The Chattanooga Times Free Press published an article on Sunday, January 19th, 2014, about whether police and prosecutors reduce too many DUIs to disorderly conduct in LaFayette, Walker County, Georgia. While reductions to reckless driving are not uncommon in the Metro Atlanta area, reductions to charges like disorderly conduct and distracted driving (aka “South Georgia Reckless”) are more of an outside of Atlanta phenomenon. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers is an anti-DUI advocacy group that has moved beyond Drunk Driving and now advocates zero tolerance of even social and moderate drinking and driving. They are aggressively pressuring law enforcement through lobbying law enforcement leaders, media campaigns, campaign contributions to politicians, and courtroom intimidation of Judges and prosecutors. After last year’s push to lower the legal limit to .05, or as little as one drink for a 100-pound woman, failed; they are now pushing for zero tolerance for reductions in DUI prosecutions.
Political Posturing Not Public Safety
A MADD representative was seen last week in Atlanta Municipal Court quietly recording case announcements, and the Judges and Prosecutors were well aware of her presence. This is not an isolated incident but a well-coordinated assault. But the reality is that .08 is too low a level for DUI. Most people that can stand on one foot for thirty seconds when they are sober can stand on one foot for thirty seconds with blood alcohol as high as .13-.15. If you can stand on one foot for 30 seconds who exactly are you endangering on the road? Traffic deaths went up from DUI when the limit was lowered from .10 to .08 because Police were wasting up to two hours arresting and processing each and every sober driver for DUI. In the 1970s the legal limit was .15, in the 1980’s it was .12, in the 1990’s it was .1, and now it is .080. Alcohol did not get more dangerous rather MADD got politically savvy.
Prosecutions or Pupils but not both
Trials are not cheap. A DUI jury trial can take 1-2 days in court easily costing taxpayers $5000-$10000 in taxpayer overhead not including wasted jury time. Yet trial after trial, juries come back with not guilty verdicts because the drivers are simply not drunk. So is it illogical to reduce DUI charges based on weak evidence arising from zero-tolerance law enforcement policies of drinking and driving (you have seen the commercials “Drive sober or get pulled over” that used be “Over the limit – under arrest”) that won’t stand up in court; or would it be smarter to reduce the charge and let the driver plead guilty to a lesser offense and put the driver on probation, order a drug and alcohol evaluation, collect fine money and community service hours. Sometimes it is either reduce or watch the drive walk away without rehabilitation or probation monitoring. The child who loses his spot in state-funded pre-K won’t notice nor will the child whose class grows from 30 to 35 students with one teacher just like the person developing an alcohol problem won’t get cured by walking away with a not guilty verdict.
Let the people who have had years of experience in the courtroom and days of listening to evidence in the jury box use their discretion and common sense as opposed to the knee-jerk emotional reaction from the Madison Avenue sound bite. In the words of the late, great Senator Richard B. Russell from Georgia, “The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
-Author: George Creal