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DUI Conviction Depends on the Location

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Jail CellWhen a person is sentenced for driving while intoxicated, the punishment he or she receives depends more on what locale he or she was driving in than on anything else, according to recent articles.

As John Wisely writes in USA TODAY,

Drunken driving penalties are a lot like real estate values; they depend on location, location, location. Alaska, Tennessee and Georgia are among the states with mandatory jail time for first offenders, locking up drunks for three, two and one day respectively, a survey of state laws shows. California, Connecticut and Indiana don’t require jail for first timers. In Wisconsin, first-offense drunken driving isn’t even a crime. It’s a civil infraction that results in a ticket.

Even within the same state, penalties can differ for the same offense, depending on where it occurred. For example, south of 8 Mile in Detroit, Michigan, it is very unlikely that a first time offender will be sent to jail for drunk driving; whereas north of 14 Mile Road in Birmingham and Bloomfield, the same driver will most likely be sentenced to jail, according to an analysis of local court records by the Detroit Free Press.

In other parts of that state, sentences range between those two extremes. This is because Michigan sets no guidelines for judges in drunk driving cases except to limit the maximum penalty, which gives judges much discretion in sentencing.

Tough judges, like Michigan’s District Judge Kimberly Small, say the consequences of drunk driving are so serious, a strong message needs to be sent, while others say that few first-time offenders repeat the offense and that there is no evidence that jail time deters future violations. Judge Small sentenced ESPN analyst and former NBA basketball player Jalen Rose to 93 days in jail last Wednesday for drunk driving last March in a one-car accident in West Bloomfield, but said Rose would only have to serve 20 days if he doesn’t get into further trouble. She also gave him 12 months probation. Rose had told the judge he had six martinis the night of his crash.

According to an article in the Detroit Free Press by writers John Wisely and L.L. Brasier,

Small said jail time is appropriate even for first-time offenders. Her argument: The difference between a drunken driver who causes death or injury and one who doesn’t is luck.

‘Either we’re serious about this or we’re not,’ Small said. ‘I don’t believe people have the right to roll the dice with other people’s lives.’

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says there were 12,744 traffic deaths due to drunk driving in the U.S. in 2009. And according to FBI statistics, more than 1.4 million people are arrested for drunk driving annually.

USA TODAY reports that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), federal highway officials and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism all say that ignition interlock devices (IIDs) are more effective than prison sentences in deterring drunk driving. These IIDs require drivers to blow into a device that prevents a car from starting if a person has been drinking.

“There needs to be that threat of incarceration because drunk driving is a crime,” said Frank Harris, the state legislative affairs manager for the national MADD office. “But we are finding the most effective way is to have the ignition interlock.”

Image by abardwell (Andrew Bardwell), used under its Creative Commons license.

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