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November 3, 2009

Effective commentary complaining about undue leniency for drunk drivers

This column in the Baltimore Sun, which is headlined "Not just 'liberals' to blame for drunk-driving tragedies," echoes the complains I have long had about our collective failure to be more effective in sentencing drunk drivers.  Here are snippets:

Liberal, conservative, moderate — judge, lawyer, defendant or next of kin, or state legislator — it doesn't matter.  When it comes to drunken driving in Maryland, and most of this country, we are almost all enablers.

Here's a number to consider: 25,120. That's the number of Marylanders who had three or more convictions for driving while intoxicated as of April 2008.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving came up with that figure, based on statistics from 20 states and the District of Columbia compiled last year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration....  Assuming most of them still drive — and that's a fairly safe assumption in this state, and one that MADD makes — that's a huge number of potential dangerous encounters for any of the rest of us who drive....

From what I've seen over the years — following drunk-driving and auto manslaughter cases in my own newspaper, and actually sitting in city and suburban courtrooms as defendants appear before judges — coddling of drunken drivers cuts across society.  It has not been liberalism at work in the making of laws and the setting of sentencing guidelines.  If anything, a libertarian philosophy has defied efforts to restrict those who drink and drive, from hard-core punishment (heavy fines and long jail sentences) to outright prohibitions on future driving....

We don't take the zero-tolerance approach.  You can get caught drinking while driving in Maryland and still drive a motor vehicle — if not immediately during a license suspension, then certainly in the near future.  Driving a motor vehicle is a privilege, but many view it as a right, or a right with a few inconvenient conditions once in a while.

Even the measure that many agree would be effective — requiring use of an ignition interlock device, a dashboard Breathalyzer that keeps a car from starting if the driver isn't sober — presumes that someone established as a danger will be allowed to drive again.  That's the reality, and I accept it. We don't have one-time loser laws for drunken drivers and probably never will.

So requiring the device would seem to make sense.  Eleven states made interlocks mandatory. Virginia, supposedly far more conservative than Maryland, mandated the devices for people who have had two convictions.... In Annapolis last winter, a similar requirement passed a Senate convinced of its potential effectiveness. But the measure never got out of a House of Delegates committee chaired by Joe Vallario, who in his other life is (can you guess?) a defense attorney.

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers:

November 3, 2009 at 08:47 AM | Permalink


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blah blah blah

Classic "tough on crime" "journalism". Name and shame the most extreme example (a guy with 8 drunk driving convictions) and then advocate harsh measures for even first-time offenders.

Posted by: Publius | Nov 3, 2009 12:08:35 PM

Publius nails it. MADD documents how many drivers have three or more convictions and then insists first offenders must endure the same punishments. Ignition interlocks make sense for repeaters, but not for first offenders, most of whom never recidivate.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Nov 3, 2009 3:11:01 PM

I do agree. Today on NPR - I think "Talk of the Nation" Gil Kirlikowske was interviewed. He is the new Drug Czar. He was putting fourth a plan that would intervene before an individual broke the law. I have trouble believing it, but he was promoting the idea that mental health professionals identify substance abusers and have some kind of community intervention. This would be backed up with the full force of law enforcement. In selling this program, he felt it would keep abusers from having a more serious offense.

Perhaps some day we will have enough laws and policies to keep everyone safe, but I don't want to be around.

Posted by: beth | Nov 3, 2009 6:34:40 PM

beth said-Perhaps some day we will have enough laws and policies to keep everyone safe, but I don't want to be around.

Amen to that. The ultimate question is safe from what? I would like to be safe from the Drug Czar knocking on my door after consulting his precogs.


Posted by: KRG def attny | Nov 4, 2009 12:26:00 PM

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