In my first installment "The Violent Crime of Drunk Driving" I introduced some statistics and my personal experience of losing my father to a drunk driving collision. In this installment, I will address our justice system which is weak, at best. At the end of this article I have a link to a petition I have started directed to President Trump, please sign this and forward it to your friends.
January 9, 2017, I attended what was to be the first court date relating to the collision of a neglectful, irresponsible, young man of 25, who was the drunk driver who was responsible for the event that led to my father's death.
I arrived at 6:30 a.m., two hours before the 8:30 court time to meet my brother to discuss important family matters regarding my father's death. Neither one of us had slept soundly for weeks. We were anxious and angry. The Assistant State's Attorney had not met with us up to this point. The only thing we knew about the case was the driver's name. The only information on what we could expect came from an advocate from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.). We felt completely left 'out of the loop.'
Since the collision involving my father, I have been researching the most common penalties. One punishment is the use of an Ignition Interlock Device. This is a unit put on a vehicle which requires the driver to breathe into it in order for the car to start. If they do not pass the requirement, the vehicle will not start. The unit keeps track of how many times an effort is made to start the car and fails. After so many fails, the driver receives a violation. Research has shown the use of this device has reduced the number of drunk driving instances. About half the states in the US accept this as a legitimate tool in addressing drunk driving. While in some states, it is a mandatory consequence...in others, it's an option. The offender has the option to pick the device or have their license suspended. I don't think they should be given a choice.
We made our way up to the courtroom to wait for the doors to open. While waiting, we watched everyone walking by, wondering who was responsible for our father's death.
At 8:30 we entered the room, the Judge arrived, and the proceedings began. One by one people were called up in front of him where they plead guilty to Driving Under the Influence (DUI). I kept track of each defendant as they announced the charge. Out of the first fifteen people called up, twelve were charged with first-time time offenses.
The judge asked each offender about their personal story- what they were doing with their lives up to that point, and what their plans for the future were. I wish they had asked me, my brother, my mother, my father... our plans and dreams have been destroyed!
All put on a show of remorse, and their lawyers claimed they were all "upstanding citizens." I felt hopeful after all pleaded "guilty" waiving their rights to a jury trial, willing to acceptance whatever judgment was handed down. I naively believed that justice would be served. I thought that he would be tough on these people. I was wrong beyond belief. One after another he handed out the same ruling:
- Attend one Victim Panel, which is a group of victims whose lives had been affected by a drunk driver. The session usually lasts a couple of hours and then they're done with that requirement.
- 100 - 200 hours community service. The judge made a great effort to make it clear to the offenders that hours couldn't be used in helping a "friend's" business.
- A fine of up to $1000
Really? That's it? This is supposed to stop repeat offenders?
Every offender walked out of the courtroom with nothing more than a slap on the wrist and a little inconvenience to their lives. According to M.A.D.D. 1/3rd of Drunk Drivers are repeat offenders. I'm not even shocked by this, after this display of mockery.
One older man had been charged FOUR times with drunk driving. He had on a bracelet and was in court motioning to have the bracelet removed so he could see a doctor for an exam. The judge actually granted the motion to have it removed for the appointment, but then they had to schedule another court date so they could "discuss" putting it back on a couple days later. This was a complete waste of court time, in addition to the fact that this man was a "flight risk." Sadly, this is not uncommon.
The person that killed my father, apparently had his court date moved to later in the week. We sat there for three hours in anticipation, not knowing he wasn't even going to appear. During the break, I made sure to introduce myself to the Assistant State Attorney, and politely let him know my disappointment in the system, and the fact that we, as victims, had been left out of the process. Now, we are completely informed as to what is going on due mainly to the fact that we regularly check in with him.
The question is- who is really to blame for the weakness of a disciplinary system?
The answer doesn't lie in bigger government. There are plenty of laws already in the books. They problem lies with a justice system that's not properly administering and enforcing the current laws. However, I believe that the laws, such as the ignition interlock device, should be applied consistently across all 50 states.
It is for this reason that I have started a petition at Whitehouse.gov for President Trump to sign an Executive Order to make the Ignition Interlock Device a mandatory consequence for First Time Offenders.
Ultimately, it falls on our shoulders to carry the weight. Please sign and share to your friends. We need 100,000 signatures in 30 days to get a response from the WH.
It is up to us to demand existing laws are enforced not as minimums, but as strong messages that will make potential drunk drivers think twice before deciding to get behind a wheel and turn that ignition key.