Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Long prison sentences won't reduce drunk driving

Talk about grandstanding bills that help no one: Check out HB 1212 by freshman Rep. Paula Pierson, which passed out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee last night. The bill makes it a first degree felony (5-99 years) when a drunk driver accidentally kills a police officer or firefighter.

News accounts focused on tearful testimony from officers' widows, but doesn't everyone whose family member is killed by a drunk driver grieve equally? Wouldn't any widow have reacted the same way? How does that justify increasing the penalty for intoxication manslaughter to a first degree felony? Is the drunk driver really any more culpable because of the dead person's occupation?

Rep. Terri Hodge rightly pointed out the hypocrisy of enacting such long sentences when the state has de-funded drug and alcohol treatment programs. Reported the Star-Telegram:
"If our Texas toughness was the answer to this, how and why is our prison population increasing so much?" she said, calling for greater emphasis on treatment programs. "We must quit taking the easy way out by locking people up for longer periods of time."

Pierson countered that the measure might make someone think twice before drinking and driving. [Fort Worth police chief Ralph] Mendoza agreed.

"It's not like we are going to fill the prisons up," he said. "But this can prevent someone from making the decision of drinking too much and getting behind the wheel."

Hogwash! This won't prevent one, single person from "drinking too much and getting behind the wheel." It's ridiculous to even say so! It's hard to believe a law enforcement professional could do so with a straight face.

As a probation official said to the House Corrections Committee last week, the only thing you get when you lock up a drunk with no treatment is a thirsty drunk when they get out. There's no evidence at all that long prison sentences reduce drunk driving in aggregate, and plenty of evidence that treatment programs help when the Lege funds them. There have also been promising developments in technocorrections which can thwart repeat DUI offenders. If the Lege wants to reduce drunk driving, those are the areas it needs to address.

If you think a police officer's life is more important than every other citizen and want to exact maximum vengeance, which is all this bill accomplishes, fine ... say so. But to claim boosting sentences in these rare cases will reduce drunk driving is a politically motivated lie, plain and simple. It will do no such thing.

UPDATE: Jamie Spencer has more.


Anonymous said...

If society really wants to do something about drunk driving, then the police should set up shop in the parking lot of every bar, giving a sobriety test to everyone who walks out, and a trip to the drunk tank for everyone who is carried out.

This would hurt the bar business, but it would stop most of drunk driving.

We know this will never happen, so society really does not want to stop drunk driver. Instead they pretend to take it seriously, and this kind of legislation is the result of that -- pretending. Yet the pretending has serious consequences for the few who get gobbled up by it.

Anonymous said...

I agree Scott. My jury tagged a ten-time loser with 90 years on perjured testimony (my opinion) and intentional efforts by the prosecutors to inflame the jury. He'd been unable to receive treatment, been kicked out of the pen without the in-house theraputic treatment program, and never had an accident. We will pay for him, unless justice prevails through a pending motion for new trial or through the appellate process, until he is 137, and by God, I hope he can hold out that long so the public gets the point.

I've often wondered why the auto manufacturers cannot install ignition interlock devices (as a precursor to better technology) in order to try to reduce the death toll their vehicles cause in the wrong hands, when they know there are thousands of alcoholics out there. I'm not advocating for such a device, they don't work well enough and, of course, they can be manipulated, such as using someone else to blow, but technology could be found if we truly wanted to eliminate drunk driving from the books. But that begs the question, does anyone in the criminal justice system truly want to eliminate crime when it means loss of their employment? I'd gladly quit practicing criminal defense if we could eliminate crime.

Anonymous said...

Read the labels on mouth wash, Nyquil, and many cough medications sold over the counter. These all contain alcohol. Where is your medical degree? You want to stop someone from going to work because his/her car won't start because of cough syrup? Honestly, what are you thinking, evidently you are not, jus want to get re-elected.

Anonymous said...

Why are they trying so hard to stop drinking and driving when sober drivers kill more people then someone out having a good time. Just look at the % of sober drivers killing others and no arrests are made. Let's get all the men together and start Dads against sober drivers

Anonymous said...

I would much rather drive with a guy drinking a beer than a mother on a cell phone The guy is more careful not to spill his beer.
If it was not safe to drink and drive...why does my car come with cup holders?