A Better Way to Combat Drunken DrivingI agree with the...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

January 22, 1995

A Better Way to Combat Drunken Driving

I agree with the spirit of your editorial of Jan. 12, "Driving drunk again and again." I disagree with some content and conclusions.

First, in the last 15 years, Maryland has made great strides in dealing with the drunk driver. Legislators passed stricter laws. Judges, overall, deal with this crime with more seriousness.

Secondly, I believe it is wrong to extrapolate backward from the experiences of a chronic offender to the experiences of the first-time offender. Most first-timers never have a second offense. It would be wrong to treat them as if they were destined for multiple offenses of driving while intoxicated.

The drinking and driving habits of first-time offenders are quite varied. Some are problem drinkers, some are not. Many years ago in Maryland, the courts, the Division of Parole and Probation and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration developed and the legislature passed a program to "sort out" first-time DWI offenders.

The program requires assessment of each guilty offender: The non-problem drinker is sent to an education program and the ZTC problem drinker is sent to treatment. A person is assigned to ensure the offender follows the recommendations. The regulations include the standards for assessment, education and treatment as well as processes to monitor adherence to the standards.

The drinking habits of multiple DWI offenders become more uniform with each offense. Third-time offenders are usually chronic alcoholics. And it is with the multiple offender where the system becomes troubling.

Anecdotally, offenders believe that sentencing outcome is based less on their offense and more on how much money they can afford to pay their lawyer. What encourages this view is the fact that sentences are "all over the map" for repeat DWIs. It is difficult to see what leads to the sentence for any individual. With outcomes so unpredictable, the first-time offender who chooses not to stop drinking and driving can believe he or she will escape punishment the next time.

Mandatory sentences for DWI are used in Pennsylvania. They begin with a weekend in jail and alcohol education for the first-time offender. Mandatory jail terms increase exponentially for repeated offenses. However, mandatory sentences do not allow the trial judge to consider the specific conditions of each offense.

I would propose these changes. First, Maryland should legislate mandatory minimum sentences for each stage of DWI. This would allow judges to hand down more severe sentences for more egregious offenses, but would still make punishment more of a certainty. Second, the intensity of treatment as well as the punishment should increase on the third offense. By that time, the offender should have experienced a minimum of six months of regular outpatient treatment. There are multiple models for intensive treatment that could be considered.

The proven approach to drug abuse -- and driving after excessive drinking is drug abuse -- is a combination of treatment and punishment. The current system utilizes treatment well but can do even better. Mandatory minimum sentences will increase punishment.

oger W. Himler

Westminster

There You Go Again

As a reader of both the Washington Post and The Sun, I have grown accustomed to the liberal slant your paper manufactures on selective issues and events. This was evident in the Jan. 14 coverage of Ellen Sauerbrey's election challenge.

While Sun reporters Thomas Waldron and Michael James included every possible quote from Judge Raymond Thieme supporting the lack of credibility of the lawsuit, their left-sensitized, back-slapping coverage failed to include one quote the Post deemed important enough to get onto their page.

Regarding the city election administrator's glaring failure to legally manage voters rolls, Judge Thieme delivered this more newsworthy quote, "I am saying that the problems in Baltimore City must immediately be addressed if the citizens of this state are to have confidence in the electoral process."

To many Marylanders in and out of Baltimore city, this was the heart of the matter and you chose not emphasize it for all too familiar reasons.

Michael D. Speranza

Sykesville

No Football Factory

In your brief on Jan. 10 regarding Ki-Jana Carter, Penn State's running back, you seem to imply that he will not finish college. He in fact is a senior and plans to graduate in June. It is only his football eligibility that makes him a junior. . . . Penn State is proud of its top graduation rate for its football team.

Jeffrey R. Musser

Westminster

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