Is Life Sentence Too Harsh For Man Convicted of Ninth DWI?

DA says man's punishment is just because he was a repeat offender.

Aug. 13, 2010 — -- The ninth conviction was the breaking point for one Texas judge who earlier this week sentenced a habitual drunken driver to life in prison.

Bobby Stovall, 54, was driving his truck in Round Rock, Texas, in early July when he weaved through several lanes of traffic and hit another vehicle, injuring the driver. It was later determined that Stovall had a blood alcohol concentration of .32, four times the legal limit in Texas.

And while that DWI was certainly enough to get Stovall in trouble with the law, when the judge found out the defendant had eight prior DWI convictions across several different counties in Texas, he ordered up a life sentence for Stovall.

"This is someone who very deliberately has refused to make changes and continued to get drunk and get in a car and before he kills someone we decided to put him away," said Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley.

Bradley said that in addition to the multiple DWI convictions , Stovall also had a extensive rap sheet for other crimes, including burglary, credit card abuse and supplying alcohol to a minor.

"He basically walked through the penal code for the past twenty years without any regard for safety or society," said Bradley. "In every single one of his cases he had an opportunity to change."

But some argue that Stovall's sentence was too harsh and that the court should have considered his struggle with alcoholism.

"This guy has a disease, he is an alcoholic and this isn't the kind of situation where he's acting with malice to hurt people," said Lawrence Taylor, a DUI lawyer and author of "Drunk Driving Defense."

"He has a serious problem and I hope the days are past where we think alcoholism is something you choose," said Taylor.

Taylor said that he does not agree with the judge's sentencing of Stovall and would have preferred more "rehabilitation" than "ending his life."

"You're essentially doing just that, ending this man's life, at the expense of taxpayers," he said.

But Bradley says that it's better to lock up a man like Stovall -- and prevent him from hurting someone in the future -- than give him yet another chance.

"I think that the ninth time you get caught and punished for [drunken driving] you would have found some way of not getting in that car," said Bradley.

"It's a big dodge to focus on the disease and not the crime," said Bradley. "It's a huge social excuse for dangerous conduct."

Williamson County, Bradley said, has long had a reputation for handing down harsh sentences to those who commit violent felonies or who are repeat offenders.

About two people per year receive sentences for repeat drunk driving convictions, said Bradley.

"The point is to prevent crimes," said Bradley, who added that the county boasts one of the lowest crime rates compared to other Texas counties of similar size.

"If this guy was using a shotgun to shoot lights randomly around his neighborhood I doubt we'd be [getting criticized] for the sentencing," he said. "In this case he's simply using his truck as his weapon."

Stovall would be eligible for parole in five years, but depending on his conduct in prison and other factors, that could be as long as 10 to 15 years.

A phone message left with Stovall's lawyer wasn't immediatley returned.