Thursday, May 12, 2005

DWI ARREST TRIGGERS OUTRAGE

The report of the arrest this week of a Los Lunas man for DWI (20 arrests; 7 convictions) has triggered outrage. KKOB radio Tuesday devoted over an hour to a discussion of a proposal by the host that the penalty for fourth offense DWI be mandatory life imprisonment. He suggested a mandatory sentence, so we do not have to worry about the Judge, ". . . it takes the idiot Judge out of the equation."

Who would be in the equation under such a proposal? First, the police officer who makes a traffic stop of a suspect. Does he make the arrest, knowing that Joe Sixpack will get life in prison? Next, the District Attorney. Does he prosecute Joe Sixpack for DWI, knowing that the punishment is mandatory life in prison? Next is the jury. Do twelve citizens unanimously agree to send Joe Sixpack to the New Mexico State Penitentiary for the remainder of his life?

One caller said do it on the third offense, do not wait for the fourth. The host said words to the effect, "I can go with that." One caller said take him (not clear whether he meant Rodarte, the accused, or anyone convicted of four DWI's) — take him out to the West mesa and shoot him. The host considered that proposal frivolous.

Rachel Conner, the State DWI Czar, on KKOB earlier, put her finger on the problem. She said, "It is very difficult to change their behavior." She was calm and rational, and right. The public is frustrated, and demanding "tougher laws."

A partial, but substantial solution, would be to provide the resources to the Courts for technology options in sentencing for DWI. Give the Judges the power (eliminate the mandatory provisions from all sentencing), and the resources, and we may expect that the Judges will do the right thing.

In the case of punishment for simple DWI, start with conditions of release (bail). One arrested for DWI and released on bail could be required to wear an ankle bracelet that would detect the blood alcohol content and report it to the computer. If the Judge sets a condition that the accused abstain pending trial, that could be enforced by the bracelet and computer monitoring. $5.00 to $10.00 per day should do the job. No need to place an ignition interlock, nor a "boot" on the automobile — put a bracelet on the alleged offender.

If the accused is convicted, she may be placed on a bracelet and home "tag" and allowed to have booze at home, but not be permitted outside the home with a prohibited blood alcohol content. We are looking at less than $10.00 per day, and ultimately less as use is expanded. The Judge may decide to prohibit some offenders from consuming alcohol. That is practical, with the alcohol bracelet. This technology is now in use and available. Give the Judges the resources, and the discretion, and we may expect a great improvement in the administration of this part of the criminal justice system.

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