Thursday, October 02, 2008

MADD identifies its 2009 TX Lege agenda

In a Dallas News article ("Texas DWI bills gain support after tragedies," Oct. 2), Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) laid out their Texas legislative agenda for 2009, framing their bills around a tragic case of two newlyweds killed by a drunk driver in Dallas. The group's perennial anti-DWI agenda, which at times appears more like an outright prohibitionist agenda, has crept along achieving solid incremental success for more than two decades, ratcheting up penalties and fines on offenders nearly every biennium whenever the Legislature meets.

Despite MADD's past legislative successes, "Last year, Texas had 1,292 alcohol-impaired driving deaths, more than 100 people greater than California, which ranked second." To put that number in perspective, 1,501 people died of homicide in Texas in 2005, so you're more likely to be murdered in Texas than accidentally killled by a drunk. About twice as many people commit suicide each year in Texas as are killed in alcohol-impared accidents.

In 2009, MADD cites two main agenda items, says the News: roadblocks to check for drunks and installing ignition interlock devices after drivers' first DWI. Said the News:

Texas is one of only 11 states that prohibit sobriety checkpoints – roadblocks set up by law enforcement to test whether drivers have been drinking.

But advocates, who have pushed similar bills for the past 13 years, noted progress last legislative session. The Senate passed a bill in a day that would permit sobriety checkpoints. The bill was left in committee in the House last year, but officials with Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, say he will lead sponsorship on it again this session.

Another bill that would have required the installation of a breathalyzer in cars for first-time offenders was left in committee in both the House and Senate last year. But Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, said she intends to strongly push it when the Legislature starts up in January. ...

Few studies have yet been done on ignition interlocks for first-time offenders – the bill was just presented to the legislature last session – but advocates point to a 2001 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that says sobriety checkpoints reduce alcohol fatalities by 20 percent. The goal, they say, is prevention rather than reaction.

Although Texas is one of 10 states that have an ignition interlock device requirement for repeat offenders, Chris Johnson, a member of MADD's Texas state policy committee and vice chairman of its national board of directors, said the current law's wording leaves too much to judicial interpretation.

"There are no legislated set of standards," he said. "A judge can choose interlock or can choose jail. Right now there are quite a few loopholes."

Uriel Perez Palacios, the 22-year-old man charged in the death of Dallas newlyweds German and Erika Clouet, drove while intoxicated on numerous occasions but was not ordered to get a breathalyzer ignition device until after at least three violations. Even then, he did not install the device in his car.

The MADD proposal, on breathalyzers in particular, appears to avoid the crux of the problem, which is that current law puts the cost of a breathalyzer on the probationer instead of having the state pay for the device. So if the offender can't pay, you get situations like the guy who killed the Clouets where even though a court has ordered the device, the offender is still driving around without it.

So, rather than make everyone get such a device after their first offense - a vastly expensive proposal for which even proponents admit there is no evidence-based support - why not leave the requirements as they are and make the state pay for the device instead of the probationer? If that had happened for Uriel Palacios, perhaps the Clouetts might still be with us?

Bottom line: The only way to make sure breathalyzers are always installed is for the state to pay for them. I've never understood why we don't - after all, if the drunk goes to jail, the taxpayers must pay his or her full freight, including room, board, healthcare, etc.. By comparison, the cost of the breathalyzer ignition device is a de minimus one.

As for setting up roadblocks, I've always disliked this idea at more of a gut level than an intellectual one. Back in the days of the Cold War this was an easier argument to make because totalitarianism had a face so we knew what to compare ourselves to. "Can I see your papers, comrade" used to be a joke Americans made about Russian authoritarianism. MADD would have us turn it into the American way of life.

Simply put, to me an attempt to sweep the whole population (or everyone in a given area, like a road, a neighborhood, or the YFZ Ranch) for criminal offenses is repugnant to democratic values and the notion of liberty, no matter how many states have passed the law. I like the idea, a LOT, that the state must have reasonable suspicion before I can be detained.

I'd support a budget item for the state to pay for ignitition interlocks for repeat offenders when judges think they're warranted. I think that approach makes sense without breaking the bank. But I don't approve of MADD's agenda as they've laid it out here and think they'd do more to reduce DWI by expanding use of strong probation like we're seeing done in drug courts.

