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October 21, 2007

An unexpected sentencing windfall for drunk drivers

This local article from Alabama spotlights a new troublesome flaw in the state's sentencing laws for drunk drivers.  Here is how the article begins:

An unintended change in the state’s drunk driving law will mean lighter sentences for some of the worst violators of the law.  State lawmakers were trying to strengthen the state law on driving under the influence of alcohol when they amended it in 2006.  Their goal was to let prosecutors and judges consider previous out-of-state DUI convictions when charging or sentencing.  But the amendment prevents prosecutors and judges from considering all prior DUI convictions and limits them to considering only convictions that go back five years.

As I have explained in prior posts, I always find troubling and telling that the harms and risks posed by drunk drivers are rarely treated as seriously as those posed by other types of offenders.  Against this backdrop, it is amazing to see drunk drivers also getting a break from a legal loophole.

Some related posts on drunk driving sentencing:

October 21, 2007 at 01:42 PM | Permalink


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Let’s be real here. While it is very popular to say that DUI is a terrible crime and all, in the grand scheme of things, drunk drivers are our friends and neighbors and enforcement is necessarily selective and hit-or-miss. Therefore, unduly harsh sentences are not as popular in practice.

Posted by: S.cotus | Oct 21, 2007 5:22:11 PM

Of course the same could be said for drug users and dealers; that hasn't prevented unduly harsh sentences. And those (ineffective) laws have been around much longer than enhanced penalties for repeat DUI offenders.

On the other hand, I cannot agree with any comparison to penalties for sex offenses or any crime that involves actual victims. A DUI is just that; it does not involve any victim. It is a legislative judgement that a person with a BAC of .08 or higher is a risk to the public when they drive. And that legislative judgement, while squeezing by rational basis, is not necessarily true for any given individual.

Personally, I think are DUI laws have gone overboard in the last ten years or so, particularly "zero tolerance" laws for "minors." Thirty years ago the police officer would have just taken you home; today in CA you can face mandatory minimums just for driving on a license suspended for having a DUI.

Posted by: Alec | Oct 21, 2007 7:51:27 PM

Drunk Driving will continue because of the revenue. I have done a lot of research on drunk driving and why it continues.My web site is www.freewebs.com/edlind12/ this is just part of my story and findings. Below

My Name is Ed and I lost my only grand-daughter back on March 17,2006 just to another drunk driver here in the United States. Megan was only 5 years of age and she was riding in the back of a van that was driven by my wife. I 'am sure that it could have been worse seeing that also in the van was one of my grand-sons and his name is Chad and my mother-in-law Laura.

They were on their way to church and to a A.W.A.N.A. program and were almost in our churches driveway when the van was slammed in the rear by the drunk driver. he was going at a speed of around 75 to 80 miles an hour and he just passed another vehicle on the road before he met my wife. After hitting the van the drunk driver got out of his truck and took a look around to see all the carnage that he just made and got back in his truck and took off. Leaving all my family for dead, he was not apprehended until 4 or 4:30 a.m. the next morning, and the accident happened at 7:oop.m. Friday night. My wife had 7 or 8 staples put in her head to close a gaping wound and she was knocked out from the impact. And upon awakening she heard her mother screaming outside the van and my wife saw that she was holding Chad and my mother-in-law thought my wife was dead when she saw the blood on her face. My mother-in-law told my wife that she could not find Megan and my wife could not get her drivers door open. She crawled across the seat and came out the passengers side. She found Megan under the van and grabbed her from there. Megan was alive and she was conscious. My wife saw that her leg was mangled and there was not a bruise or a scratch on her face. No marks on her upper body were present. Megan spoke to her and said grammy I 'am sorry that I might have soiled my pants. My wife held her in her arms sitting on the bank waiting for help to come and told Megan that it was all right. Her other grand-father raced down the church driveway after hearing someone got struck at the driveway. He knew from the description of what the church member gave him that it was Megan and his son's van. He was by their side in seconds as he leaned down to talk to Megan. She replied back to him but he did not hear what she said. The ambulance came and the medi-vac helicopter was sent also and my grand-daughter spoke her last words to her grand-mother my wife. Grammy I Can Not Breathe. She had died in the helicopter on her way to the hospital.

Posted by: Edwin I. Lindsey Jr | Oct 27, 2007 7:26:34 PM

Drunk driving. Dwi and dui. A license to drink.
Madd, sadd, radd, A.A., and alanon/al-anon related.

Copyright: 1987-2007 � Bruce Alm. Documentation is available upon request.

