King County prosecutor charging man with 11th DUI pushes for tougher repeat offender laws
SEATTLE - After seventeen years prosecuting felony traffic cases, Amy Freedheim is upfront about driving under the influence
“They are the most dangerous people in our community,” King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Freedheim said. “It impacts everyone.”
Now she is charging 59-year-old Dean Hermsen with his 11th DUI and third Felony DUI. In the probable cause document for his case, she writes, “He simply cannot refrain from becoming impaired and driving. He is a grave danger to the community and to himself.”
Freedheim helped convict Hermsen with felony DUI in 2010 and 2013. He has spent about six of the past seven years in prison as a result. But, once again he is charged with DUI.
Washington State Troopers say last Friday he pulled up to a scene noticeably drunk, and failed a subsequent field sobriety test. He is charged with Felony DUI, Driving With A Suspended License, and Violation of Ignition Interlock.
“At some point you do incarcerate the person because they are a danger to the community,” Freedheim said.
Freedheim says she was part of the fight to create a Felony DUI law in 2007. Six years later, she fought to raise it to a Class B felony, bringing with it a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
She used Hermsen’s case as an example when she testified in front of the legislature. That passed in 2016. As a result, Hermsen could face up to a decade in prison for his current charges.
Freedheim says long-term changes are still needed to handle repeat drunk driving, starting in the legislature.
Washington is the only state where it takes five DUI convictions for a felony (all within 10 years), but Senate Bill 5037 could lower it to four.
Freedeim hopes it passes.
“It sends a message, to the community at large, that we take these crimes seriously,” she said, adding that it would get repeat offenders into mandatory treatment and more intense monitoring quicker.
The King County Prosecutor’s Office, she says, is also considering implementing a DUI Court – a therapeutic court that gives repeat offenders specialized treatment instead of just jail time.
Washington’s Traffic Safety Commission says DUI Court has tremendous results but only four counties in Washington have one, largely because of the cost; King County doesn’t.
“In the long run, because of the lower recidivism rate you end up saving money, but you don’t see those savings,” Freedheim said.
She says there are hurdles. The program would be for misdemeanor offenders, and would not affect felons. And it would likely be a voluntary program. But, it would offer treatments to repeat offenders before they become felons.