the other person’s fault, 100 percent.”
He believes that the status of a driver’s license should not determine whether one of the drivers should be charged with a felony or misdemeanor. The felony/misdemeanor determination should be based on which one of the drivers caused the accident and whether the accident could have been prevented had the one who caused the accident taken a different course of action.
On the other side of this debate are the legislature and the district attorney who believe the law is what is best for the state which has a compelling interest in protecting its highways. The District Attorney conceded that the new law might amount to putting a bandage on a broken arm, but says that the new law is important because it sends a message to drivers about how serious the state is regarding its license requirements.
The passage of this new law demonstrates the changing legal landscape in Wisconsin. Sometimes a simple car accident may lead to more serious consequences, especially now that Wisconsin is cracking down on unlicensed drivers. As the law continues to change, those who are not familiar with it would be wise to contact someone who is skilled in the area. The attorneys at the Groth Law Firm, S.C. will be happy to advise you on your best course of action should you find yourself in a similar situation.