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The Issues With First Time DUI’s (update)

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There is always a lot of talk at the legislature concerning increasing penalties on drunk drivers. Often there is very little opposition to the idea, probably because no one wants to be seen as being on the side of the drunks. There is also a disincentive for some of those who defend these cases, because bigger penalties can mean more at stake and higher fees. But, at the same time, greater penalties do bring the need for more oversight and space in jails and prisons.

Personally, I have seen so many first time offenders who do learn from what happened. They were dumb and happened to be the one caught. There are many others who don’t, so I’ve always felt a harsh first time penalty won’t do that much. The reality comes with the first charge and that is the way people learned. It makes sense to make the second or third ones harsher because those are people who should have learned.

At some point, there is the question of whether the person is an alcoholic and that is when society needs to decide what they want to do about that finding. Because, until they stop drinking, it seems that there may be nothing that makes a difference. Those are the long time offenders who need help along with the harsh prison sentences.

It is important to consider the finding disclosed recently with the Minneapolis Tribune series on drunk driving. They looked at the affect of first time drunk drivers and found that :

60 percent of alcohol-impaired drivers in deadly crashes… had never been charged with DWI before. First-time offenders killed 288 people — including themselves — on Minnesota roads from 2005 through 2007

This is very troubling. Because a highway death is really the reason why we have tough DUI laws. It is the concern about what could have happened? Consider how many charges come from people who are just driving down the road alone and the police officer sees swerving. There was no collision, but the concern was what they might have done.

Has the change in Minnesota joint and several laws, that relieved a lot of bars of dram shop liability concerns helped? I don’t think they have. Should we figure out a penalty that would drop the first time drunk driving deaths? Maybe, it’s worth considering, but seems to me that the weakening of the liability rules didn’t help any.

Of interest: check out the comment section on a letter to the Editor with the Rochester Post Bulletin.