Local attorney thinks Governor Inslee ‘going too far’ with tough new DUI law
by Jack Mayne
Burien lawyer Joe Breidenbach, known widely as “DUI Joe,” believes Gov. Jay Inslee is going too far with the tough new proposed law he unveiled last week following three local deaths in tragic DUI-related accidents.
Legislators introduced the governor’s proposed law changes on April 16.
It would require an arrest on the first offense and mandatory jail time if offenders don’t enroll in a sobriety program after a second arrest. The proposal sets mandatory minimum jail times for second and third offenses, but offenders can avoid jail on the second offense if they enroll in a substance abuse program that requires them to take frequent breathalyzer tests, The Associated Press reported. The bill would mandate installment of interlock devices on cars after someone is charged, rather than after being convicted, unless an exception is made by a court. Some observers suggest that would not be constitutional.
On a third offense, offenders would be sentenced to 364 days in jail and would prohibit them from purchasing alcohol for 10 years.
The governor said it “the right thing to do” and would be the “most aggressive, the most effective, the most ambitious program to reduce drunk driving on our roads.”
We asked Breidenbach, whose Burien law practice specializes in drunk driving related cases, for comments.
“First, I would like to say that I saddened by the recent deaths of Judy and Dennis Schulte and Morgan Williams which allegedly occurred as the result of accidents involving an impaired driver. Loss of life is always a tragedy.”
But he said there is a “big difference between driving under the influence and vehicular homicide. Sanctions imposed for criminal activity should reflect the seriousness of the crime and not what is the current politically correct bandwagon for politicians.”
Breidenbach says state law makes a criminal offense the unlawful display of any weapon.
“You would be charged with something much worse if you actually intimidated somebody with a weapon or fired the weapon. Unlawful display is a gross misdemeanor with a maximum jail sentence of 364 days in jail.
“Unlike a DUI there are no minimum sanctions for unlawful display of a weapon,” Breidenbach said. “Unlike a DUI there are no increased minimum sanctions for a second offense.
“Like a DUI, this kind of behavior certainly has the potential for developing into something much more serious like assault or a homicide,” he said. “Actually I think that unlawful display of a firearm is far more likely to end in injury of death than a DUI.”
Breidenbach said the King County Website listed 178 homicides Washington in 2010, with the leading cause being firearms.
“On May 30, 2012 a man walked into the Café Racer coffee shop in the University District and allegedly gunned down five people, killing four,” Breidenbach said. “The same man then allegedly made his way downtown, where he killed a woman in a parking lot before stealing her car.
“To the best of my knowledge there was no great movement by Washington lawmakers to increase the penalties for the unlawful display of a weapon as a result of this incident,” Breidenbach said. “There were 26 homicides in Seattle alone in 2012 but it seemed to go unnoticed by Washington lawmakers.
“The Washington State Patrol has been quoted as saying that there are about 40,000 DUI arrests each year in the state of Washington. Rep. Roger Goodman of Kirkland has been quoted as saying that in 2011 there were 454 traffic accident fatalities, in which 199 accidents the driver was impaired with either drugs or alcohol.”
Breidenbach also quoted the National Highway Traffic Safety as reporting that for every DUI violator arrested, there are between 500 and 2000 undetected intoxicated violations.
In Washington state, he says, if there are 40,000 DUI arrests and 500 undetected violations, then there are 2 million undetected DUI incidents.
“This would mean … about one chance of a fatality per 10,0000 incidents of impaired driving,” Breidenbach said, or one fatality per 400,000 if you have 2,000 undetected DUI violations.
Fear is deterrent
Breidenbach said the National Highway Safety Administration believes the deterrence to DUI is based on the driving public’s fear of being arrested.
“I do not think that there is that much fear of being arrested if you believe that the chances of being arrested are between 1 in 500 and 1 in 2000, regardless of what the penalties are,” he said. “Increasing the penalties for those convicted does not increase the chances of being arrested. The only way to increase the chances of being arrested it to put more patrolmen on the street.”
“A six month sentence for DUI is not any scarier than a 30 day sentence for someone who does not think that they are going to get caught. What about someone who gets a DUI when they are 22 years old and then a second DUI when they are 70 years old?
“What about someone who gets a DUI when they are 22 years old and then a second DUI when they are 70 years old after taking a prescription medication?
Breidenbach then wonders about someone who gets a DUI because they were allegedly affected by antidepressant medication that they were taking as prescribed by their doctor.
The Washington State Department of Licensing says DUI (driving under the influence) doesn’t just mean alcohol, but “refers to operating a vehicle while affected by alcohol, drugs, or both. This applies to both legal and illegal drugs, including prescription medication and over-the-counter drugs.”