Saturday, April 23, 2005

FIGHT DWI WITH TECHNOLOGY

In the daily paper today we see where Aidan Quinn, movie star, paid a $500 fine and lost his driving rights [they are not privileges, in a government of delegated powers, with a constitution, such as ours] for 90 days. He waited 18 months, then pleaded guilty without personally appearing. In the same paper, not on F-6 where Quinn's ordeal appeared, but on A-1, we see the ordeal of Judge Thomas Fitch. He pleaded guilty immediately, served a two-day mandatory sentence, lost driving rights, then took 30 days in rehabilitation, and now faces resignation or removal from office.

The criminal justice system is not perfect, but it is a good one; and it can be improved. One thing, sentences should be subject to review, for too much leniency, and for too harsh, or draconian, knee-jerk, or frivolous punishment. In Judge's school in Reno, Nevada, a few years back, the instructor conducted an experiment. Handed out a news item of a crime; and a presentence report from probation, and said the range of punishment is 0 years to 16 years. The Judges (they were all already on the bench) used a secret ballot. The answers given as a fair punishment were from outright probation (zero years) to 16 years.

Here is a partial answer to the problem, in DWI cases. Use the technology we have at present, and that which will come with new developments. In the case of DWI, we have the technology to prevent drinking (prevent ingestion of alcohol); or to limit the alcohol in the bloodstream (hence on the watery substance of the brain); and to limit the ingestion, or limit the amount, at certain times of the day, or to certain locations, or away from certain locations (aversion).

For example, by the ankle bracelet we can monitor the blood alcohol content, and allow drunkenness at home but prevent it at the workplace. With present technology, we can render machinery (automobiles, tractors, trucks, forklifts, cranes) inoperable by an impaired operator. Fifty years ago, without modern technology, the railroads figured out how to determine whether the train was being operated by an unconscious engineer.

Very important, however, is that the citizens be allowed to monitor the police and Courts and corrections and probation officers, through the internet. When Jane Sixpack is sentenced to abstinence, her bracelet reports in digits to the police, probation officer, Courts, and to the citizens. Modern technology would be more acceptable to the public if the citizens could monitor the monitors.

Instead of getting a driver out of a car and having her walk a chalk line in a dangerous location, we can hand her an IPod-type device for an immediate, accurate, recorded, monitored, impairment test, as a screening device. Fail that, and you get an invitation to a breath test; refuse that and you get detained for presentation of the evidence by wireless to the neutral, detached magistrate, and in a proper case, to an involuntary blood test. The screening tests and Court proceedings by wireless can and should be monitored by the citizens, through the internet.

Let the Judge decide the punishment for DWI. Should this convict be sentenced to abstinence (no alcohol) for a period of time? Abstinence except for when she is home (the alarm rings if the blood-alcohol is up and the convict is out of the house). Why punish the car with forfeiture, or a boot? The driver is the one who is at fault; limit or eliminate her alcohol intake, for a reasonable time. Limiting driving rights is wrong (economically costly) if there is an effective alternative, and there is. Let the Judge decide the punishment or corrective action, not the prosecutor (through charging decisions and plea bargaining); not the Legislature or City Council (through mandatory punishment schemes); not the police (through unbridled discretion conferred by the Legislature or the City Council).

Our purpose is to prevent DWI. The present DWI Lottery takes the people who are DWI each day (hundreds? thousands?), and puts their names in a hat and draws out 20 for arrest. Our justice system tosses 40%, or eight, by way of some technicality such as the officer did not appear; that leaves a dozen. We must come down hard on that dozen, to deter the thousands. For every crime, someone does time; but it is not always the one who commits the crime.

This lottery is not right. We should apprehend and convict more of the guilty, and the punishment will be more evenly spread over all of those who commit the offense. That is the fair thing to do; it is possible through technology [see post DRIVE DWI, LOSE CAR TO CITY]; and it will turn out to be the most effective, in that it will restore the confidence of the citizens in the administration of this important part of the justice system.

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