Mothers Against Drunk Drivers started out as a good thing. There was a sincere concern that there needed to be more attention focused on the dangers of driving while intoxicated in order to prevent more deaths. What has happened; however, over time is not. A campaign which originated to encourage responsibility has morphed into an anti-drinking campaign at all costs. Now there are cottage industries economically dependent upon the number of DWI convictions, such as the interlock, home monitoring, and SCRAM companies. It is these industries that are writing and passing the DWI laws in legislatures all across the country. It is no surprise that the laws they pass require more of their products even when it makes no sense. For example, why should a citizen convicted of DWI under the intoxicating influence of a drug or medication be subjected to an alcohol interlock device?
The State of Texas is also dependent upon the DWI surcharges to the tune of billions of dollars in order to keep out of the red (although only a fraction of people ever pay it, which has created more uninsured drivers on the roads). Judges and elected District Attorneys feel pressured to cater to the demands of MADD lest they receive bad press. This affects judges’ decisions, district attorneys’ policies, and police priorities. Have the DWI fatalities gone down? Yes, but the numbers of arrests have gone up exponentially and disproportionately. “Tough on crime” advocates argue that the ends justify the means. They argue that it is ok if a few innocent suffer if it benefits the many. This circular logic is unconstitutional.
Our system of laws guarantees that every citizen is afforded the protections of the Constitution and its laws. DWI victims are often paraded around by MADD as a battle cry in justifying the present day war on social drinkers. No one would ever justify the sufferings of any DWI victim. In that same vein, no one should justify the sufferings of a citizen accused where there is unjust punishment.
In 20 years, I have had misdemeanor and felony clients so stricken with grief and shame that even though their arrest did not involve a victim, nor had they been convicted yet or even received due process, they took their own life. Some of the many real repercussions that my clients suffer due to their arrests and subsequent convictions include: job loss, divorce, loss of housing opportunities due to a criminal record, loss of insurance, forced career changes, permanent unemployment, depression, anxiety and attendant health problems. These costs are often borne by not just the DWI accused but their families, friends, loved ones, employers, and of course the taxpayers. The 1.4 million DWI arrests in the US every year compared to the approximate 11k DWI fatalities do not add up. If the death penalty was the law for every DWI in which a victim died, this still would not prevent DWI deaths. Draconian judicial measures only serve to penalize the unwarranted.
The “one size shoe” policy does not fit all. Most first time misdemeanor DWI offenders never re-offend. They self-punish. The costs of putting all of them on traditional probation or incarceration is not justified when put on the scales, nor does it accomplish anything. The same for felony offenses. Some offenders require a different approach for corrective measures than others. To punish all for the deaths of an irresponsible few is not what our Founders envisioned when they created a system of “Innocent until proven guilty” and an 8th amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
I deal with the repercussions of this systematic knee jerk reaction of “tough on DWI policies” every day. I have seen countless lives destroyed in so many different ways, all without necessity where better means could be employed. It is time for judges, jurors, and prosecutors to take to heart that every case is different. Every person has a different way of being reached and many teach the lesson of having made a mistake to themselves. We need options available in the judicial system that treat each case appropriately. There needs to be diversion programs which result in dismissals that can be fully expunged. There needs to be different levels of probation from unsupervised, to deferred to long term probations with treatment. Not every social drinker who made a mistake is a future killer on the road.
It should be a given that where the police made an unconstitutional stop without probable cause, that case will be thrown out. It should go without hesitation where there is a reasonable doubt about the case, regardless of purported alcohol level, the law will be followed and a Not Guilty returned. We don’t live in a true democracy when people fear following the law due to political hype. If MADD was truly a charitable organization it would promote following all laws, not just seeking convictions. MADD has no business has no business supporting campaigns like: “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” and “Drink. Drive. Go to Jail.” when this is not the law. A society ruled by passion rather than laws finds itself ruled by lawlessness.
I think often about my few clients who took their lives. I wish I could go back and reassure them that everything will be okay. I think back to my conversations with them and my staff, my availability after hours, how everyone gets my cellphone , how my staff passes out my “compassion letter” and “challenge letter” which emphasizes hope. What I keep coming back to is the need for the system to change. Good people should not feel desperate over a DWI in a country with the best Constitution in the world. It is time we start placing the law, wisdom, and prudence above politics and furied passion. MADD’s victims are not the only victims. It is time we stop creating more unnecessary ones.