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Recent DWI dismissals further expose a broken D.C. DWI enforcement system

Feb 09, 2011 Recent DWI dismissals further expose a broken D.C. DWI enforcement system

Image from National Institute of Standards & Technology.

Washington, D.C., prosecutors’ recent systematic dismissal of numerous drunk driving prosecutions  — on top of D.C. prosecutors’ continuing striking of breath testing scores obtained from Metropolitan Police breathalyzer machines, for a year now — shouts loud-and-clear how broken is D.C.’s DWI prosecution system, and underlines how severely fallible is any DWI prosecution in any state that relies on the junk science of field sobriety testing and the highly-flawed approach of using breath testing rather than blood testing to quantify blood alcohol content in one’s body.

Highly flawed is the notion to just pay for a lawyer to enter a guilty plea for a first-time drunk driving prosecution where front-end (versus suspended) jail time appears unlikely (and beyond jail risks, consider risks of suspended driving, severe consequences for repeat offenses, higher car insurance rates, and the noose of probation). The need to fight drunk driving prosecutions — and all other prosecutions — tooth and nail is highlighted by D.C.’s long-running DWI prosecution debacle.

Even if a person believes s/he committed a crime, that does not automatically mean the prosecution will be able to meet its sole burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if one is likely to lose a trial, it usually is better to plead not guilty than guilty where one is unlikely to face a worse verdict and sentencing outcome even if found guilty at trial. Moreover, my experience has shown me that numerous trial acquittals can come where and when they are least expected.

The nation’s drunk driving laws are draconian, at the very least by criminalizing driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08, which is a very low level that often does not even make one feel buzzed let alone anywhere near drunk, and thereby make a mockery of the criminal justice system. Each time a person pleads not guilty and wins against such a prosecution, or gets no worse a result than from taking the prosecutor’s guilty plea offer, that might help wake up lawmakers that such intolerant drunk driving laws are straining judicial and governmental budgets too much in these tough economic times, seeing that trials are more expensive for courts and prosecutors, at least in terms of time needed for trials, than guilty pleas.

DISCLAIMER: Clearly, each DWI and criminal defense case is different, so it is essential to get the advice of a qualified lawyer licensed in the applicable jurisdiction (I am licensed only in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C.) to decide any criminal defense strategy.

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