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April 25, 2010

Tough in juves, but very soft on repeat drunk drivers in Florida

If one only follows the docket of the Supreme Court, where the Justices are now considering the constitutionality of two Florida life without parole sentences for teenagers who did not kill, one might think that Florida is the toughest sentencing state in the nation.  But as documented by this local article, which is headlined Lee "County drunken drivers get plenty of shots: Repeat offenders are undeterred," even recidivist drunk drivers get mere slaps on the wrist in Florida.  Here are some of the details:

The penalties for being convicted of driving under the influence has not stopped almost 10,000 Lee County motorists from committing the crime twice or more. Some were so undeterred, they drove drunk again the same year they were convicted of an earlier DUI charge.

In 2009, 24 drunken or high drivers were convicted, then arrested for another DUI — some within a week of each other. Two others picked up their 10th DUI charge last year.

The number of repeat drunken drivers worries local judges and prosecutors, but sentences focus on rehabilitation and prevention instead of lengthy jail time. That likely won’t change soon. Any proposal that would send more people to jail or prison would probably be rejected in the Legislature because of budgetary concerns, one state senator said.

“Any bill that has a fiscal impact — more prison beds — is dead on arrival,” said Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres. “If you tighten the penalties, it won’t go through.”...

Some believe rehabilitation and treatment are key to addressing substance abuse. Incarceration is guaranteed to keep drunken drivers off the streets and the Lee County Jail offers substance abuse programs, but being locked up may not address inmates’ alcohol dependency.

A study of 353 DUI court defendants by The Century Council, a nonprofit anti-drunken driving organization, revealed 80 percent said they believe more severe sanctions for their first drunken-driving conviction would have prevented subsequent arrests and convictions.

Lee County judges John Duryea Jr. and James Adams said they recognize letting off a defendant with a light sentence could lead to them being back on the road, possibly endangering others.

In Lee County last year, alcohol was involved in 611 crashes and 21 traffic fatalities, according to preliminary statistics from the Florida Highway Patrol. From 2004 to 2008, an average of more than 22,000 alcohol-related crashes were reported statewide, while about 1,100 people die in alcohol-related accidents each year in Florida.

Florida legislators have changed the law year after year, Duryea said, by doubling and tripling fines, making probation mandatory and lowering the requirement of the ignition interlock device — a device that requires a sober person to blow in order to start a vehicle — from a blood-alcohol level of .20 to .15 on first offense.  The device is required for those convicted of two or more DUIs.

“They’ve probably significantly changed that statute every year since I’ve been a judge,” Duryea said. “I think the trend is to get harder penalties, absolutely.”

Of the 24 convictions of three-time offenders in 2009, 19 were charged with felonies. Eighteen of the 24 were convicted as charged, instead of a lesser charge, and the average stay behind bars was a little more than four months. Two who were charged with misdemeanors weren’t sentenced to any incarceration.

I am pleased to learn that Florida is getting tougher on drunk drivers and that ignition interlock devices are to be used more.  But the contrast here to Florida's tough treatment of juvenile offenders still sticks in my mind.  I am certain that teenagers do not kill 1,100 people each year in Florida, and I would bet they do not even kill more than 100 people each year.  And yet Florida is eager to defend its authority to lock up certain kids and throw away the key at the same time that they keep giving the keys back to drunk drivers who pose a much larger threat to innocent life.

April 25, 2010 at 09:09 AM | Permalink

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I dont get it. I hate when some crimes that are potentially violent and are done by adults, are treated at much lower standards, then crimes committed by juveniles. Just because a juvenile makes a parole violation doesn't qualify him to life.

Posted by: N/A | Apr 25, 2010 11:32:11 AM

The survey of recidivists with DWIs misses a key component: They should also survey the much larger list of one-time DWI defendants who never recidivated to find out their perception of the role of their sentence in their rehabilitation. Recidivists by definition will fall into high-risk categories and harsher sentences may not be equally effective for lower risk categories (as per Latessa, etc.)

Also, I'm generally skeptical of data such as that presented here including the term "alcohol related" instead of just looking at accidents CAUSED by impaired drivers. Those "alcohol related" data include wrecks where drunk pedestrians were hit by sober drivers, where BAC was below legal limits and where sober drivers caused the accidents.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 25, 2010 11:40:43 AM

If you stop and test all drivers in the afternoon, about 10% are legally drunk. Most get there intact. Most accidents are now seen as outcomes of clusters of factors, often 12. If you prevent any one of them, there is no accident. The lawyer is still thinking along the lines of chains of causation, when the problem is the clustering of factor. Why do most of the drunk drivers cause no harm? They are not aggressive. Indeed slow driving is a well known sign to state troopers of intoxication.

The second problem is the money addiction of the local authorities to drunk driving, a huge revenue generator. These are criminal violations. The defendant is presumed innocent, and the burden on the prosecutor is beyond a reasonable doubt. The potential for abuse is enhanced by the money. That is inherent, irremediable conflict of interest, to tie revenue to guilty pleas. The motivation will be to plea bargain, and to resist to the utmost any defendant wanting a trial. In a local county, the penalties included $1000's for fees, the lease of the police car during the stop, the use of equipment, police salaries, court fees. This was for out of county residents. A federal court struck these down, eventually. The point is that abuse is more the rule, less the exception.

