Smile Politely

Lift the gavel on DUI

There are very few things in this world for which I have absolutely no tolerance. Examples I can think of that most people would agree with would include murder, rape, child abuse — hell, abuse of any kind; these are actions that demand swift punishment. Not only in order to give due justice to those who have been in harm’s way and to help rehabilitate the guilty parties, but also to deter those who might, in the future, participate in similar actions.

One of the saddest, most destructive, and completely under-punished crimes in the world is driving while impaired. And by under-punished, I mean exactly that. I can’t tell you how many friends of mine have been given the ol’ Dewey, only to hire an attorney the next day, sit in a couple classes, bum rides from friends for a few months, and calm down for a little while the smoked cleared.

And guess how many of them were drinking and driving again within a year or so?

The reality of the situation is that the punishment that is handed down for this completely selfish and most abhorrent crime is petty; some don’t even lose their driver’s license at all.

And while I know that there are some who might think what I am going to suggest is an alarmist and potentially extreme position, I am guessing that the family of Susan Costello would likely side with me this week.

She was run down accidentally by a friend of mine last week
. She was crossing Kirby Ave. at 10 p.m., when Amanda Ennis looked down to grab her cell phone, wasn’t paying attention, and accidentally hit Ms. Costello, who died a half hour later at the hospital. Ennis was allegedly drunk at the time, and also in possession of cannabis (which should be legal, but not smoked while driving — different column).

Pretty much — the worst.

I grew up with Amanda Ennis in a round about way, and we’d seen each other as recently as a couple months ago. We caught up, had a laugh, and gave each other a hug before saying our goodbyes. I always liked Amanda, and I still do. She is a genuinely terrific person, and a good mother, if I had to bet on it.

And she made a terrible mistake by getting in her car that night. A confluence of bad choices, poor legislation and plain old bad luck led her to where she is today: facing serious jail time, a mound of legal fees, losing the custody of her 5-year old son, but most importantly, having to live with the sadness and guilt of accidentally taken someone’s life, and ruining countless others’ in the process.

With these types of accidents occurring week in and week out, you’d think that at some point, the politicians in Springfield might seek to impose a harsher punishment on those caught driving under the influence? I mean, after all, isn’t deterrence the name of the game here?

What I propose is truly harsh, but in reality, quite simple. And believe you me — people would think twice about getting into their car after they’d been drinking.

Those caught driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the point of direct impairment go to jail for one year, straight from the scene of the crime, no debate. Refusing blood or a breathalyzer test would result in an admission of guilt (as it is now). Fancy lawyers would only be able to represent clients in a basic way, and there would be no song and dance with the DA behind the curtain. There would be no negotiating. The guilty person would be placed in the county correctional facility. If they were truly under the influence, they would show up in court, listen to a polite speech, the gavel would bang, they would be taken away and not released for one year.

One year. No bullshit. Gone. Bye. Here is time to think about it.

Harsh? Sure. But personally, I am absolutely mortified by the idea that someone would run down my wife or nephew or best friend on the account of being that selfish.

Call a cab. I have no tolerance for that level of stupidity or selfishness.

Here’s how it would go down:

  • “Hey Carl, where’s Lucy?”
  • “Oh, hey Chester. She got caught drinking and driving three days ago.”
  • “Oh man, that sucks! I heard that you go to jail for a year now if you get caught? Is that true?”
  • “So I hear. I guess it’s pretty serious. She’s literally gone for a year. I spoke with her parents yesterday, and they had to go get everything from her apartment. She lost her job. She has a felony on her record that will never be expunged, too. It’s pretty fucked up.”
  • “Yeah man. I tell you this: I AM NEVER GOING TO DRIVE DRUNK EVER AGAIN.”

Now, would this stop drunk driving completely? Of course not. No deterrent ever does the trick across the board. People are put to death for murder in this country, and yet still, there are people who are driven to kill in cold blood. So, I am not typing this and thinking that my idea is revolutionary or going to change the culture completely. But believe me — trust me when I tell you — if the punishment for doing so resulted in a year in jail without any debate, the amount of drunken drivers on the road would decrease so fast Jesse White wouldn’t know how to tally the stats.

I know this because people enjoy their freedom, and as it stands, everyone I know says the same thing about drunk driving: “It’s bad. But my friend got a Dewey, and he was back in his car within three months with a misdemeanor. He hired (faceless attorney). He’s the best.”

Until this type of backroom back scratching stops, and until those who choose to drive drunk are being held truly accountable, it’s never going to end.

I, for one, would prefer to see my friends in jail for one year, as opposed to being there for much longer, having killed another person, wrecked lives, and wrecked their own in the process.

There’s no real debate here, in my head.

Send them away.

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