Sunday, July 25, 2004

Drunk Driving

In days of yore when I practiced some criminal defense, based upon my experience and discussions with other defense attorneys I drew some broad conclusions about drunk drivers. A significant number of first offenders were people who made a mistake of judgment and happened to get pulled over, but few second offenders fell into that category, and almost no third offenders. The first offender who "knows better" but drives anyway is often an easy target for the police, as he is less experienced as a drunk driver (thus showing more of the telltale signs of DUI) and has a lower tolerance for alcohol (thus also showing those signs at a lower BAC). The cliche about "I was coming home from a wedding party..." is based in fact. A surprising number of first time drunk drivers are coming home from parties or events where they drink a lot more than usual, often at locations far enough removed from their homes that they believe it would be excessively costly to hire a taxi.

Today's Washington Post discusses the costs (financial and personal) for a number of first time drunk drivers, most of whom seem like whiny crybabies. It is only toward end that we hear from somebody who accepts that it was his mistake and his conduct which led to his situation:
"One brings this upon oneself," he said, speaking in Spanish. "Who am I going to be angry at? If they caught me, it's because I did something and have to pay for it."
And (as in so many police reports from drunk driving cases) the BAC's reported in the article often seem starkly at odds with the amount of alcohol the defendants claim to have consumed. ("Four small glasses of wine" for a .14 BAC? "Two strong mixed drinks" for a .15 BAC? "Some beers" for a .17 BAC? C'mon.)

Crybabies? I guess my natural inclination is against those who put the lives of their passengers and of other drivers (and pedestrians) at risk because they don't want to moderate their drinking, don't want to properly designate a driver, don't want to rent a cab, and don't want to "sleep it off" at a nearby hotel. I recall a young man testifying at a sentencing, wearing a brace on his disdended, blown-out knee, describing how an accident caused by a drunk driver had destroyed that knee and ruined his career as an industrial electrician. A year after the accident, his knee was still bloated to twice its healthy diameter. I recall two cases where drunk mothers caused accidents which killed their own children, and caused grevious injuries to others (in one case, a severe head injury to another child; in the other, paraplegia to the driver of the other car). Those are some of the worst cases, but they are far from isolated. My heart just can't melt when I hear drunk drivers complain about their harships.

Fortunately, in my experience (save for a few angry alcoholics who ranted about the evil state trying to take away their right to drive), most first time drunk drivers seem less inclined to minimize or rationalize their conduct, and more inclined to learn from their mistakes. A couple of times, the drunk driving arrest inspired the arrest of what might otherwise have been emerging alcoholism. In one case, as he was discharged from a period of non-supervised probation (with a hearing to ensure that he had attended the ordered AA classes and had not again been arrested - so there was nothing to gain from the speech), a client gave a rather moving speech in which he expressed his gratitude to the court for a sentence which helped him overcome what he had come to realize was worsening alcoholism, to the significant benefit of his work life and his marriage.

1 comment:

  1. I can understand--a little--that somebody who isn't much of a drinker may not be able to accurately gauge how much a drink is going to affect them. That said, when you're at .09 or .15, you feel it. It's not like having a residual BAC of .02 hours after you had a drink and having no idea it's still in your system.

    And I *really* don't feel the pain of the idiot with the .15 BAC who was on his cellphone while driving drunk.