If these corrupt aspects of DWI laws could be addressed and remedied, I could agree that the book should be thrown at drunk drivers.

Adolescents are less experienced adults. A sixty year old is more mature than a 40 year old, why not 60 as the age of majority? Eighteen is arbitrary, not marked by any biological landmark, and until 100 years ago, was considered old.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 25, 2010 2:33:14 PM

i agree. maybe if we use the same rules we now use for sex offences for DUI we'd ACTUALALLY accomplish someting real unlike with sex offenders.

since last time i looked drunk drivers kill enough people to fill a mid sized CITY 45,000-55,000 PEOPLE A YEAR.

as for not having enough beds well again we come back to harassing and persecuting individisuals who have not had any new crime in 10-20-30 YEARS.... well if we stop making up crimes for those people adn filling the prisons with them we'd have room for the idiots who manage to get a NEW REAL crime a week after being let off the first one!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 25, 2010 6:31:51 PM

Rod, your numbers are way off - according to NHTSA, there were 11,773 alcohol related traffic fatalities in 2008 - 8,027 of those were the drunk drivers themselves. (And of course, NHTSA reminds us that "The term 'alcohol-impaired' does not indicate that a crash or a fatality was caused by alcohol impairment.") The total number of US auto accident deaths of all types in 2008 was 37,261. You might be remembering some "all accidents" stat from decades ago, but the data you put forth aren't remotely accurate, even if putting them in all caps MAKES THEM SEEM REALLY ALARMING.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 26, 2010 6:34:22 AM

The drop in the crash death rate comes from safety technology, but mostly from better trauma care, much of it learned at war.

It does not come from draconian laws. Those have safety as a pretext, but revenue raising as the real result. Revenue raising is an immoral and unlawful purpose of the court. These bogus courts are front organizations to raise taxes without having to legislate them and answer to the public. As stated above, the blood alcohol level is a weak factor in crashes. It becomes dangerous when combined with aggressiveness.

Being 16 increases the chance of a crash 10 fold. If your yearbook was like mine, it had the pics of the kids that did not make it on the last page. In a big high school, there might be seven pictures. One kid died of cancer. The rest are always from a car crash, often with 3 or 4 in a single car, driven too aggressively by a teen, sober or drunk.

In the case of Florida, there is a symmetrical spike in crashes at the old age range. Florida is also too soft on impaired old, old drivers. The number of deaths from car crashes may be triple those from murder. These deaths from murder and crashes do share a high fraction of legal intoxication and aggressiveness of behavior in both murderers and in murder victims.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 26, 2010 7:02:02 AM

Ironically, your average adult first-time DUI offender is probably much more deterrable (i.e., aware of of, concerned about, and able effectively to evaluate the consequences of breaking the law) than your average 15- or 16-year-old.

Posted by: Observer | Apr 26, 2010 9:44:10 AM

ok grits let's take your numbers

"Rod, your numbers are way off - according to NHTSA, there were 11,773 alcohol related traffic fatalities in 2008 - 8,027 of those were the drunk drivers themselves. (And of course, NHTSA reminds us that "The term 'alcohol-impaired' does not indicate that a crash or a fatality was caused by alcohol impairment.") The total number of US auto accident deaths of all types in 2008 was 37,261. You might be remembering some "all accidents" stat from decades ago, but the data you put forth aren't remotely accurate, even if putting them in all caps MAKES THEM SEEM REALLY ALARMING."

11,773 individuals any guess what percentage of thoat were children? that is still 1000% if not more children killed by drunks than sex offenders. Therefore if the excuse that sex offenders are so so SO dangerous we need to track eveyr move they make 24/7 THE REST OF THEIR LIVES....where are the same 1 strike your OUT laws for DUI! Where are the registry's for drunks also the residence and working restrictions? of course theirs should be reversed They should be required to live no FARTEHR than 1,000 from a bar or liquor store so they have no reaosn to get into a car and kill people!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 26, 2010 7:39:52 PM

On the number of children, from the same NHTSA report I linked to earlier, "In 2008, a total of 1,347 children age 14 and younger were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes. Of those 1,347 fatalities, 216 (16%) occurred in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes." Another 34 kids were pedestrians hit by drunks.

I agree 250 kids nationwide is a significant number, but is it really "1000% more" than the number killed by sex offenders? That would mean sex offenders kill 25 kids or less per year. Maybe that's accurate, I don't know the data. I only pointed out that you're dramatically overstating the problem when you falsely bloviate that "drunk drivers kill enough people to fill a mid sized CITY 45,000-55,000 PEOPLE A YEAR."

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 27, 2010 8:43:27 AM

One more bit of context: By comparison to the 250 kids killed in 2008 by drunk drivers, according to the CDC 756 children aged 1-14 were murdered in 2006, the last year for which they have records. (Go here for data.) Not all of those, of course, were sexual assaults, but I find zero support for your contention that drunk driving is killing 1000% more kids than predators assaulting them. Strictly by the numbers, the latter is a more common problem.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 27, 2010 9:15:09 AM

Grits: How did you embed a link in your writing?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 27, 2010 9:18:54 AM

Just regular html code. Google "html code for links" and you'll find it pretty quick.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 27, 2010 11:55:51 AM

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