It is a very simple rule. If you have had too much alcohol to drink, don't drive. Any questions?
For the last couple years, I have posted a "Please Don't Drink & Drive" Rant as I believe it is a vital issue to everyone who enjoys alcohol. The upcoming holiday period is a dangerous time as there can be a tendency for some people to over indulge, to drink too much at parties and gatherings. That is fine, they can drink all they want, provided those people do not drive.
As I said before, "If there is any question, no matter how small, whether you are too intoxicated to drive, then don't. If your family or friends think you have had too much to drink, don't drive. Just don't. It is not worth the risk by any calculation." Please review my prior Rant on this topic and heed its call.
This topic arose in my mind yesterday morning, as I perused an article in the Sunday Boston Globe called For drunk drivers, a habit of judicial leniency. It is a very disturbing article, detailing how judges are far too often finding alleged drunk drivers not guilty. That means those same individuals might drink and drive again, feeling empowered because they beat their previous drunk driving charge, and endanger the safety of the public. Something needs to change and hopefully the Globe's expose might put a spotlight on judges and cause them to rethink their decision making in the future.
According to the article, there are about 17,000 people arrested for drunk driving in Massachusetts each year. That is a huge figure, showing that far too many people still don't understand that they should not drink and drive. How difficult is it to understand? DON'T DRINK & DRIVE! Each time you drink and drink, you endanger yourself, your passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and people in other vehicles. So don't do it!
Of those 17,000 people arrested, about 85% of their cases are resolved without a trial, usually through a plea bargain. If a matter goes to trial, it can be before solely a judge, called a bench trial, or it can be tried before a jury. Each year, there are over 1000 bench trials and over 80% of those trials end in an acquittal, an extraordinary percentage. Specific Massachusetts counties and judges have even higher acquittal rates, some over 90%. With jury trials, the acquittal rate is closer to 50%. You should also consider that six years ago, Melanie's Law was supposed to impose tougher drunk driving sanctions so you would expect much more convictions.
Curiously, the state of Massachusetts does not maintain records on these acquittal rates. It does not appear that there is any other state that has such a high bench trial acquittal rate. For example, in Arizona, bench trial acquittals are about 25% while in Colorado and Hawaii the rate is about 36%. So why is the acquittal rate so high in Massachusetts? The article provides some possible explanations, also giving some examples of cases which seem like they should have easily received guilty verdicts but which did not.
No matter how judges try to justify their decisions, the incredibly high acquittal rate raises a major red flag. It strains credulity to think that all of those acquittals are fully justified. I am a licensed attorney and have practiced criminal defense so I have some comprehension of the intricacies of the system. It does not seem right at all to me. The system is clearly being gamed by defense attorneys, seeking out those judges who are most lenient toward drunk charge charges, for whatever reason. If judges were not so lenient, then defense attorneys would not be able to game the system in this manner.
No matter how much I and others plead with people not to drink and drive, some people will still do so. If they do so, and are arrested, there should be consequences. If judges at bench trials continue to acquit so many drunk driving defendants, then there are no consequences and those defendants might continue to drink and drink. Maybe that drunk driver will kill someone next time. Do we really want more fatalities from drunk driving accidents?
Judges, wake up and perform your duty properly. Protect the innocent public. Seems simple enough. Any questions?