Judge Dreyfus Gets Religion
Metaphorically speaking, Waukesha County Circuit Judge Lee Dreyfus Jr. seems to have found religion.
Judge Dreyfus is the judge who, after sentencing, gave mulitple convicted drunk driver Mark Benson a couple of weeks to report to the Waukesha County Jail to begin serving his work release sentence. Two days later, Benson got behind the wheel of a car and killed a pregnant woman and her ten year old daughter. If Benson had been required to begin serving his sentence immediately, there is a good chance that these deaths would not have occurred.
In any event, this week Judge Dreyfus announced that, effective immediately, drunken drivers appearing before him will most likely not be given time to report to the Huber jail to begin serving their sentences. While the judge denies it, it's impossible to believe that this change in policy is not at least partially in response to the stinging criticism that Dreyfus has received from his handling of the Benson case. Whatever the reason though, it's a good first step.
Another interesting (and positive ) thing happened in Judge Dreyfus' courtroom this week as well.
Between November of 2006 and March of 2007, a then 20 year old self-proclaimed crack user named Matthew Baker went on a spree of robberies and burglaries throughout Waukesha County. In one case Baker, wearing a ski mask, stuck what appeared to be a handgun at the head a bartender at the Wonderland Tap in Pewaukee and made her empty the cash register. He did the same thing with a woman working behind the counter at a Wendy's restaurant in Waukesha.
It later turned out that the gun was fake - although Baker's victims never knew this.
At Baker's sentencing hearing this week, the Waukesha District Attorney's Office recommended that Baker serve one year in jail and be placed on probation for a period of ten years. One year in jail!
Rejecting the completely ridiculous recommendation, Judge Dreyfus sentenced Baker to ten years in prison. According to Dreyfus, "When someone puts a gun to somebody's head and robs them, they are going to go to prison. It's that simple."
It really should be that simple. Unfortunately, it's often not.
As an aside, what in the world could the Waukesha DA's Office have been thinking? DA Brad Schimel didn't personally handle this case but one would hope that he'd know enough about what's going on in his office to squash absurd sentencing recommendations like this one.
Sentencing recommendations notwithstanding, I can't help but think that the Benson case has caused Judge Dreyfus to re-evaluate the way he treats convicted criminals who appear before him. Moving forward, this may be a good thing. To the extent it encourages other judges to get a little bit of religion themselves when it comes to imposing sentences, I think it will be a great thing!