151 Band

Friday, April 22, 2011

Series on DUI Part 2: Legislators, Elected Officials and Cover-Ups

There have been multiple stories about drunk driving published by the newspapers in Oklahoma and plenty covered by the electronic media.  Most recently, KTOK covered a story regarding a State Representative who came rolling out of a bar late one evening to find his vehicle stolen.  Representative John Trebilcock is not a stranger to problems with drinking, he has been arrested for DUI in the past and his arrest took place two years after he authored DUI legislation himself.

Trebilcock Mugshot
Trebilcock was arrested in March of 2007, refused to take a breathalyzer test, was held for about six hours and then released after paying...wait for it...a bond of $570 (probably less than his bar tab).  His excuse for smelling like booze?  He told officers that he was at a bar, kissing a girl who had been drinking.   The Tulsa World covered this story exceptionally well - particularly the part about his authoring "tough" DUI legislation.  How did Trebilcock's trouble turn out?  Well, he got off with barely a slap on the wrist.  From a DUI blog:
Tulsa, Oklahoma. Republican State Representative John Trebilcock, of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma was in court to formally change his plea on a criminal charge stemming from a DUI arrest last year.

Representative John Trebilcock entered into a deal with prosecutors in July of 2007. Trebilcock needed to comply with various court imposed restrictions for six months. Upon successful completion of the court terms Treilcock’s no contest DUI plea would be reduced to a no contest Reckless Driving plea.

Trebilcock was required to work 10 days for the City of Tulsa and attend an alcohol class. John attended a DUI victim impact panel and pay fines of $750.00. This most likely will not help for Trebilcock’s next re-election, but a DUI arrest did not prevent Republican Jane Hague from reclaiming her County Council seat. Too bad our elected officials that make laws cannot follow them.

Rabon Mugshot
KOKH Fox 25 had a pretty fascinating story about a State Senator who found himself in quite the pickle as well.  He was pulled over, refused a breathalyzer test only to find from a blood test that his blood alcohol content to be twice the legal limit.  His BAC was .16.  Mind you, Senator Jeff Rabon wasn't merely pulled over for failing to stop at a stop sign or failure to use his turn signals.  It was a three-car crash that promulgated his arrest.  Like his Republican colleague in the House, Rabon too is not a stranger to problems with alcohol.  The Tulsa World has the whole history on Rabon - a man who was actually given a ride home by a law enforcement officer after being found intoxicated.  Oh, and he was merely charged with a misdemeanor charge.  From Bubbaworld.com:
He was reportedly twice busted for alcohol related offenses in Tulsa in 1989, pleaded guilty to driving under the influence, driving under suspension, transporting an open container and driving without insurance and driving while intoxicated. In the first incident he received a one-year deferred sentence, in the second incident he received two one-year suspended sentences and 40 hours of community service.

In 2005, Rabon’s truck crashed into a ditch in Hugo and an OHP trooper was disciplined for not testing to see if alcohol was involved in the crash.
In the same story by Fox 25, an Oklahoma City Police Officer refused to take a breathalyzer test, as did a former Luther Chief of Police.  You see, the hypocrisy stacks up so fast in Oklahoma where DUI is concerned, you need wings to stay above it.  And the trial lawyers love it because they know the law and they know that the few prosecutors who actually DO give a rip about DUI have their hands tied.

If you think the problem isn't horrific, consider the following hypothetical:
1.  A man gets arrested in Moore by Moore police and charged/convicted of DUI in city court.
2.  The same man gets arrested in Blanchard for DUI, charged and convicted in city court.
3.  The same man gets arrested in Edmond for DUI, charged and convicted in city court.
4.  The same man gets picked up in Oklahoma County by the Sheriff, gets charged and finally is charged in the Oklahoma County Courts.

He cannot be charged with a felony for previous DUIs because the municipal courts are not "courts of record."  Meaning, they sort of "don't count."  This is how we hear of these terrible stories where after multiple DUIs, the jackass ends up killing someone.  Only then, it seems, are people seriously pissed off about the problem.  And if we're talking about a legislator or someone who is on the "inside" of an elected official's web of protection, you can pretty much rest assured that it will be swept under the rug and ignored.  Until that person kills someone, of course.

