Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Drunk drivers and the killing of the Hopkins Student

Buz has been following the story of the numbnuts who wandered around the city last week, scaring the beejesus out of everybody, both before and after he hit a Hopkins student, left the scene, did not render aid, and she later died.

We shook our head in dismay, but hardly in surprise. More than 30 years ago, I used to go to traffic court a lot, and had arrested a fair number of drunk drivers myself. I was amazed at how many of the offenders in court were repeat offenders. And I began to realize how weak the Maryland law is on boozehounds. It eventually dawned on me that fines, license suspensions/revocations and the threat of jail does not deter and does not punish these folks.

Ya don't need a license to drive, you only need a set of car keys. So, the only real way to stop them is to, for some period of time, take their car away--on the first offense, and longer on subsequent offenses. Of course, I know: it might be someone else's car they are driving, and there may be "hardship" in the family. tough. Gotta do the time if you're gonna do the crime. And it has to be combined with jail, or the threat of jail, along with some kind of treatment for his alcohol problem. Not to mention the lack of responsibility problems these folks have.

Jail and treatment work for some folks, but not for many. Time after time, people who get convicted for drunk driving charges simply continue driving.

Only jail and seizing their car, or the car they were driving would stop them.

In this latest case: more questions arise than are answered:
  • Why was he out on only $100,000 bail while he was awaiting trial?
  • Didn't the jurist who set the bail have any concern for public safety (unlike the distinguished her honor Nancy Shugar)?
  • Who paid the bail?
  • Did he put up a house he owned?
  • Did a relative put up a house?
  • Or did one of our bondsmen offer him a get out of jail 1% bail, financing the other $9K, so poor little drunkard could go home to have another one on us.
  • Who's car was he driving?
  • How did he get tags?
  • Who insured that vehicle?
The sad truth is all of us are complicit in some small way in that Hopkins student's death: our ambivalence toward drinking; our legislature full of wine-drinking defense attorneys; our love of Ravens and tailgating (betcha they're not drinking Pepsi out there); our ignoring people driving away from Ravens games with beers in their hand; our night clubs offering deals to get you drunk as a skunk before you go back to the dorm; judges and MVA officials who fall for sob stories, and the drinkers themselves, who love the taste and their high--but don't want to take any responsibility for what they do drunk (everybody wants to get to heaven, but nobody wants to die). The list could go on for a while.


BaltimoreGal said...

It's not just Maryland that's weak on drunk drivers. It's neighboring states too. Plus the fact that if you sign up for court-ordered treatment it can take 6-8 months before you even START. So people are out on the streets until then.

Drunk drivers absolutely terrify me because they can be sensible reasonable people when sober but drunk and/or behind the wheel there is nothing you can do to stop them unless they have no access to a car.

Having had a family member who had this problem it used to terrify me that he would kill someone. While I didn't enable this person, and stayed away from them, there was nothing I could do to stop them. I used to pray that if he got in a bad accident he would only kill himself and that is an awful feeling, believe me. Thankfully that never happened and he NO LONGER DRINKS. That is the only solution, really. Freedom isn't free, folks, and if you are a danger to others you should lose that freedom to drink. Repeat DUI/DWI offenders should be jailed if they continue to drink, much less drink and drive.

Thanks for writing this, Buz. I feel like too many people, including those in law enforcement, are too light on drunk drivers.

buzoncrime said...

Thanks, Baltimore Gal!
Court-ordered outpatient treatment for alcohol is or should be long, with a suspended jail senctence hanging over their head. Many people ddrink because of some underlying issues, habits, and just won't or can't stop. I don't think Parole and Probation violates them sometimes if they don't complete treatment

And you're right aout law enforcement also being part of the problem. I once had a colleague tell me that he didn't lock up anybody unless they hit something.
And the city's once famed traffic unit is a shadow of its former self, with the motorcycle unit spending hours and days "escorting" people to/from events, who in many cases could just drive themselves.

People on the Sun's website also mentioned about how he could drive around the city so wild and recklessly, and no police were able to notice.

Wonder why he keeps coming into the city. And how did he get home after leaving the truck in Ashburton? And why there?

John said...

I really thinks it goes to a problem I continually harp on, and feel like I'm beating a dead horse, but it's the lack of available courtrooms, jurors and judges.

DUI/DWI laws have gotten much tougher in Maryland over the past ten years with increased penalties for 1st time offenders, etc. Taking the cars is an idea, but the ramifications would be far reaching, how would it affect 3rd parties, particularly the lien holders? Are we going to screw these banks? If so, should it honestly get to the point that someone with a DUI can never own a car again because no bank will lend to him? Then how are these people to work? Public transportation exists in the Baltimore Metro area, but outside of that, it gets a little thin.

DUI/DWI are some of the hardest cases to prosecute due to the extremely rigid technical requirements of prosecution. You need the arresting officer, the technician and the person responsible for calibrating to all appear. How did the officer know he was drunk? Was the initial stop legitimate? Tell me about the calibration of the machine? All of these questions should be litigated by a competent defense attorney, making the case take at least a whole day if not more. So under the current setup do you want the prosecutors using the courtrooms to move forward on DUIs or other endeavors such as robbery, rape and murder? Should it have to be that way, no. In reality is it, yes. So the prosecutors plead down to an (a)(2) and don't go after repeat offender enhancements, etc.

buzoncrime said...