24 comments:

el_longhorn said...

I completely agree. The problem with the interlock devices is the cost that the accused has to bear, which is on top of all the other related expenses that a DWI brings (drug/alcohol education classes, bail, attorney, fines, etc.). There is no way that a working class salary will be able to cover these costs. Interlock devices for first time offenders sounds like a good idea, but the state has to pony up some cash if they want to make the program work.

On checkpoints, MADD pushed really hard last year on this. However, I saw some studies that said roving DWI patrols on nights with lots of drunk driving are the best strategy on a cost/benefit ratio; the studies also questioned the efficacy of checkpoints - good at publicity and raising awareness, bad at enforcement. I would love it if you could follow up on this one, Grits, since it will be a big issue for the Leg.

Soronel Haetir said...

Grits,

I have to disagree with regard to the state paying for the ignition interlock, just impound the probationer's vehicle and don't return it until an installation fee has been paid.

I'm assuming that not driving a vehicle that is not so equipped is already a probation violation, perhaps even more limited to just the single named vehicle. Enforce it rather than shoving that cost off on everyone else.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

If DWI checkpoints are all about prevention and not reaction, as MADD claims, and they are so effective at preventing deaths and injuries, then how about passing a law that allows for DWI checkpoints, but anyone caught in them can't be criminally charged. Instead, they are taken home or to a hospital if necessary, and then billed for the taxi service and/or the tow of their vehicle. I think that helps to get around the constitutional issue as well because it's about community caretaking rather than criminal enforcement.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Soronel, a DWI arrest should not require you to lose your job, which is what frequently happens when someone can't drive to work. That just makes everything worse all the way around. Your proposed solution is available to courts now but rarely implemented because it creates more problems than it solves.

123, I like your idea, but it wouldn't satisfy the base, punitive impulse that seems to motivate these proposals - the desire to punish "bad" people. The evidence cited in the DMN article saying checkpoints work failed to present countervailing data, e.g.: "In 2006, states that relied on checkpoints averaged 7 percent more alcohol-related fatalities than those that used other tactics." I think they'd get a LOT better results if they followed your advice.

El Longhorn, though it's an industry source, there are some interesting stats here on roving patrols vs. checkpoints.

In Texas, the CCA ruled in 1994 that they're not allowable unless the Legislture authorizes them. I'm not sure the current CCA would still agree with that, but for now it's good law: State v. Holt, 887 S.W. 2d 16 (Tex. Cr. App. 1994)

Also, I noticed this recent story analyzing the abysmal cost-benefit analysis on checkpoints in New Jersey vs. roving patrols:

"With overtime for a dozen or more officers, the costs of everyone's travel delays and the value of other materials and equipment, the average checkpoint costs about $8,800.

"The reason for that discrepancy is readily apparent when considering programs like South Dakota's, where officers ran more than 300 checkpoints in 2006. Even though the overtime alone cost taxpayers $177,000, the roadblocks, on average, only yielded a single arrest.

"Just last week, a checkpoint held in Readington caught only three drunken drivers out of 1,100 motorists stopped and inconvenienced. That is a dismal 0.2 percent success rate.

"These examples aren't unique, and supporters often scramble to defend the low numbers. Last week, New Jersey's director of the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety, Pam Fischer, said of checkpoints: "This initiative increases public awareness."

"But this claim that checkpoints raise "awareness" of enforcement efforts reduces the tactic to little more than an overpriced publicity stunt.

"The alternative is saturation patrols. They're both less expensive and more effective.

"Rather than placing a group of officers at a single location to wait for drunks to come to them, these roving patrols utilize one or two police officers to cruise the roadways in search of all types of dangerous drivers. A typical patrol runs about $300 - as compared to the roadblock's $8,000."

Anonymous said...