Legislators and elected officials play fast and loose with the truth of the situation and the gravity therein.  They say they talk DUI seriously, but clearly if they were serious about the problem, they would require all DUI arrests to be handled by "courts of record" - the counties where the arrest was made.  Why, you may be asking yourself, aren't they turning these cases over to the counties?

Because DUI arrests and charges in municipalities are revenue producers for those municipalities.  One legislator told me that they had tried to push for such legislation previously, but the establishment Republicans and many of the rural Democrats fought against it because they small towns and cities would lose that revenue.  Even KWTV did a story about this issue a few years back and ironically, the story was handled by the wife of the current Oklahoma County District Attorney, David Prater.

What was important a few years ago, apparently isn't so important now, is it?

Prosecutors don't want to go "on the record" to talk about it, particularly when it hits close to home.  They have to work with members of the law enforcement community on a daily basis and while trying cases in the media is sexy and easy to do where politics are concerned, it's a little more difficult to navigate the waters where local law enforcement may be forced to answer really tough questions about how DUIs are handled for elected officials and their friends.

Next:  What Is Your Community Doing?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Series on DUI Part 1: The Problem

Driving under the influence of alcohol has reached epidemic proportions across the nation and though some measures have served to deter some drunk drivers, statistics are frightening.  Consider the statistics from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD):

This year, 10,839 people will die in drunk-driving crashes - one every 50 minutes.
An average drunk driver has driven drunk 87 times before first arrest.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens and one out of three of those is alcohol related.

It is certainly enough to get our attention - or at least it should.

There is some discussion, some movement with the Oklahoma legislature to push for a required interlock device for those arrested and convicted of DUI, and that is more than laudable.  From www.thestatecolumn.com:
A bill to reduce Oklahoma’s drunk driving fatalities has cleared the Senate and is on its way to the House of Representatives. Dixie and Keith Swezey, of Edmond, and other family members watched from the Senate Gallery as lawmakers voted unanimously for Senate Bill 529, the Erin Elizabeth Swezey Act. The bill is named for the Swezeys’ 20-year-old daughter, Erin, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2009. 
Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, is principal author of SB 529, which is authored by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, in the House. Jolley and the Swezeys met with reporters shortly after Tuesday’s passage of the measure. 
“We’re trying to keep drunk drivers off the road. That is our purpose. Today was a significant step towards that direction. I’m very honored to serve in a body that agreed with that principle and moved that public policy forward,” Jolley said “I want to thank publicly all the members of the State Senate today who gave their voice of support for this bill.”
This is a great move, a definite attempt to curb the problem.  But there is still a bigger problem looming that just has not yet been addressed - the issue of municipal courts not being required to charge and prosecute DUIs in county court.  Were this the case, many of these habitual offenders would be too busy in jail to be out on the roads. You see, local municipalities are not "courts of record," therefore, prosecutors cannot charge individuals with felonies who have had multiple DUIs unless their previous DUIs have been adjudicated in "courts of record" - such as county courts.

It is a problem that will be discussed at length on this blog in a future report.

Reading stories such as the one in the Oklahoman today, where Midwest City students get a "gory look at  drunken driving consequences," the perception presented that kids believe drinking and driving is a very, very bad thing.  But then, they read stories (or rather see them on television) about elected officials who are at bars in the middle of the week until 2am and get their vehicles stolen - oh, and by the way, this legislator has a "history of DUI."  Or, kids remember stories about State  Senators like Rabon and his friends who were picked up on DUI and what happened to them?  Nothing of consequence. 

We send mixed messages, we hear tough talk from elected officials and prosecutors about DUI, but when it comes to policing their own, well, it boils down to just that...talk. 

Coming next:  Legislators, elected officials and cover-ups.  Are there two sets of guidelines for drunk driving convictions?

I leave you with this video...it is emblematic of the whole problem.  This lawyer speaks of "ethics," and says, "I don't care about my clients' innocence or guilt."