"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

DUI more Serious Than Child Molesting?

What is one to make of the suggestion that because drunk driving results in much more loss of life and destruction than child abuse, it should be punished more harshly? Specifically, the claim is made that "we should be worrying a lot more about sentencing for drunk drivers than, say, sentencing for sex offenders." Really. No one will be surprised that the suggestion comes from an academic, since only they seem so habitually removed from reality.

This particular law prof deeply thinks other profound thoughts such as:

Other than cynical explanations based in class and race, I have a hard time understanding why we so readily turn to super-tough criminal enforcement to deal with non-violent drug crimes, but then we go harmfully soft on drunk driving.

He even wonders whether, we might not be required to execute drunk drivers, using the rationale of some death penalty advocates who have argued that the state has a moral duty to execute murderers in order to deter killings and save lives that would otherwise be lost to undeterred murders.

So drunk driving is worse from a sentencing perspective than child abuse, drug dealing, and is essentially equivalent to capital murder.

It apparently escapes his notice that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) own figures: 42,116 total fatalities involved 57,480 drivers, of which 7,400 were known to have had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over the legal limit. Thus, 12.87% (or 7,400) of the drivers involved in fatal crashes were legally intoxicated. Therefore, drunk drivers were associated with about 5,422 traffic fatalities. NOT the 16, 885 figure used in the lawprof's blog posting.

He does not cite the source of his number, but I suspect it derives from MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), a group that routinely overstates the scope of this admitted problem. For instance, this group often conflates "alcohol-caused" with "alcohol-related," two very distinct categories. Then, advocates such as our lawprof pick up the skewed numbers and make outrageous policy prescriptions from them.

Moreover, tragic as any traffic fatality is, DUI fatalities differ in kind from child abuse, drug dealing, and capital murder. In DUI cases, routinely the defendant has little or no criminal history: in the other types of cases, the offenders often have lengthy records.

But fundamentally, there is a difference between criminally negligent conduct and willful, premeditated conduct. The law has alway recognized this difference and accounted for it in sentencing. Thus, an employed, productive mom with kids who has a couple of glasses of wine with friends at dinner and blows a .08 blood alcohol reading and is thus legally "intoxicated," will not be punished as severly as a gun-toting crack cocaine dealer. Is this hard to understand?

DUI fatalities are another case entirely, and at least in Virginia, are routinely prosecuted as manslaughter cases carrying up to ten years in prison. The law recognizes gradations of offenses and the judgment has been made by most legislatures that routine blood-alcohol level DUIs are not as egregious as molesting children or dealing drugs. That these latter activities cause much greater social harm is an unsurprising observation... unless you're a lawprof, I suppose.

But in any event, I would invite him to come out of the tower and down to traffic court and consider whether the average DUI case, with an offender who is a productive citizen with a clean record, has not harmed anyone, and yet will be going to jail for some period of time, is really being treated with leniency. Because now more than ever, jail time is a real possibility, even for a first time offender. Often, there is mandatory time depending on the b.a.c. level. Second offenders almost certainly go to jail, and in Virginia third timers are felons.


Dweezil said...

Holy crappity crap. Tom? Is that you?

Did you just express an opinion that the government should not just indefinitely lock up everyone who slightly annoys it?

Are you feeling okay?

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