EXAMINER PUBLICATIONS – NOVEMBER 28, 2007
By Rich Trzupek
Imagine that we were trying to solve a problem and the solution involved the following measures:
•Laws that ignored the principle “innocent until proven guilty,” by starting the punishment the moment a person was accused of the crime, rather than when the person was convicted of the crime.
•Rules that prevent a defense attorney from reviewing the case against his client until the day he walked into court, thus forcing the defendant to choose between: 1) the time and expense involved with prolonging the case (while continuing to be punished under the “guilty until proven innocent provision”), or 2) taking a chance with a half-prepared defense.
•Vigalante groups of extra-legal court watchers who go to court and report on judges’ behavior, urging voters to reject judges who don’t, in their view, convict enough suspects.
•Judges so intimidated by the court monitors that many of them refuse to make prosecutors prove that the scientific instruments used in evidence were properly operated and calibrated.
Does that sound a bit over the top? Does it sound something like a police state?
Before you answer in the affirmative to those questions, understand that we are not discussing the rights of enemy combatants being held at Guantanamo Bay. This issue hits much closer to home, for I have been describing DUI law as practiced in the State of Illinois.
Privately, many of the people in the system will express deep-seeded reservations about the form and function of DUI law in this state. That includes not only defense lawyers, whom one would expect to attack the system, but a growing number of prosecutors, police and judges as well.
In this one area of the law we have designed and enforce a system that routinely tramples an individual rights, presumptions of innocence and due process. And this state of affairs is not unique to Illinois. Every state in the union employs draconian measures like these, to one extent or another. They do so for one reason: because our elected representatives are running scared.
Care to guess whom the biggest and most powerful lobby in Springfield is?
It’s not the National Rifle Association. It’s not the American Federation of Teachers. It’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or “MADD.”
Legislatively speaking, whatever MADD wants, MADD gets, no matter how outrageous the demand. Legislators do not oppose MADD, for to do so would be-in the public’s eye-to be “for drunk driving.”
That’s a ridiculous standard. Nobody supports intoxicated motorists. And if you are a member of MADD and you are tempted to write a letter to this publication claiming that this column supports drunk driving, you are hereby put on notice: you will be mocked. Nobody, not even your humble correspondent, would suggest that impaired driving is a good thing.
But while we stubbornly protect the rights of the accused and demand strict adherence to rules of evidence in every other area of the law, we turn a blind eye in this case. It is no exaggeration to say that the system is more fair to an accussed murderer than it is to a driver accused of DUI.
MADD routinely justifies their agenda with the claim that over 40 percent of automobile fatalities are caused by drunk drivers. This is patently untrue. It’s a manipulation of statistics, in which the organization counts every fatality as “drunk driving” even if the driver was stone cold sober, but one of the passengers had a bit too much to drink.
In fact, about 84 percent of automobile fatalities involve drivers who have nothing to drink. About 5 percent of fatalities involve drivers with Blood Alcohol Contents of less than 0.14. The hard core drunks-the drivers we should be targeting-account for the remaining 11 percent, with Blood Alcohol Contents of over 0.14.
No one would minimize the death of a loved one, for any reason. But, in the scheme of things, shouldn’t we distinguish between the driver who has a couple glasses of wine at dinner and the driver who’s been pounding shots and beers for eight hours?
The first group is involved in about 2,000 fatalities on the road per year, and how many of those are actually caused by alcohol is an open question. Those 2,000 fatalities were much less than the number of deaths caused by accidental poisoning, drowning, choking and work-related injuries. Yet we dedicate an enormous amount of law enforcement resources toward finding and punishing these 2,000 drivers, motorists who present-at best-a very, very minor risk to society.
But, even if you’re OK with that, even if you say that the police and the courts should spend a huge amount of time and effort toward preventing these 2,000 deaths per year, do those fatalities justify trampling on our rights? We are so quick to defend the liberties so dear to us when other crimes are involved, but when MADD pushes an agenda that would have made the Gestapo blush, nobody dares to oppose them.
Perhaps that sounds like good government to MADD. From this vantage point, it smells like an old argument: the ends justify the means. But you know what? Once you resort to that logic, you’ve already admitted that you’re wrong.