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July 25, 2011

Sentences of a few weeks for drunk driving makes Michigan judge uniquely tough

The Detroit Free Press has this follow-up piece to this prior piece on DUI sentencing disparities headlined "Oakland County judge among toughest in nation on 1st-time drunken driving offenders." Here is how it begins:

Judges, as a rule, don't toss first-time drunken drivers in jail for weeks.  But that rule doesn't apply in the courtroom of 48th District Judge Kimberly Small, who routinely jails such offenders -- often for 14 to 30 days or more -- even when they have relatively low blood-alcohol levels.

Small, who has been on the bench in Oakland County for 15 years, is an anomaly nationwide.  She isn't the only judge who orders jail for drunken drivers, but her sentences are longer.

A Free Press survey of all 50 states found that most judges sentence first-time drunken drivers to time served (from their arrest), work release or a weekend in jail, along with probation and community service.  Some states mandate jail time, but never longer than a few days.

In metro Detroit, a handful of judges order jail time for first-time offenders, particularly those with high levels of alcohol in their blood.  But the sentences almost never stretch into weeks or a month.

Small makes no apologies. "Nobody ever thinks you're going to kill somebody," she told the Free Press.  "To me, it's all about protecting the public."

But Small's critics say her approach is excessive and her sentences aren't an effective deterrent for keeping first-time offenders from repeating their mistake.  "It's so that she can say she's tough on crime," said veteran defense attorney Cyril Hall, who says he will no longer represent clients in Small's courtroom because he can do nothing to help them.

Regular readers know that I worry that drunk driving sentences are too often too lenient for such a dangerous and harmful crime.  In addition, as detailed in some prior posts detailed below, a specific technocorrection, namely ignition locks, may be the most effective and most just response to first drunk driving offenses.

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers and advocacy for ignition locks:

July 25, 2011 at 10:42 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Cognitive dissonance: Sentence are too lenient but ignition interlocks are more "effective and just" than jail time. Huh? Is an ignition interlock harsher than jail time?

Also, it's impractical bordering on absurd to use interlocks on first-time offenders, the vast majority of whom never have another DWI arrest. Interlocks are expensive and require much more oversight by probation officers to do any good, which is more labor intensive and expensive than one might expect. For second offenders up, yes, make them mandatory for Ds who've demonstrated there's an ongoing problem. But using them on the first offense stretches supervision resources beyond the capacity of the system to manage, similar to what's happened with sex offender registries only on an even larger scale. Same goes for GPS anklets. "Technocorrections" cost more than just the technology. They generate data that is only useful to the system if a human being analyzes it and follows up, which requires doing a job that didn't exist before.

I'd like to see a study of recidivism rates among DWIs sentenced by the various tough/lenient judges in Detroit. I'd bet dollars to donuts the "tough" judge's recidivism rate is no lower.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jul 25, 2011 11:18:30 AM

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Posted by: dui defense | Nov 16, 2012 8:17:24 AM

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