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Friday, January 07, 2011

Hidden Story: State DUI Arrests Increasing

Drunk driving statistics are what they are and according to a few pieces out there in the mainstream media, arrests are on the increase.  The reasons are difficult to ascertain - it could simply be that law enforcement is becoming increasingly adept at nailing drunk drivers or it could be that there are more people who haven't gotten the message just yet. 

Here is a story from the Tulsa World's Deon Hampton, December 31, 2010:

With the number of drunken driving arrests increasing statewide, law enforcement officials are cautioning everyone to be aware of intoxicated motorists on New Year's Eve. 
There were 18,996 total arrests made for DUI in Oklahoma in 2009 and 18,980 in 2008, U.S. Department of Justice records show. 
Those numbers are a large increase over the 15,884 arrests made in 2005. 
More arrests are expected New Year's Eve when highway patrol troopers will stop drivers at various checkpoints.
Trooper Quenton Payne said troopers are looking for speeders, drivers erratically changing lanes or failing to use signals and cars with inactive head and taillights.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently released a study that found 10 percent of those surveyed admitted to driving while being drunk in the last year. 
The roadside service agency also says 209 people were killed and 3,452 injured in vehicle collisions in Oklahoma where alcohol played a role in 2009. 
Three out of about 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash during their lives, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In a story from the previous day, the paper talks about the fines, the trouble that comes with a DUI. 
Stephen Fabian Jr., an Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney since 1986, said that attorney fees can run from $500 to about $50,000, depending on whether there was an alcohol-related crash or injury and whether it's a first offense. 
Fabian said a simple first-offense misdemeanor charge usually costs $3,500 to $5,000 in lawyer's fees, but court costs in Oklahoma County District Court run about $950 per case. 
A judge also can order you to pay for your jail costs. An overnight stay in the Oklahoma County jail can fluctuate but costs an average of $45 a day, Oklahoma County sheriff's spokesman Mark Myers said. 
And that's not taking into consideration actual fines for pleading guilty or being convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 or higher or the traffic violations which resulted in the traffic stop or wreck. 
The first offense for DUI is a misdemeanor, punishable by a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. 
A district attorney supervision fee during a probationary period, if there is one, is $40 a month in Oklahoma County, Fabian said.
A law firm has its own basket at DPS.
But there are some inherent problems here.  First, if the DUI takes place in a rural municipality, it is up to the municipality to determine whether or not they will allow the charges reduced to say, reckless driving.  Second, the way the system is set up right now, municipalities don't have to report to the District Courts.  Meaning, if a DUI takes place in, say, Crescent, Oklahoma, the case will not be reported to District Courts and not show up on any of the OSCN records.  The reasons for this are multitudinous - including revenue streams for local municipalities and the Trial Bar.  If an attorney has the ability to negotiate with the municipality and plead the case for a lesser charge, the more billable hours the attorney can rack up and more revenue can be produced for the municipality in fines, etc.  Lastly, the state statutes regarding the Department of Public Safety are pretty iron-clad and that is some relief.  But clearly, the problem isn't going away and the statistics themselves show that whatever we're doing now isn't working.

[Note:  DUI in Oklahoma has become a cottage industry for the Trial Bar.  So much so that the law firm of the gentleman mentioned above has its own basket at the Department of Public Safety.  See above.]

The system is horribly broken and it needs repair sooner rather than later.

Lord willing, we can get something done.