Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

December 10, 2005

Efforts to toughen driving laws blocked

The Sun's editorial "Death and alcohol" (Dec. 2) correctly points out that Maryland has far to go in its efforts to reduce drunken-driving crashes and the resulting fatalities and injuries.

Many members of the General Assembly are interested in this issue, and each year, valuable legislation is introduced. Some bills are passed by the Senate. But often those bills are not called to a vote by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr.

These are some of the difficulties we have encountered:

Legislation to provide longer license suspensions and higher fines for those who test at a high blood alcohol concentration (0.15 and above) or who refuse the breath test has repeatedly been introduced. In 2004, such a bill passed the Senate but was voted down in the House Judiciary Committee. In 2005, the bill did not get to the floor of either house.

Legislation closing the loophole for repeat driving-while-impaired offenders was introduced in 2004 and 2005. But it was not called to a vote in the House Judiciary Committee in either year.

Legislation to lengthen the interval at which a probation before judgment disposition can be offered (from once every five years to once every 10 years) passed the Senate in 2004 and 2005 but was not called to a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

In this day and age, no one is unaware of the dangers of drinking and driving. Indeed, drunken driving is the most frequently committed violent crime in our country.

Those who make the decision to engage in this dangerous behavior must be held accountable.

Nancy Kelly

Timonium

The writer is a public policy liaison for Mothers Against Drunk Driving-Maryland.

Close the loopholes on drunken driving

Maryland roads need not have the distinction of being among the nation's most deadly because of drunken driving ("Death and alcohol," editorial, Dec. 2) Closing the many loopholes in the state's drunken-driving laws would be a great start.

The state's law currently allows many drunken drivers to escape serious sanctions and get a second, third and even fourth chance.

In fact, Maryland's probation before judgment amounts to nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and contributes to the revolving door through which many repeat offenders pass.

Yet legislators have, for several years, refused to tighten eligibility rules for probation before judgment.

In addition, almost one-third of those stopped under suspicion of driving under the influence in Maryland refuse a sobriety test.

Drivers stopped for driving under the influence (DUI) should not be allowed to refuse sobriety tests. Sanctions for sobriety test refusal need to be strengthened and made consistent with those for driving drunk.

AAA Mid-Atlantic is committed to working with legislators and the governor to combat drunken driving. And I hope that the legislation Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. introduced in last year's Assembly will pass this session.

This legislation, which includes an automatic license suspension for those under 21 years old who are arrested for DUI, would put an early stop to future repeat offenders.

Young adults value the privilege of driving.

Reaching them prior to the point that they become repeat, adult offenders would be a step in the right direction.

Ragina Cooper Averella

Towson

The writer is public and government affairs manager for AAA-Mid-Atlantic.

Execution is tool prosecutors need

Those advocating the abolition of the death penalty fail to realize that the presence of the death penalty is an important tool for prosecutors and the state ("As execution clock winds down, the racial debate lingers," Dec. 4).

Often prosecutors will use the death penalty as a bargaining chip to get criminals to plead guilty and take a life sentence rather than face the possibility of death.

If this option is taken away, what will prosecutors have to use as a bargaining chip?

Despite what death penalty opponents may argue, its presence leads to more efficiency and saves needless trial costs, which ultimately means fairness and justice for the victim, his or her family and society as a whole.

Is the death penalty flawed? Arguably, it is.

But that alone does not justify its abolition, considering the additional problems its abolition would create.

Sebastian Kurian

Baltimore

The writer is a student at the University of Maryland School of Law.

The death penalty can never be just

Why is it that death penalty opponents persist in offering the wrong arguments in support of the right goal? Specifically, why do they continue to argue that the death penalty should be abolished because it is not "fair," rather than because it is wrong?

For example, Sen. Lisa A. Gladden in her column "Death row disparity" (Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 2) and The Sun in its editorial "Clemency and justice" (Nov. 30) both cite the University of Maryland study that found that a defendant in a capital case is more likely to be sentenced to death if the victim is white or the trial is held in Baltimore County.

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