Thursday, November 18, 2010

DA's Association: 'Juice ain't worth the squeeze' on DWI license suspensions

The Austin Statesman earlier this week, reporting in conjunction with KVUE-TV, published a pair of articles (see here and here, and also KVUE's story) on the rise of occupational licenses for people with administrative license suspensions for DWI and other offenses. I was fascinated in particular to see our friends at the Texas District and County Attorneys Association come out in favor of eliminating license revocations altogether:
Some critics say taking a person's license upon arrest causes the state to spend millions each year in appeal hearings and other administrative costs — some place the estimates at $3 million — and can ultimately damage criminal cases.

"I guess the simplest way to put it is that the juice ain't worth the squeeze," said Shannon Edmonds , an attorney who works in the government relations office for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. "The time and expense spent on suspending someone's license before they are convicted isn't justified" by the cost to the state, Edmonds said.

He said prosecutors also have long been frustrated by defense lawyers who use the appeals hearings to preview the criminal case against a client or to gather evidence.

For instance, he said, attorneys often question police officers under oath in the hearings, then use any inaccuracies or misstatements on details against the officers during criminal trials.

"It is useful because police officers don't get to make stuff up later in court," said attorney Jamie Balagia, who operates the website "A good lawyer knows how to lock down testimony."

Edmonds said the law also has created profitable business for defense lawyers, some of whom charge several hundred dollars to represent their clients in the hearings and to seek an occupational license for them.
A similar recommendation was made this summer by David Hodges, the Judicial Liaison for the Texas Center for the Judiciary, who suggested eliminating most administrative license revocations (ALRs) that aren't required by federal law in order to reduce the costs for administrative hearings and especially the number of driving with suspended license cases flooding Texas' county courts at law.

(Of course, with the Driver Responsibility Program being responsible for more than 1.9 million revoked licenses, 1.2 million of which have yet to be reinstated, eliminating that ill-conceived program might do more than anything else to resolve the costs and problems associated with revoked driver licenses, occupational licenses, etc., but that's a slightly different issue than pretrial revocation for DWI.)

On the DA's Association website, Edmonds clarified that "my suggestion was not to end ALR and replace it with nothing, but to replace it with ignition interlocks after arrest." Most license revocations, though, have nothing to do with DWIs, and pretrial (i.e, pre-conviction) punishments come with their own complications, so I'd prefer unlinking the two issues: The ALRs need to go, regardless of how the state chooses to reform its DWI laws.

1 comment:

DLW said...

Edmonds speaks of the DA's frustration with Lawyers getting to examine the arresting officers under oath in the ALR hearings. The actual frustration is that the officers testify before the DA gets to woodshed them regarding the weaknesses of the case.

Some DA's have gone as far as telling their officers to ignore subpoenas for ALR hearings. The result of that is that the Citizen doesn't lose his license if the officer doesn't show up and the DA and the officer can "prepare" for trial without having to worry about prior inconsistent statements under oath.