Courtroom monitor: Only 59% of DUI arrestees are convicted

The anti-drunk driving group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) routinely sends observers into courtrooms in 15 states (not including Tennessee) as part of its Court Monitoring Program. The idea is to pressure the justice system into prosecuting DUI to the fullest extent possible. The cases they monitor are simple drunk driving cases involving no injuries or deaths.

“Volunteers and staff are a presence in the courtrooms that let law enforcement, prosecutors and judges know that we support them and expect them to treat these cases as the serious, violent crimes that they are,” says MADD’s national president.

Remember that MADD is highly partisan — and that DUI is not actually classified as a violent crime.

In any case, by MADD’s count, only 59% of people arrested for DUI in the 15 states they monitored were convicted of that offense. Last year, the group reported an average of 61% convictions.

What the group doesn’t tell you, however, is that there are good reasons why not everyone who is arrested for DUI is convicted of DUI.

What explains such a seemingly low conviction rate?

Some people plead guilty to lesser offenses as part of the plea bargaining process. The justice system couldn’t function if this were not the case, as nationwide about 95% of all criminal cases are resolved via plea bargain.

Some people have their cases dismissed because of police misconduct. Sometimes, the police pull drivers over in violation of their constitutional rights. When agents of the government violate the constitution, the justice system doesn’t allow them to benefit from that violation. Therefore, any evidence tainted by constitutional violations can’t be used against the defendant. That may mean a dismissed case, and this is a just result.

Sometimes the prosecution’s case is marginal. Sometimes, the evidence of someone’s intoxication is questionable. In such cases, it is not surprising that defendants are not convicted.

And, of course, some defendants are innocent. Drunk driving is just like other crimes in this regard. Some innocent people will always be caught up in the criminal justice system through no fault of their own. The breath testing machine might have malfunctioned or been miscalibrated. A blood test may have been done incorrectly, the sample tainted, or even the sample mixed up with another defendant. The person may have had a medical condition that caused them to seem impaired when they were not. Finally, the person may just have been stopped and arrested by an overzealous police officer. These cases happen.

Luckily, MADD does not represent the whole of the criminal justice system. Our understanding of justice simply does not allow everyone who is arrested to be convicted, or why bother with a trial at all?

If you’re arrested for DUI, you need someone who will see your case with unbiased eyes. Hire an experienced defense attorney right away.

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