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Repeat DUI offender pleads guilty

Fargo man with nine DUI convictions had been placed in 24/7 Sobriety Program

Slouching in the driver's seat with a strong mixed drink nearby, Lee Alfson weaved between lanes, attracting a police officer's attention.

When the officer pulled him over, Alfson fell out of the vehicle.

He didn't know what time of day it was, but he knew he was drunk.

The 34-year-old Fargo man told the officer he intended to stay that way for the next three days. He was due in drug court for alcohol problems on April 27 and wouldn't be able to drink again anytime soon, he said.

He registered a 0.27 percent blood-alcohol level - just four months after registering a 0.30 percent blood-alcohol level the last time he was arrested for drunken driving.

"Clearly my client does pose a public safety risk and he is a raging alcoholic," Alfson's attorney, Nicholas Thornton, told a judge Thursday after Alfson pleaded guilty to two felony DUI charges. "He needs help."

Thornton argued for a three-year sentence to allow Alfson to complete treatment, saying his client "should be able to dry out when he's in prison."

Prosecutor Cherie Clark asked for five years, rattling off a list of DUI convictions - with the two Thursday bringing the total to nine. In the past seven years, Alfson has been convicted of drunken driving six times.

Alfson was told each time that he needed help, said the assistant Cass County state's attorney.

"He didn't get that help," Clark told East Central Judicial District Court Judge Georgia Dawson.

Alfson had been placed on a program to try to keep him alcohol-free while out on bail, but he failed to do that, too, Clark said.

Under the 24/7 Sobriety Program, individuals submit to alcohol testing twice a day as a condition of pretrial release. In Alfson's case, he submitted to testing once a day.

Alfson showed up drunk three weeks into the program, Clark said.

But that doesn't mean the program failed him, she said.

"This is the exact type of defendant ... that it's necessary for," she said. "Without adequate assurances that they're not out there drinking and driving, they're going to kill somebody. I think it did work to get him to plead and take responsibility sooner."

Alfson apologized Thursday for his actions, saying he is not a daily drinker but his problems with binge drinking have greatly harmed his family.

"I don't want to be putting them or myself through this situation anymore," he said.

Dawson told Alfson his attorney was right to call him a raging alcoholic.

"Any number of people in this community could have been killed," she said.

Dawson then sentenced Alfson to three years in prison on the first DUI charge and five years, all suspended for a period of five years of probation, on the second DUI.

He must also pay $2,500 in fines and fees and abstain from alcohol while on probation. Dawson said the suspended five-year sentence will hang over Alfson's head and give him incentive not to drink.

Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney, a supporter of the 24/7 program he hopes to have in place by year's end, said he was happy with the sentence and its incentive.

"He may not be a violent, gun-wielding, knife-wielding person, but when he gets behind the wheel he's as dangerous," Laney said.