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Should We Crack Down on DUI More?

Some experts warn that we are too soft on drunk driving that causes car accidents, pedestrian accidents, and serious injuries as well as fatalities. About half of all drunk driving cases are reduced or dropped entirely, studies have found. This trend worries experts, who claim that a lax attitude about drunk driving sends the wrong message and does nothing to discourage drivers from driving under the influence.

Experts also point to statistics which show that drunk drivers are often repeat offenders. Someone caught driving drunk today has a one in ten chance of getting another DUI charge, according to some studies. Experts worry that people who are not charged with DUIs or have charges reduced or dropped may adopt a more casual attitude about drunk driving. Such drivers may worry less about drunk driving, knowing that they are not a convicted drunken driver. Some drivers may feel or expect that charges will always be lax.

A report by the Daytona Beach News-Journal found that DUI defendants with private attorneys generally are able to avoid a DUI conviction. Virtually all defendants with private attorneys who had a first DUI charge were able to avoid conviction. The study found that between 1991 and 2008, 15,240 single DUI charges were recorded. Of these, 64% of defendants with a private attorney had their charges dropped or reduced. Only 30% of defendants with public defenders had their DUI charges dropped or reduced. Experts note that the disparity may be because private attorneys have more time to focus on flaws in a case and are able to devote more attention to cases on behalf of their clients.

To some, however, the disparity suggests an inequality in the justice system. Worse, some experts claim that such a system is putting dangerous drivers back on the roads without teaching these drivers the importance of driving sober. A study of 12,712 defendants who had their single-DUI cases reduced found that 1,222 were rearrested for driving drunk. Groups such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) say that such statistics show that reduced or dropped DUI charges only give drunk drivers a second chance to cause drunk driving accidents and fatalities.

Prosecutors of DUI cases are far less likely to pursue DUI convictions if a defendant doesn’t look intoxicated on arrest videos or if there are flaws on an arrest report. The chances of winning a case in these cases is much smaller, so sometimes attorneys decide to allow the defendant agree to a lesser charge. Prosecutors also note that defendants are becoming more savvy about DUI arrests. Some refuse the breathalyzer or sobriety tests. While this deprives them of their license for 90 days or longer, it also deprives prosecutors of important evidence.

Many drivers are also willing to work harder to avoid DUI convictions. More people rely heavily on cars, so a DUI conviction can create problems if someone has to drive to work. As well, employees may become disqualified for some jobs involving driving if they have a DUI conviction. This often compels defendants to spend considerable amounts of money on a defense attorney. Groups such as MADD argue that people who are clearly impaired when driving should be convicted and attorneys should ensure that no deals are available for such drivers.