Good Point, John!
I suspect that is why, despite this guy's convictions, he hasn't gotten a lot of serious attention as a repeat offender. And probably that's what got his 2 DUI's, along with his DWIs.
I agree my idea of seizing cars has a lot of implementation issues, but it is something to consider. Who insures this guy anyway?
We do? So, we should subsidize his living in Carroll County (or wherever), so he can drive around drunk instead of walking to his local bar?
And I agree that we are already at the state where there are few actual trials: most everything is either plea-bargained or an agreed-statement of "facts".

ppatin said...

I've had a couple of lawyers tell me that in Maryland a first time DUI virtually always gets you nothing harsher than PBJ unless you do something really asinine (not that driving drunk isn't dumb enough on its own) like drive drunk with a kid in the car.

I also knew someone else whose neighbor was busted for DUI an astonishing SIX times. The friend in question told me that she might have to look after her neighbor's dog for a while because it looked like me might finally be getting some jail time. Ugh.

buzoncrime said...

The sad truth is that most offenders who are caught (not all, but most), actually a.) have a problem handling alcohol---often because of problems in their personal lives concurrent with the addiction, and b.) will continue to drive their cars, regardless of their suspension or restrictions or PBJ or convictions.

And most don't think they have a problem.

A promising sign is that more and more folks, usually on their second conviction, are sentenced to long out patient programs for intensive psycho-social treatment/addiction treatment.

An unpromising sign is that, for whatever reason, police a few years ago, when stopping a person with a suspended license, would simply issue them a ticket for driving on a suspended license and let them go on their merry way. When I was a young officer ( a couple of years ago), we used to arrest them and tow their cars away. The tow truck is your mightiest weapon, I've discovered. (and I don't care what the banksters think). Barring that, incarceration is the only thing keeping them off the road; and as a result they often find it very difficult to get a job when they come home, with some exceptions.

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John said...


Have you seen that video yet of Baltimore's toughest cops?

A PBJ for a first offense and no jail time may seem light, but the offender will doubtlessly be placed on probation, have to attend a MAD Victim Impact Panel, have their driving privileges suspended, possibly have an interlock device installed and pay some sort of fine. Not an easy experience for your first time drunk college kid who made a very stupid decision.

buzoncrime said...

I agree, John, but sometimes doing something the first time prevents 2nd and 3rd times. Often, if they get a PBJ, there isn't much of a fine, I don't think they do MADD impact panels in the city, it's up to the judge if they have a supervised probation with a treatment program imposed. From what i can tell from dealing with these offenders, the use of the ignition lock device is becoming more a tool proffered by defense attorneys to garner a plea bargain. And although I'm seeing a lot of suspensions, I also see a lot of DWI guys who still have licenses. At the nonprofit I work at part-time, there are more suspensions for nonsupport.

However, the state is getting pretty tough on suspending your license if you refuse a breath test.
Unfortunately, as Mr. Meighan has proved, you only need a vehicle and keys to drive. Who cares about the suspension?

The video on myspace is pretty well done, and exciting. Tasers are being used more and more to subdue combative individuals. But I thought Donny Moses is in Public Affairs; I guess he was given the assignment of overseeing this film maker.

John said...

I will defer to your experience regarding city DUI's. My experience with the subject matter is almost exclusively with the County, which is unfortunately almost a totally different planet.

It's my understanding that very few city officers actually conduct traffic stops, and then even fewer would actually be qualified to make a DUI stop, especially considering the new ruling regarding HGN.

buzoncrime said...

John---I agree with you that many, if not most, city officers do not engage in proactive traffic stops. Mostly because they don't have the time, and in some areas are going from call to call. Patrol has been cut a great deal and emphasis is on stopping murder (with handguns, that is).

I know DUI cases can be complex, but, at least when I left, all city officers were trained in spotting and stopping drunk drivers. But, please, refresh my memory, what is HGN, and what is the new ruling? Do you mean one of the field sobriety tests?

John said...

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus or HGN. Recently the Court of Appeals ruled in the case of State v. Blackwell that in order for the results of the test to be admissible, the testimony of an expert was necessary. Thus in order to testify about it, the State will have to notify the defense of its intention to call the officer as an expert, then qualify him as such before he can testify. If he is qualified as an expert the door is opened to a much wider scope of cross and unless properly trained, the officer can be thoroughly embarrassed. In this instance you're asking an officer to discuss complicated testing techniques, not something than can be learned on the job such as drug distribution, or that a one day class will suffice.

The best advice a drunk can fortunately/unfortunately receive remains not to cooperate at all on any field sobriety tests and contact an attorney prior to taking the breathalyzer.

And what are your thoughts on the ongoing Mark Lundsford scandal?

buzoncrime said...

I assume you mean the Baltimore drug cop--now suspended without pay, yo, probably never-to-be-a cop again.
It is remarkable, John, on any number of levels. It's hard to know where to start.

But the biggie for me was: if the FBI doesn't trust this guy, you, Mark, are going to trust him to keep a secret between him and you (just between us criminals, you know) about you ripping the government off? The stupidity! And the arrogance to think that he wouldn't or couldn't get caught!
Hmmmm. Does that say something about the quality of supervision in those drug task forces. Oh, and isn't nice that a plain ole police officer has that much cash lying around his house?
Wonder if he had a take-home car, too?