updated 12/21/2004 6:04:59 PM ET 2004-12-21T23:04:59

A Nebraska appeals court upheld with “great trepidation” Tuesday a probation sentence given to a man with 11 drunken driving convictions.

The Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Melvin Rice of Sioux City, Iowa, who was sentenced to three years of probation last year after a plea bargain reduced a 12th DUI charge against him to driving while his license was revoked.

A deputy sheriff said that Rice, 67, was so drunk he could hardly stand when he was pulled over in August 2003. His blood-alcohol level was .307 percent — nearly four times the legal limit.

District Judge Maurice Redmond waived a jail sentence of six months and instead fined Rice $1,000, revoked his license for 15 years, and ordered him to not drink, perform 200 hours of community service and complete alcohol treatment.

Prosecutor Edward H. Matney appealed, saying the sentence was too lenient. Rice was convicted of drunken driving in California in 1972; in California and Nevada in 1977; and in Nebraska four times in 1984 and in 1990, 1992, 1996 and 2002.

Appeals Judge Richard Sievers said: “While we do so with great trepidation, we affirm the sentence of probation.”

Sievers said that there was no indication that the judge overstepped his authority. He acknowledged the possibility of Rice getting into a “horrific motor vehicle accident,” but added: “We think that the chance of a horrific accident is more likely if he simply serves a 12- or 18-month term in the penitentiary and then walks away without continuing treatment.”

Matney said he may appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

“Melvin Rice represents a grave threat to public safety,” Matney said.

Rice’s lawyer, Scott Dugan, did not immediately return a call for comment.

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