Police stopped 54-year-old Bobby Stovall who was weaving dangerously and erratically through several lanes of traffic in his pickup truck before striking another vehicle and injuring the driver. At the time of the incident, Stovall had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .32—four times the legal limit. Not only was Stovall responsible for this accident, the judge discovered that the defendant had eight previous DWI convictions in several different Texas jurisdictions. Consequently, Stovall was given a life sentence.
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley said that Stovall was an individual who deliberately refused to change his destructive behavior and it was critical to remove him from the streets before he actually killed someone.
In addition to his multiple DWI convictions, Stovall had also been convicted of burglary, credit card fraud, and providing alcohol to a minor. Bradley argued that Stovall’s utter lack of regard for the law and public safety over the past twenty years necessitated the harsh sentence.
As would be expected, many people believed the penalty was too harsh and that the judge should have considered Stovall’s alcoholism. They claim that his disease overrides any malice or intent to harm others. DWI attorney and author of Drunk Driving Defense Lawrence Taylor stated that he hoped “the days are past where we think alcoholism is something you choose” and that the judge should have demonstrated more compassion and sentenced Stovall to rehabilitation rather than “ending his life.”
In rebuttal, Bradley asserted that it is far better to incarcerate people like Stovall and not give him another chance to possibly hurt—or kill—another person in the future. Bradley further stated that it should not take nine arrests and eight convictions and punishments for the same offense for someone to realize that he should not drink and drive—and that it is essentially a cop-out to focus on Stovall’s alleged alcoholism instead of the actual crimes. He says, “It’s a huge social excuse for dangerous conduct.”
Williamson County has little tolerance for repeat violent and other offenders, with approximately two people each year receiving rather harsh sentences for repeat DWI convictions. The point of the criminal justice system is to prevent crime and protect citizens and society. Thus, Williamson County boasts one of the lowest crime rates in other Texas counties of comparable size.
A Growing Trend
Stovall isn’t the only repeat DWI offender to receive a life sentence. In Montgomery County, TX, 63-year-old Joe Ford Woods, Jr. was given a life sentence following a conviction for his 12th DWI that occurred when he crashed his vehicle into a stop sign near a local elementary school while driving with a BAC of nearly .27 and on parole after serving the remainder of his 20-year sentence behind bars. 62-year-old Ivy Ray Eberhardt was sentenced to life in prison in Texas after being caught with a BAC of over four times the legal limit after having removed his electronic ankle monitor while free on bail. The latest was his 12th DWI. And the list goes on and on.
In Texas, repeat DWI offenders account for nearly five percent of all state prison inmates—currently over 6,600 inmates, at staggering costs to taxpayers. According to the Texas Department of Corrections, 22 percent of repeat DWI offenders receive sentences for periods longer than ten years, with several hundred exceeding 40 years, and 34 of them serving life sentences.
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