Drunk driving is dangerous. No one disputes that. That is why legislatures have imposed ever more severe penalties. Because, in addition to making laws, the legislature makes statements, often about behavior or conduct that society approves or disapproves. Society approves of home ownership, so mortgages receive an interest tax deduction and society disapproves of narcotics, so possession of heroin carries long prison terms.
But in crafting punishments for conduct like drunk driving, we must do more than merely send statements. Because if a motorist has a substance abuse problem with alcohol, incarcerating them without treatment, means they pose just a great a threat to other drivers the day they get out of prison as they did on the day the entered prison.
A Memphis paper has found that in Tennessee, if you are convicted of a first time DUI, you will serve 48 hour in jail. If you have an accident and the other driver dies, you could be sentenced to probation only.
And they have found three cases where it actually occurred.
One commentator calls it a “horrible loophole,” but is it really? In one of the three, the victim’s daughter had asked for probation. Judges have to look at 24 factors to consider in sentencing a drunken driver. The driver in that case was on probation for eight years and never reoffended.
Judges tend to be very sensitive to the wishes of the victims family, and they must consider prior offenses.
Jail is very expensive for society. If a driver has made a mistake, driven drunk and killed someone, that person deserves very strict scrutiny. However, sentencing a person to prison costs the taxpayers a great deal of money twice; the prison cost and it can destroy the earning capacity of a productive member of society, meaning they no longer pay taxes.
If a judge, who has observed the driver, listened to the victim’s family and seen the evidence at trial determines after reviewing the 24 factors that probation is appropriate, who among us is better placed to decide otherwise?
Nonetheless, we expect this story will probably prompt the legislature to demand these drivers serve time behind bars.
It will make a statement.
Source: Insurance Journal, “Report Questions Jail Time ‘Anomaly’ in Tennessee’s Drunk Driving Law,” June 18, 2014