Monthly Archives: January 2005
Over the years, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has pushed for ever-lower blood-alcohol limits, harsher punishments, .08% "per se" laws, sobriety checkpoints, "zero tolerance" (.01%) for drivers under 21, immediate license confiscation — and destroying many constitutional rights in the process. They have recently advocated the reduction of blood-alcohol levels from .08% to .05%; "zero tolerance" for adults is on the the horizon. And as I pointed out in "A Closer Look at DUI Fatality Statistics", none of this has had anywhere near the reduction in accidents claimed by MADD. Bear in mind that these are the same sort of folks who many years ago brought us the failed experiment of prohibition.
Some time ago I commented in another post that this well-organized (over 600 chapters) and well-funded ($48,051,441 in revenues for 2002) organization’s eventual goal is a return to prohibition. I also noted that in 1999, MADD’s National Board of Directors unanimously voted to change the organization’s mission statement to include the prevention of underage drinking. Not underage drinking and driving — just drinking. Let me say that again: MADD has begun to shift its focus away from "drunk driving" and towards the broader "problem" of drinking. An important step in achieving prohibition would be to shift the "problem" from the states to the federal government. On January 20, 2005, MADD issued the following announcement and press release:
CALL TO ACTION! Law enforcement is not only the best way of deterring drunk driving, but also the best way to deter underage drinking. A new session of Congress brings an opportunity to push for the STOP Underage Drinking Act, which would help support law enforcement in combating the No. 1 youth drug problem in the United States. This bill would create needed federal government leadership on underage drinking issues. Please ask your federal legislators to co-sponsor this bill when it is introduced.
MADD is well along the path toward its eventual goal.
Police and prosecutors have an obligation to seek justice, not vengeance. Their job is to apply the laws as written, not as personal feelings, political considerations and/or special interest groups dictate. And nowhere in the criminal justice system are passions, political considerations and special interest groups more prevalent than with drunk driving.
A few days ago a young man in Indiana became intoxicated and accidentally drove his car off the road and landed in an embankment. His girlfriend was thrown from the car and killed. As any experienced officer or prosecutor will tell you, the obvious charge is DUI and vehicular manslaughter. He was, however, charged with murder.
There are some of you whose reaction will be: He deserves it. Morally, that may or may not be. We are, however, a nation of laws, and he deserves the punishment set forth by those laws. If the legislature wishes to call a drunken but accidental homicide a murder rather than manslaughter, they are free to do so. Until then, police and prosecutors should follow the law rather than passion and pressure.
How far can it go? Well, how about the death penalty for DUI? And if you think that’s just sarcasm, read my post about a drunk driving trial that recently took place right here in the United States. We are living in an increasingly vindictive society, a society of passions rather than laws, as evidenced by developments after the recent train wreck here in Los Angeles.
A deeply disturbed man, trying to commit suicide, sits in his car on the train tracks and just before the collision panics and jumps out of the car. The offense should be obvious: multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter. (By a great stretch of logic, one could argue 2nd degree murder due to "conscious/willful disregard for the lives of others", although that seems refuted by his mental state and wandering through the carnage afterwards crying out "I’m sorry, I’m so sorry".)
Yesterday, however, he was charged with eleven counts of murder. And the media has been loudly reporting (hoping?) that the D.A.’s office will be seeking the death penalty. Even the staid New York Times reported that the District Attorney, "his voice firm with anger", said that "Because this man was distressed, 11 people are dead from his selfishness" and that he was considering the death penalty.
When did we start executing people because they were distressed or selfish? Or, as in DUI cases, stupid or reckless? Whatever happened to "cold, calculating and premeditated"? While the rest of the world is abandoning the death penalty, we in the United States are expanding it to include juveniles and unintended homicides.
I posted a news article yesterday about a prosecutor whose DUI arrest was dismissed by the Cook County (Illinois) State’s Attorney. Here’s another story reported a day earlier (January 17, 2005) about a DUI police officer, also arrested for drunk driving in Cook County (a felony this time), whose license was never suspended.
He was an award-winning police officer, honored for arresting drunk drivers. But now a former police officer is facing his own drunk driving charges after causing a serious crash. He was arrested, but his license was never suspended. The woman badly injured by the off-duty officer wants to know why.
With every movement pain shoots through Theresa Adkins Mcarthur’s body. "I shattered my right hip and my right leg was almost cut off," said Mcarthur. It’s been two-and-a-half years since she was nearly killed in an accident. Her jaw, leg and arm were broken. Her pelvis was crushed. She’s endured 10 surgeries. The 31-year-old mother of twin daughters still spends hours every week rehabbing, and walks with a cane. "I wake up ever single day in pain,’ says Mcarthur, ‘look at all the scars I have. It is a constant reminder of what he did that night."…..
Nicholson, who was one of the top DUI Enforcement Officers in Rolling Meadows, was charged with a felony for driving drunk. So, would the award-winning drunk driving enforcer lose his license? That’s what typically happens, but not in his case. Nicholson’s license was never suspended. In fact our CBS 2 investigative team uncovered court records showing the Cook County state’s attorney’s office gave the cop a pass.
A state’s attorney spokesman says they’re now are looking into why they didn’t move to have his license suspended. Having a license helped Nicholson stay on the job. Rolling Meadows police chief says Nicholson was suspended for 90 days. After that the chief says, he went back to patrolling the streets because the town couldn’t afford to pay his salary and put him on desk duty.
According to Charlene Chapman, the executive director of AAIM the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, Nicholson should not have been allowed back on the road. "We have a man who has already caused a crash,’ says Chapman, ‘caused grave injuries, and he’s still driving, and especially a police car. That tells the public that police officers have special privileges,’ said Chapman, ‘and that should not be true."
From the "Double Standards" department, this news item from the Chicago Daily Herald (January 19, 2005):
DuPage County State’s Attorney Joseph Birkett is tough on drunken drivers. On that, prosecutors, defense attorneys and advocates against drunk driving all agree. When Cook County gang crimes prosecutor Joseph E. Keating, 43, was arrested in July and charged with DUI after knocking over a light pole on an I-55 ramp, he managed to get the charge dropped at his first court appearance.
The reason, prosecutors said, was not that Keating was a prosecutor himself, but that the case was weak. That’s because Keating refused all sobriety tests, including a Breathalyzer, and police failed to activate the audio portion of the videotape of the arrest…. Keating won’t talk about the arrest.
Birkett says the case was not winnable without Breathalyzer results or conclusive evidence from the scene. Keating notified his bosses in Cook County of the arrest and was put on desk duty while his case was pending, according to Marci Jensen, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine. He was reinstated to the courtroom when the DUI charge was dropped Aug. 13, she said.
Asked if the fact that a prosecutor refused drunken driving tests bothered the office, Jensen replied that Keating was entitled to the same options as any other driver…. Birkett acknowledged that dropped DUI charges, while rare in DuPage are not unheard of ‘ ‘probably between 6 and 10 percent,’ he said.
The DuPage County prosecutor’s office handles thousands of DUI cases a year. A Daily Herald review of 20 of them brought in DuPage County at the same time as the Keating case found that Keating’s DUI charge was the only one the office dropped.
Birkett has made a reputation for himself and earned the admiration of advocates against drunken driving for being tough with DUIs, sometimes even prosecuting cases with weak evidence, defense attorneys say. At least one veteran defense attorney, whose office handles about 50 DUIs a year, says he’s never seen the DuPage office drop a DUI case. Even if a case is weak, Des Plaines attorney Michael R. Epton said he’s seen DuPage prosecutors leave it to a judge to throw it out.
By office policy, front-line prosecutors cannot, of their own volition, drop or reduce a DUI charge, Birkett said. They must seek approval from a supervisor first. The same policy operates in Cook County, Jensen said. Birkett said the Keating case never reached his desk, but it did go up the chain of command through at least three supervisors. He said he supports their decision.
On January 20, the same day I posted "Arizona Denies Right to Jury Trial in DUI Cases" and three months after posting "DUI and the Disappearing Right to Jury Trial", Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Shepard delivered the State of the Judiciary 2005 message In the opening paragraph of the section entitled "Rebuilding the American Jury", he warned:
Something else that’s needed attention for a long time is the way we manage that birthright of all Americans, trial by jury. Most schoolchildren know that when the nobles confronted King John on the field at Runnymeade in 1215 that one of the promises Magna Carta contained was the right to a trial by your peers, but these days the legal press is running stories about the disappearance of the American jury trial. We’ve too long taken it for granted…..
(Thanks to Scott Henson of Austin, Texas.)