It is always easy to reflexively ratchet up the penalty/cost to the offender, rather than deal with real-world situations. The cost for an interlock is approximately $70 per month. If a person on bond or probationer can't afford the $70 to keep himself in compliance with his bond/probation condition, how does making him pay for auto tow/impound/storage change that situation? Such an idea is going to dramatically increase the number of vehicles that the storage lots get to auction off, as under your suggestion, I see many vehicles sitting in lots until the storage fees equal or exceed the value of the vehicle. Additionally, who gets to make the money towing/impounding/storing the automobile? What about the lienholder or innocent spouse? What about vehicles operated by an offender but owned by another?
Grits is proposing a real-world solution for a real-world problem. The crushing financial burden the criminal justice system now imposes on the offenders it doesn't lock up serves to solidify a more permanent underclass, as every spare dollar is soaked out the offender and his family to pay for the ever-increasing penalties/fines/fees/assessments. The driver license "points" are a sterling example: where there is no money to pay the assessments, it doesn't cause the person to cease driving; rather, the person now drives without a valid license. Take the car until/unless in interlock is installed won't keep the person from driving; rather, the person will find some other vehicle to use as transportation.

Don Dickson said...

I can't help but think that the automobile manufacturers have not done their part to prevent drinking and driving. It does not seem like rocket science to me to develop ignition systems that demand sobriety to operate. In every vehicle.

And I agree that the state should bear the cost of IID installation and maintenance. Every session we jack up the costs of DWI convictions, and this strategy is a proven failure at reducing DWI arrests or repeat offenses. If anything, it prompts the offender to commit other offenses such as DWLS and FTMFR.

But honestly, the manufacturers could end drunk driving forever in the 2010 model year if they wanted to.

Anonymous said...

I lost my nephew , because he was hit and killed by a drunk driver, he wasnt even 21 yrs old.
There are people with more than ONE DWI that are out on the road driving, even when their license has been taken away. They get right back in a car, drunk, and drive.
I dont know the answer to stopping it, but I know those who can afford high priced attorneys, who get more than one DWI can get off, only to drive drunk again.
The guy that killed my nephew had already had 3 DWI in the last 3 yrs.
Im for any measure that congress of Texas can come up to try and put a stop to this happening.

kaptinemo said...

I don't drink, and in 1982 I lost a cousin to a drunk driver-caused accident...but in no way shape or form do I want to see these kinds of checkpoints becoming a regular fixture on public roads. Power ceded to The State under the purportedly best of reasons eventually is used in the worst of ways.

In 1983, while on active duty, I crossed Checkpoint Charlie into (then) East Berlin and saw first-hand what the "Your papers, please!" mentality leads to, and was doubly determined not to see that happen here...and that's exactly where this will go.

Can't anybody learn from history? Punish the ones who are caught, but leave the rest be.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

MADD and other zealots have never been concerned with constitutional rights and protections -- as long as it's "them" whose rights are being violated.

The fee for an interlock device here in Harris County is about $75 a month. When you add this to the monthly probation fees, fines and DPS surcharges you're placing an incredible burden on someone.

For most people, the expense (in time, money and reputation) of being charged with DWI is enough of deterrent.

Robert said...

Those who give up Liberty in exchange for security will enjoy neither.

Soronel Haetir said...

Grits,

As I've brought up before, I have a fairly harsh view on personal responsibility. I have little to no sympathy for the permanent underclass argument, people make the choices that place them in such a situation.

Given all possible choices I would in fact put the insurance companies in charge of licensing drivers but then place total liability upon the insurer. Someone could self-insure though they would then be taking huge risks with their freedom.

It is just another refrain of "if you can't do the time, don't do the crime." Not all time need be spent behind bars.

Anonymous said...

I'm no fan of MADD, but if not for them we would have more deaths every year. They just need to hold where they are instead of pushing for more. Without groups pushing for legislation, even with scare tactics, the legislature won't act. Anyone who isn't in favor of serious punishment for such a dangerous activity is a complete and total idiot.

The only exception that I can think of is the interlock device. I think that they should be put on every 1st timer's car, and that they should have to pay for them. There just needs to be a follow up to make sure they get installed.

Robert Guest said...

One problem with interlock is that we have allow no protections for DWI defendants. No right to counsel, no right to remain silent, no right to confront the Inoxilyzer etc.

Interlocks for first time offenders would mean that a host of innocent defendants end up with interlock, as well as the financially devastating "Surcharges" and fines etc.

Only in a DWI trial would we allow voodoo junk science like field sobriety tests and the HGN. We don't need interlock as much as we need protections for the accused.

On Roadblocks- I won't trade my freedom for MADD's promise of safety.

