Are higher penalties the answer?
Last week (or maybe two weeks ago now) the City of Seattle suffered the tragic loss of two people, the significant injury of two more, and probably another life lost behind a jail cell.
The incident I’m referring to is Mark Mullen’s hitting four people with his truck while he was allegedly too drunk to drive (I say allegedly because we don’t know all the facts – it’s fine if you want to jump to that conclusion but I’m not going to).
You can read the full story here, but here’s just a little excerpt from the Seattle Times:
drove his black 2012 Chevrolet Silverado quad cab into a family on an afternoon walk in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood, killing Judy and Dennis Schulte and injuring their daughter-in-law and grandson. On Wednesday morning, Karina Ulriksen-Schulte, 33, and her 12-day-old son, Elias, remained in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center.
Court documents indicate that Mullan — who was driving on a suspended license — smelled of alcohol, failed field sobriety tests and had a preliminary blood-alcohol level of 0.22 percent, nearly three times the state’s legal limit of 0.08 percent. King County District Court Judge Mark Chow on Tuesday ordered Mullan held in lieu of $2.5 million bail for investigation of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault, $500,000 above what prosecutors had sought.
Naturally this created a huge backlash from people that want the legislature to immediately increase penalties for drunk drivers.
But that won’t work. Here’s why.
1. You Can’t Legislate Stupid
Let’s face it, some people just make bad decisions. They don’t think things through. They don’t think about the consequences of their actions.
Yes, when people make bad decisions they will be punished more severely. But that’s not going to stop someone from doing it.
2. You Can’t Legislate Naivete
The fact of the matter is, when most people get DUIs they didn’t think, at the time they were arrested, that they were too drunk to drive.
This happens for two reasons:
- Drinking impairs judgment; and
- DUI laws have become so strict that you literally could not be drunk and could have a breath test over the legal limit.
The harsh punishments that are put into place for DUI offenders won’t carry any weight if the person, at the time they are committing the act, actually thinks they are okay to drive.
And yes, I hear you, those saying “well they shouldn’t be driving after even one drink,” but let’ be realistic here. People drink and drive. It isn’t illegal. And it shouldn’t be.
My point is simply that harsh punishments won’t deter people when they don’t think they are breaking the law.
3. You Can’t Legislate Disease
Alcoholism is a disease. For the most part, the people that you see in the news as repeat offenders have a problem with alcohol.
It’s not a matter of choice.
It’s not a matter of responsibility.
They are sick. And their sickness does only one thing – drive them to drink more alcohol.
And, the sad part about it is when people get drunk, like really drunk, they don’t just lose their ability to drive safely, they lose their ability to think.
I’ve represented people with several DUIs and I hear the same story often. “I don’t even remember what happened. Not one single bit.”
My Question for You.
What do you think should be done to prevent situations like this? Do you think harsher punishments work? What should the next step be?