Readers write

Readers write

October 28, 1990

MANY REASONS FOR LAX DWI SENTENCES

From: Frederick Everhart

Columbia

There are several reasons why the courts are so lenient on drunken drivers. Lax prosecutors and judges who wink at this offense have been known to sample the sauce themselves. Hence, "There but for the grace of God go I." There have been more than one judge arrested in this state for crimes associated with their drunken condition. Of course they have also received only probation before judgement (PBJ). It has not been too many years ago when a circuit court judge held court for several years while being alcohol impaired. At the time there was no way he could be removed from the bench for that condition. He was eventually persuaded to retire.

Then there is legal representation. Most traffic offenders represent themselves in court. Now a drunk driving charge theoretically carries greater consequences. Enter the lawyer. The client is half-way to acquittal simply by being represented. The judges and lawyers all belong to the same club. Furthermore, the judge is not likely to give the accused the impression that his counsel did not earn his fee, hence PBJ.

Community service and fines are sometimes assessed with the PBJ. That manipulation puzzles me. If the accused has not been found guilty, by what logical authority can a fine be levied before the verdict? It would seem that the action of being fined must imply guilt in spite of any other words to the contrary. Legal fiction sees its day in court in many ways.

There are people who are serious about this drunk driving carnage to our highways. It is up to the voters to note the records of those in the courts who are not so dedicated. Any forthright challengers not owned by the company store would surely prevail over the drunk driver defenders on the bench and weak-kneed prosecutors.

Editor's note: The writer has a law degree from the University of Baltimore Law School.

THANKS FOR ARTICLE ON DRUNK DRIVERS

From: George L. Layman

Ellicott City

As legislative representative for the Howard County Chapter MADD, I felt a sense of frustration lifted from my shoulders after reading Deidre McCabe's article on drunk driving in your Oct. 14 issue.

For the past three years I have been very active during all legislative sessions in Annapolis. How many times do I hear from legislators, "We have good laws on the books dealing with the drunk drivers -- if only the judges would use them!" Too many!

Do I believe in mandatory sentencing? You bet! Do I believe the first-time offender needs special attention? Yes. Do I believe that repeat offenders have a serious problem that only effective treatment or incarceration will help? Yes, again. Do I differ from our court's sentencing procedures? Obviously, yes.

If an offender needs professional help, let us as a caring society give it to him/her, not perpetuate the problem by giving no penalty. According to statistics, we only catch one out of every 200 individuals driving under the influence. Let's not lose the chance to get this person treatment. They need help, not another chance to inflict harm on us.

Keep up the good work!

DWI REPORT WAS LOPSIDED, UNREALISTIC

From: Preston A. Pairo III

Ellicott City

On a rainy October night in 1972, three hours after the Mt.

Hebron/Howard football game, my mother and I were crossing Route 40 at Rogers Avenue when a woman who had been drinking at the Howard House drove through a red light and struck our car. She never even applied her brakes.

The window beside me exploded, spraying glass. The side of my face was cut in numerous places. I still remember riding to St. Agnes Hospital in the ambulance, hearing rain beating hard on the roof.The strange emptiness in my stomach was only partially alleviated by the fact that I could wriggle my fingers and toes, taking inventory of my parts, if you will.

The scars on my face remain. My right ear tilts out farther than my left. And 18 years later, I am a lawyer who defends drunk drivers.

Your writer, Ms. McCabe, was far too determined to make villains of the court system and defense attorneys.

She did not interview any defendants except one who claims being slapped on the wrist after his first offense did nothing to prevent him from drinking and driving again. The only defense attorney interviewed was made to look two-faced because she is a former "hanging" judge who now represents DWI clients.

Ms. McCabe's conclusion that Howard County is one of the most lax jurisdictions in sentencing DWI offenders is grossly misleading. Howard County is the toughest metropolitan jurisdiction in the state. Only in rural areas (those same counties that voted against the gun ban) do you find more stern sentencing.

But perhaps your writer's greatest error was her failure to accurately portray the average DWI defendant.

When your readers consider a drunk driver, do they picture the stereotypical beer-guzzling construction worker weaving his pick-up down the highway, destined for mayhem?

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