W. W Woodward said...

MADD and its supporters want interlocks? Let MADD and its supporters pay for them.
I would suggest that MADD and anyone else who feels strongly enough about the DWI problem in Texas establish a fund and accept voluntary contributions to purchase, install, and maintain interlocks if that's what they feel will solve the problem. And, then let MADD and the rest of us watch the chronic DWI offender drive his cousin's car when the interlock, or the impound yard, won't let him drive his own car.

Foisting the responsibilities and costs onto the state (read taxpayers) is just another means to force somebody else to pay for something they may not want or ever have a need for.

Don Dickson: “But honestly, the manufacturers could end drunk driving forever in the 2010 model year if they wanted to.” - Mr Dickson, automobiles already cost more than the appraised value of my home and I think I’ve made it obvious that I don’t feel I should be required to pay additional taxes or other costs to attempt to solve problems not of my making.

People drink, people drive, and people die. People don’t drink, people drive, and people die. I haven’t had the urge to look up statistics to determine how DWI caused automobile deaths compare to automobile deaths that are contributed to stupidity, or just plain negligence. You will notice that I specified “DWI caused” as opposed to “DWI related”. An intoxicated driver who is stopped at a stop sign and is run over from behind by a stupid person will invariably go onto the record as a “DWI related” accident/death, even though the victim’s intoxicated state contributed absolutely nothing to the cause of the accident.

Anonymous said...

This I can't afford it malarky is total crap. Many of these folks have the money to continuously drink themselves into oblivion but all of a sudden can't afford an interlock. I bet everyone of them has cable tv in their residence. Give me a break. If you don't like the consequences, then don't drink and drive.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:47: I think it's the Clouetts and their loved ones who suffered the greatest consequences in this case, not the driver. Whether a probationer truly can't afford it or claims they can't hardly matters when the result is no device is installed. As a practical matter we KNOW that happens so only blaming the defendant isn't good enough. When it happens over and over it becomes a policy matter, not just one driver's personal moral failing. Bottom line: the victims would probably have been better off (i.e., alive) if the government paid for the ignition interlock when the judge ordered it.

Anonymous said...

I think that if MADD were truly trying to save lives and not push agendas, they could strike a deal with several of the manufacturers of interlocks that would be within a price range for DUI offenders, as well as make things safer. Anything less than that is all about Agenda. Not saying go easy on Offenders, but makes it within the range of those that are "broke" Heck, get a tiered system for pay. If you make this much, then it costs that much, ..

triumph110 said...

Please take a look at what VP candidate Palin did as Mayor of Wasilla concerning MADD issues. See the headline post at www.danegop.com

Anonymous said...

If MADD truly wanted to stop dwi's they would support legislation that increased rehab and medical treatment for alcoholism(a disease). Poor man's rehab(jail) rarely works and often compounds the problem. If alcohol manufacturers were held accountable for their products' damages, their "pusher" advertising mentality might change. Every other response is simply a bandaid on a sucking chest wound.

Anonymous said...

Robert Guest,

Enough with the overused "voodoo science." The defense bar has attacked the SFST's and HGN for years, but the fact is, when used by trained, experienced officers, those tests work. They were never meant to be the deciding factor of whether someone should be arrested, but a piece of the whole picture.

W. W Woodward said...

Agreed, Mr Guest. Your key phrase is "trained experienced officers".

Not rookies or hook 'em and book 'em law enforcement officers who see eyeball twitches where there are none and missteps by sober drivers as "fallin' down drunk" and take a radar reading as gospel when the unit is not producing the sound that indicates an actual speeder.

Anonymous said...

Here in Virginia people go on welfare after the loss of a driver's license keeps them from going to work. I would bet a lot of people in Texas do the same thing. MADD mothers won't be happy until no one in the US is killed by a drunk driver, the question is, are over 300 million Americans willing to have alcohol detectors in their automobiles? How far does America want to go with the "nanny state" mentality? We could always try Prohibition again but we might get something worse than organized crime the second time around. This is what happens when idle white women have too much time and money on their hands---they travel around the globe making life unpleasant for those who don't belong to their bridge club. For over 40 years this nation has tried to destroy itself with it's own legal system and we are now on the verge of succeeding.....

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