The answer to the problem of drunk driving, etc. could be this; a permit for the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages.

This would not only be a major assault on the problem of drunk driving, but would also have an effect on virtually all other crimes such as these;
murder, rape, assault, burglary, robbery, suicide, vandalism, wife beating, child beating, child molestation, the spread of aids, college binge drinking, animal cruelty, etc., the list is endless.

If this proposition was made law, there could be a major reduction in all these areas of concern, even though the emphasis concerning alcohol abuse seems to be drunk driving in particular.

There could also be many other positive results;

Families healed, better work performance, booze money spent on products that would help the economy (we've all heard of the guy who spends half his check in the bar on payday,) would spare many health problems, etc.

This new law could go something like this:

Any person found guilty of any crime where drinking was a factor would lose the right to purchase and/or consume alcoholic beverages.

For a first misdemeanor, a three year revocation. a second misdemeanor, a ten year revocation. a third misdemeanor, a lifetime revocation. Any felony crime, an automatic lifetime revocation.
Anyone caught drinking alcohol without a permit would receive a possible $1000 fine and/or jail sentence. those who would supply alcohol to people without a drinking permit (and possibly make money at it) would also lose his/her right to purchase alcoholic beverages.

What wife or husband would buy an alcoholic spouse a bottle?

What friend would give a problem drinker a drink at the possible cost of a thousand bucks and the loss of their own privilege? This could be a total discouragement to these would-be pushers.

This permit doesn't seem as though it would be a problem to put into effect. It could simply be a large X, (or whatever,) on the back of any driver's license in any state, to show who has been revoked, and cannot purchase alcohol.

Most people of drinking age have a driver's license, but one area that might be a problem could be New York City, where many people don't drive. This problem could be resolved, however, by a license-type ID specifically for the purchase of alcoholic beverages. All states have these already for the purpose of identification.

This would be a small price to pay for the saved lives of thousands of Americans each and every year.

After this, it would simply be a matter of drinking establishments checking ID's at the time of purchase.
In the case of crowded bars, they could simply check ID's at the door, as they do now.

Would this be a violation of rights?

There can be no argument here since they already check IDs of people who look as though they may not be old enough to drink.

This could be a good saying, "If a person who doesn't know how to drive shouldn't have a license to drive, a person who doesn't know how to drink shouldn't have a license to drink."

Here are some other pluses to this idea:

A good percentage of people in correctional institutions are there because of alcohol related offences . Because of this, court, penal, and law enforcement costs could drop dramatically. The need for A.A., alanon, madd, sadd, etc., could be greatly diminished as well.

What the alcoholic fears most, is the temptation to have that first drink, usually a spur of the moment type thing. Without the ability to do this, he/she is fairly safe. To start drinking again would almost have to be planned in advance, and to maintain steady drinking would be extremely difficult in most cases.

Even though A.A. members as a group don't become involved in political movements, it would seem as individuals they would all be in favor of a situation like this. Any person who wants to quit drinking, even if never having been in trouble with the law, could simply turn in their license for the non-drinking type.

A woman from MADD, on the NBC TODAY show, said "One out of every ten Americans has a drinking problem, and that 10% consumes 60% of all alcoholic beverages sold in the U.S." If this is true, there could be financial problems for breweries, liquor stores, bars, rehab centers, etc., as well as lawyers, massive amounts of tax revenue 'down the drain,' and so on. But it doesn't seem as though anyone would have a valid argument against a proposal such as this for financial reasons. To do so would be morally wrong, and could be likened to a drug-pusher attitude.

Even with the problems this new law could present, it still could, in one sense, be considered the simple solution to the number one drug problem in the U.S. and elsewhere. Alcoholism.


What ever happened to the skid row drunk?

Please note:
There is no correlation in the above article to the advocacy of prohibition, which was as much of a worthless fiasco as the "war on drugs" is today, for all the same reasons. The email criticism has mostly been "prohibition didn't work," even though the word "prohibition" has not been mentioned until now.
The argument would therefore have to be more compared as to whether or not there should be a law for people to have a driver's license to drive, rather than as to whether or not motor vehicles should be legal, or illegal.
These are separate issues altogether, and no connection should be made between the two.
Please send this article to as many people as you can think of, who might be interested. Alcohol is the worst drug there is, even though they always say "drugs and alcohol" as if alcohol isn't a drug. Care to help out? I have been sending this article to everyone/everyplace I can think of for years now with no luck. But I believe all it will take will be for this idea to become publicly known, and there will be no stopping it.

Posted by: bruce alm | Nov 6, 2007 12:52:31 AM

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In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB