Archive for August, 2008

Another Life Sentence for Drunk Driving

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

So what do you do with someone who has the genetic disease of alcoholism – and continues to drink and drive?  Get him treatment for his disease?  Or maybe you throw him in prison for the rest of his life….

Wichita County Man Gets Life Sentence for 10th DWI

Wichita Falls, TX.  Aug. 8  -    A man with nine previous drunken driving convictions was sentenced to life in prison.

 Kenneth Chris Oneal, 58, received the maximum sentence Thursday after jurors convicted him of driving while intoxicated-repetition, his 10th drunken-driving related offense…

Well, you say, he may be an alcoholic, but he didnt have to choose to drive.  But that’s a Catch-22, isn’t it?  I mean, part of the legal definition of driving while intoxicated is impaired judgment – the inability to make rational and intelligent choices.

This sentence is far from an aberration.  See, for example, Third DUI = Life in Prison and 99 Years for Drunk Driving

For 15 years now, the DUI fatality rate has remained fairly stable (see MADDness and  Latest Figures in MADD’s War on Drunk Driving).   In view of the fact that most fatalities are caused by recidivists — usually alcoholics — isn’t it time to consider alternatives to MADD’s hysterical vengeance/prohibition approach?  Read Time for a Change .

(Thanks to Tom Termini)


The Slow Death of the Fourth Amendment

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects American citizens from being subjected to police intrusions without "probable cause".  The Michigan Supreme Court held that DUI roadblocks violated this constitutional protection.  On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, however, that decision was reversed. 

In a 5-4 decision, the Court found a "DUI exception" to the Fourth Amendment.  Although admittedly a violation of the Fourth Amendment, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, the "minimal intrusions" into citizens' privacy was  "outweighed" by the governmental interest in apprehending drunk drivers.  Sitz v. Michigan

I've often reminded readers of this blog that we are a nation of legal precedent:  once a legal doctrine is adopted by the courts in a specific situation, it is thereafter applied in a broader context.  The danger of the Sitz decision goes far beyond the DUI roadblock situation:  if  police can stop you without reason for possible drunk driving today, then they can stop you for any reason tommorrow.  (See Sobriety Checkpoints: The Slippery Slope.)  

Community Declares War on Crime

Mayor issues curfew order

Helena, Ark.  Aug. 7  -  Mayor James Valley Thursday issued an executive order declaring an emergency curfew in certain sections of Helena-West Helena effective immediately.

In his order, Valley states the city has the duty to provide protection for its citizens and visitors and that certain areas of the city have been “under siege” with repeated gunfire, loitering, drug dealing and other general mayhem.

Valley has ordered H–WH officers to treat the “curfew zone” as a “zero tolerance zone”, which means that no loitering, “hanging out” will be permitted. All foot traffic, bicycle, horseback, moped, motorcycle, riding mower, golf cart or other mode of transportation will be subject to stop and investigation. (Emphasis added)

And this is how it starts….

(Thanks to David O'Shea)


DUI Logic

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

For those of you unfamiliar with the logic of The War on Drunk Driving, consider the following story from yesterday’s news…

Recent DUI Checkpoint A Success

Pittsburgh, PA.  Aug. 6  -  The final statistics have been assessed from a recent sobriety checkpoint conducted by the West Hills Task Force in Stowe Township.

 Police checked 275 vehicles that went through the Route 51, Island Avenue checkpoint on Friday night.  Of the cars that were stopped, there were six DUI arrests, three drug arrests and three citations for underage drinking.

Now consider this story from last week, mentioned in my previous post:

No Arrests Make Stops a Success

DUI checkpoints are working, police say

Lewisberg, PA  July 31  -  Police officers say a checkpoint that catches no drunken drivers should not be considered a failure.

"It’s a deterrence program," said Douglas Lauver, alcohol enforcement coordinator and co-coordinator of the North Central Highway Safety Network’s Regional DUI Enforcement Group. "Ideally, the goal is not to make any arrests for DUI." 

(Sgt. Scott) Hahn agreed, saying by making the scene a spectacle with lights, trucks and cars, the checkpoints make an impression on motorists going through them and prompt them to talk about the stops with others…

Get it?  If there are a bunch of DUI arrests, the roadblock is a success.  But if there are no arrests at all, then the roadblock is, well…a success.


“Slurred Speech”

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

As with the odor of alcohol on the breath, few police reports will fail to include an observation by the arresting officer that the arrestee exhibited “slurred speech”. (See my earlier post, “Alcohol on the Breath: Evidence of DUI?”).  The officer fully expects to hear slurred speech in a person he suspects is intoxicated, particularly after smelling alcohol on the breath, and it is a psychological fact that we tend to “hear” what we expect to hear. And hearing it supplies the officer with corroboration of his suspicions.

Even assuming the honesty of the officer that the defendant’s speech was slurred, there is little evidence that this is symptomatic of intoxication. Impairment of speech is, for example, a common — and sober — reaction to the stress, fear and nervousness that a police investigation would be expected to engender.  Fatigue is another well-known cause.

Skeptical?  Consider the following excerpt from Discover magazine (Saunders, “News of Science, Medicine and Technology: Straight Talk”, 21(1) Discover (Oct. 2000).

Bartenders, police officers and hospital workers routinely identify drunks by their slurred speech. Several investigative groups judged the captain of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker to be intoxicated based solely on the sound of his voice in his radio transmissions. But a team led by Harry Holien, a phonetician at the University of Florida, has found that even self-proclaimed experts are pretty bad at estimating people’s alcohol levels by the way they talk.

Hollien asked clinicians who treat chemical dependency, along with a group of everyday people, to listen to recordings made by volunteers when they were sober, then mildly intoxicated, legally impaired, and finally, completely smashed. Listeners consistently overestimated the drunkeness of mildly intoxicated subjects. Conversely, they underestimated the alcohol levels of those who were most inebriated. Professionals were little better at perceiving the truth than the ordinary Joes….

He thinks his research could encourage police to be more wary of making snap judgments: Mild drinkers might come under needless suspicion.