In a first-of-its-kind study, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) has determined that Michigan ranks near the top of the list of the states with the most instances of drunk or drugged driving. Michigan came in at number eleven, and according to the report, as many as 19% of Michigan’s drivers aged 18 and above unlawfully drove under the influence of either alcohol or drugs last year. The study, which examined a period between 2004 and 2006, calls upon States to use “their efforts and resources to address this preventable menace.”
What is interesting to note about this study is that it followed almost immediately on the heals of Michigan’s 2003 re-write of the State’s drunk driving laws. In this package of changes the State promised to lock-up repeat drunk drivers and in some instances to revoke their licenses for life. This study proves that the threat of punishment does little to actually curb or deter behavior. Clearly as a society we must employ other means to address this societal problem. One answer might be sobriety courts. In 2007 the Michigan Supreme Court released its study entitled “Michigan DUI Court’s Outcome Evaluation.” (see http://spa.american.edu/justice/documents/2352.pdf). This study lauds the effectiveness of treatment in preventing recidivism, especially when sobriety courts are compared with incarceration.
Just a few days before SAMHSA report was released the United States Supreme Court seems to have come to a slightly different opinion on the topic, but one that is appears to be at least somewhat in concert with the position that sobriety courts are a better solution than incarceration. In the case of Begay vs. United States, 553 U. S. ____ (2008), the Court acknowledged that drunk driving presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another. According to the Court “drunk driving is an extremely dangerous crime. In the United States in 2006, alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes claimed the lives of more than 17,000 individuals and harmed untold amounts of property.” Nevertheless, in its opinion, the Supreme Court was unwilling to characterize drunk driving as a crime of violence because the drunk driver does not typically intend to engage in violent and aggressive conduct as do the offenders of clearly violent crimes like burglary, arson, extortion, and crimes involving the use of explosives. The irony here is that under certain circumstances, drunk drivers in Michigan receive penalties that are more severe than those meted out for offenders of these violent crimes.
As part of a rather routine effort to influence the judiciary in this Country, MADD’s press release, which is dated the same day as the Supreme Court’s opinion, states that they were “deeply disappointed” by the ruling. It is probably safe to say that some of Michigan’s trial judges feel similarly. Nevertheless, a copy of the Begay opinion, along with a copy of the Michigan Supreme Court’s study, should be presented to any judge who, at sentencing, suggests that the simple act of drunk driving, including those cases that involve no injury or death, is no different from violent criminal behavior, and then uses this belief as a basis to impose lengthy incarceration. Both the Michigan and the United States Supreme Court have stated that such reasoning is without merit.
Posted by Patrick T. Barone / Barone Defense Firm