After indictment, a Central New York man is heading for trial, which could land him in jail for 25 years. Law enforcement reports that this man’s alleged drunk driving is responsible for the death of an Oneida teenager and for critically injuring his passenger. The local trial is scheduled to start in October.
This is not the first time that this defendant has been through the criminal justice system on alcohol related charges. His prior offenses include a pending felony driving while intoxicated charge in Syracuse City Court, and a previous misdemeanor driving while intoxicated conviction in 2010.
Stories like this stir public discussion regarding repeat drunk driving offenders, and understandably so. They provide ample ammunition for public interests groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to push for harsher penalties and restrictions for people convicted of alcohol-related offenses.
But in this instance, the defendant was not new to the criminal justice system, begging the question: would harsher penalties have stopped him from getting behind the wheel? And would it have saved a life in the process?
This man was not supposed to be behind the wheel. In New York State, a driver’s license is suspended pending prosecution at the arraignment (first court appearance), but drivers may be eligible for restricted driving privileges. This driver was not eligible for restricted driving privileges because he had a prior alcohol related conviction within five years of his most recent charge. At least in this instance, it appears that no amount of increased penalties would have stopped him from driving.
Measures, such as 2014’s Vince’s Law, impose harsher penalties on repeat offenders. Vince’s Law allows prosecutors to charge citizens that have 3 or more DWIs within a 15 year period with a class D felony, including penalties of up to 7 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. Governor Andrew Cuomo believes that harsher laws, such as Vince’s Law, can deter repeat offenders.
Governor Cuomo says, “Motorists who repeatedly drive drunk are a danger to themselves and everyone else on the road, and they have no place behind the wheel… Vinces Law will keep these reckless individuals out of the drivers seat and help prevent future tragedies from occurring.”
This incident is certainly regrettable and tragic. It absolutely displays the danger that repeat drunk drivers can and do pose to public safety. But before public interest groups and policymakers push for harsher penalties, one must fully consider this issue.
This defendant was a repeat offender. In fact, he had a prior misdemeanor and felony. He was subjected to harsh penalties under the criminal justice system. Yet he allegedly drove while intoxicated once again, this time with fatal results.
This poses a difficult social question as to whether harsher penalties are really the answer to stopping repeat offenders. Harsher penalties are, of course, the quickest, easiest, and most politically attractive option. But as Americans, we must ask ourselves whether laws are the real fix here. It may be more difficult, and it may not be as quick, but perhaps the solution to ending repeat drunk driving lies outside the courtroom.
The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 432 N. Franklin Street, Suite 80, Syracuse, NY 13204; Telephone No.: (315) 473-0899. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.