Santa has gone home and the champagne corks popped on New Year's Eve have been swept away. Now is the season for drunken drivers caught tipsy at the wheel to face the music. But no one is likely to be contemplating a punishment as novel - or convenient - as the one handed down to Dennis Cayse.
Mr Cayse, 50, a self-professed alcoholic from Cincinnati, Ohio, has been charged 24 times under the state's drunken-driving laws since 1971. He has been to prison twice and his driving licence was permanently revoked years ago. Three weeks ago, however, he was hauled over once again, happily driving his wife through the countryside. And he was way over the legal limit.
In delivering a sentence that has enraged anti-drunken driving groups around the country, Judge James Hapner, who has dealt with Mr Cayse on several occasions, offered this solution. Mr Cayse must move to within "easy walking distance" of a liquor store. If he fails to comply within 30 days, then he will be sent to jail for one-and-a-half years.
"He doesn't deny he's an alcoholic, he just doesn't see that as a problem," the judge said, after issuing his ruling. "It's my hope that he'll walk to get his beer and wine. Whether it will work or not, I don't know."
It was partly the track record of Mr Cayse that prompted the state of Ohio two years ago to pass a new law, making Driving Under the Influence (DUI) a felony punishable with prison. Until then, judges were unable to incarcerate repeat offenders.
Local police apparently agree that the judge was at the end of the road in finding new ways to handle Mr Cayse. Saying he had no problem with the sentence, Sheriff's Lieutenant Ronald Ward said: "I have known Dennis for a long time, and I've never seen him sober, except when he was in jail".
There are other provisions in the sentence. In addition to having to move house, Mr Cayse was ordered to spend the first week of every year in prison for the next five years. He was due to begin the first of those seven-day sentences yesterday.
Moreover, Judge Hapner ruled that Mr Cayse must be handcuffed to the passenger-side door whenever he rides in a car. Failing that, there must be a passenger sitting between him and the driver. How these arrangements will be policed was not made clear.
Celeste Teresh, the state president of Ohio's chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (Madd), was less than impressed. "Mr Cayse is a multiple offender and telling to move next to a liquor store is not going to solve the problem," she said yesterday. "It is time to rethink the judicial system on this."
"Easy walking distance", by the way, was carefully defined by Judge Hapner. In a country area it must be three-eighths of a mile or less, while in an urban area half a mile or less would satisfy him. Mr Cayse has made no comment.
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