The New World of California DUI Law

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In 1972, judges in Phoenix began their own "get tough" program, handing out one-day jail sentences to first offenders. The success of the program was applauded in an article that appeared in Reader's Digest. Unfortunately, however, the results were again not those claimed. A report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reluctantly concluded that "overall, court backlogs increased, court expenses rose dramatically, and the intended effect of a severe penalty was nullified." Most important, the new policy resulted in no reduction in DUI accidents or deaths.Alcohol Countermeasures Status, NHTSA (1981).

Advocates of tougher DUI legislation and sentencing are fond of pointing to the Scandinavian countries as examples of harsh treatment resulting in reduced alcohol-related traffic fatalities. The truth is, however, that there has been no greater correlation in those countries than in the United States.

In 1975, Professor H. Laurence Ross of the University of Denver engaged in an extensive study of DUI legislation and sentencing requirements in Norway and Sweden, comparing them with accident statistics in those countries. In an article entitled The Scandinavian Myth: The Effectiveness of Drinking and Driving Legislation in Sweden and Norway, IV(2) Journal of Legal Studies 285 (June 1975), Professor Ross concluded that "the impression that there is strong and convincing evidence to believe that the Scandinavian laws have deterred drinking and driving is false." In Sweden, for example, strict DUI per se laws were passed that reduced blood-alcohol levels and mandated a one-month prison term for first-offense drunk drivers, plus loss of license for a year. After studying traffic fatality statistics in Sweden before and after these legislative and judicial approaches were instituted, Professor Ross concluded that "neither the 1941 introduction of per se legislation nor the 1957 reduction in the legal (blood alcohol) limit is associated with any marked change in fatalities."

Yet the nationwide crackdown on DUI continues. Unfortunately, the wrongly accused are also caught up in this legal dragnet.

The result of this "get tough" policy has been twofold: First, the stakes for a person charged with DUI of alcohol or drugs are now higher than ever. And, second, the procedural safeguards have been streamlined at the expense of the defendant.

So the deck in a DUI case is stacked. The California DUI attorney taking on such a case should be fully aware of this simple fact. But he should also be aware of the deceptive complexity of DUI litigation - for in that very complexity lies salvation for the DUI defense attorney. Evidence produced during a DUI trial is incredibly involved beneath the misleading surface. The average prosecutor, not understanding half of what is being said, puts his witnesses on the stand and simply turns them loose. Very few lawyers - prosecution or defense - are even superficially acquainted with the intricacies of DUI evidence and tactics.