Sixth DUI equals 10 years probation for Aspen woman
January 17, 2017
A 58-year-old longtime local woman was sentenced to 10 years' probation Tuesday after pleading guilty to DUI for the sixth time.
Karen Sahr also will have to serve 90 days in jail — though she will be allowed to leave during the day to go to work — and must successfully complete the curriculum in a special court for DUI offenders as well as 48 hours of community service, said District Judge Chris Seldin.
"Alcohol can be a disease felt by the entire community," Seldin said. "This is the only way to give the community assurance that you will not fall off the wagon without us knowing about it."
Prosecutor Sarah Oszczakiewicz lobbied Seldin to send Sahr to prison for two years, though she could have asked for as many as six years. Sahr was sentenced to probation in her previous five DUI cases and was, in fact, on probation in August when she was arrested for her sixth, she said.
In addition, Sahr has been to alcohol treatment four times, Oszczakiewicz said.
"It's not fair to just go to treatment, then walk away from any penalties," she said. "This is a sixth offense.
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"What will it take for Ms. Sahr to know that she's putting everyone in this community at risk?"
Previous reports about Sahr's case quoted a former prosecutor as saying her August arrest was her fifth DUI, though prior newspaper reports about her history indicated it was her sixth.
In a pre-sentence report written for Seldin, probation officer Shawn Brown recommended a four-year probation sentence for Sahr, said Oszczakiewicz, who wondered aloud in court about the justification for the recommendation.
Brown, who also was in court Tuesday, told the judge that the number of DUIs a person has received is not the only factor in his recommendation. He also said that prison doesn't work to rehabilitate alcoholics because it offers no opportunities for recovery.
However, the primary reason Brown said he recommended the four-year probation sentence was because he knows Sahr from previous probationary stints and that she hasn't had the opportunity to attend the Pitkin County Recovery Court. That court, which is supervised by Seldin, offers drug and alcohol addicts as well as defendants with mental health issues opportunities to get a handle on their lives through a special curriculum.
Richard Nedlin, Sahr's attorney, also lobbied against a prison term for his client.
"Prison will only destroy Ms. Sahr," he said, noting that she's lived in Aspen for the past 25 years. "It will essentially ruin her life."
Sahr told the judge that her latest DUI was a wake-up call that drove home the point that she needs constant support to keep her alcohol addiction at bay. She admitted that previously she would quit drinking, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for awhile, and then slack off.
Now, after a recent stint at a Minnesota treatment facility, Sahr said she understands she depth of her addiction.
"There's a huge difference between not drinking and being sober," she said. "I can't stay sober without a support system. It is literally a lifeline for me."
Seldin said Oszczakiewicz made a "very persuasive argument" for him to impose prison time on Sahr. He said punishment was an appropriate remedy for a person who's racked up six DUIs, likening her actions to a drunk person going to a shooting range.
However, Seldin said he decided to lean toward the probation officer's recommendation because Brown knows Sahr best. Also, he said the Recovery Court is an effective tool to loosen the tenacious grip of alcohol on Sahr's life. Seldin also imposed a suspended, three-year prison sentence on Sahr. That means that if she violates the terms of her sentence, she can be sent to prison for that period of time.
Sahr is scheduled to begin serving her 90-day jail sentence at the Pitkin County Jail on Friday.