District Court Judge Mike Salvagni sentenced Daniel Richard Hutchison, 54, to five years in prison with two suspended Thursday for his fifth driving under the influence conviction.
As Salvagni noted from the bench, Hutchison has a long and troubled history with alcohol and driving that stretches back to at least 1985, when he received his first DUI conviction. Since that time, Hutchison has been charged eight times with DUI and has completed various treatment programs, including those offered through Connections Corrections and the Montana Chemical Dependency Center.
After receiving his fourth overall DUI conviction and first felony DUI conviction in 2011, Hutchison completed the WATCh program in Warm Springs, which provides long-term chemical dependency treatment for felony DUI offenders. In court, Hutchison said he maintained his sobriety for three years after leaving WATCh only to begin drinking again in February 2017. A year later, he was picked up on the charge he was sentenced for Thursday.
Citing this “up-and-down roller coaster” pattern of sobriety and relapse, Salvagni said he’d entered court inclined to impose a harsher sentence than the one outlined in the plea agreement recommended by prosecutors.
But after allowing Hutchison to speak in court and hearing his admission of guilt, his desire “to get control of his life,” and his track record of achieving sobriety for lengthy periods of time, Salvagni ultimately imposed the recommended three-year sentence.
While Salvagni recommended that Hutchison be placed in WATCh for a second time, he acknowledged that the department might not accept that recommendation. But noting recent reporting that WATCh is below capacity, Salvagni said the DOC will “put him wherever they want to put him.”
Before releasing him into the custody of a county detention center officer, Salvagni urged Hutchinson to join and stick with community treatment programs over the long term after he completes his prison sentence.
“It’s obvious he isn’t going to do this (maintain sobriety) on his own,” Salvagni said from the bench.