[Update: In an earlier version of this post, I had assumed Ocean City was in Delaware, but as Mike Mahaffie points out, it’s in Maryland. This post has been re-written to reflect that fact.]
It’s been a while since I wrote anything about Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), so I’ve been planning to look in on them to see what sort of trouble they’re causing. However, Radley Balko at Reason has saved me the trouble.
In Maryland on October 29 of last year, officer Douglas A. Smith—described as “OCPD‘s toughest DUI enforcement officer”—and trainee Natalie R. Smolko of the Ocean City Police Department spotted an erratically-driven vehicle and pulled it over. They gave the driver, John Atkins, a preliminary breath test, and he blew a 0.14 blood alcohol content (BAC). Instead of arresting him, however, the officers decided to let him call a friend, who came to the scene and gave Atkins and his wife a ride home.
Officers Smith and Smolko were questioned about this decision later. They said they released Atkins because he spoke clearly and didn’t fumble when giving them his license and stepping out of his car, so they concluded he was unimpaired. (I guess they forgot about the erratic driving which drew him to their attention in the first place.)
The full-time moral panic squad at MADD has a detailed legislative agenda which spells out what they’d like to see happen to people caught driving with a BAC of 0.14:
- .08 Per Se: MADD wants a 0.08 blood alcohol content (BAC) to be per se indication of Driving Under the Influence (DUI), meaning that operating a vehicle with a BAC that high is in itself the crime of DUI, so Atkins should have been arrested even though he showed no signs of impairment.
- Administrative License Revocation: Punishment without the bother of a trial. According to MADD, Atkins should lose his license merely for being arrested for DUI, without waiting for a judicial finding of guilt.
If convicted (which would be a slam-dunk under the .08 per se rule), MADD has a few more items on their checklist:
- Vehicle Impoundment: Atkins’s car would be impounded to prevent him from driving it.
- Vehicle Sanctions While Suspended: If Atkins drives a car while suspended, police can seize it and sell it off.
- Ignition Interlock: When Atkins was eventually allowed to drive again, he would have an ignition interlock installed in his car so that he would have to pass a breath test before he could drive anywhere.
Each of those provisions is already a part of Maryland law according to MADD. In addition, MADD wants Maryland to pass a few more laws that would apply to Atkins’s situation:
- Vehicle Confiscation: Atkins’s vehicle should be seized at the time of his arrest to keep him from driving it.
- Plate Sanctions: The license plates for Atkins’s car would be impounded and destroyed to keep him from using them on another car.
- Anti-Plea Bargaining: The prosecutor should not allow Atkins to plea down to a non-alcohol offense.
- Mandatory Alcohol Assessment/Treatment or Mandatory Alcohol Education: Atkins would be assessed for alcohol abuse problems and required to get treatment or complete an alcohol education program.
- Lower BAC for Repeat Offender: If Atkins is convicted, then next time the police stop him, the allowable BAC should be lower, such as 0.05.
So, when Atkins was released, you can imagine MADD’s angry response, can’t you?
Actually, no, you probably couldn’t imagine this:
“We feel very confident that the officers followed the proper procedures and protocols,” said Caroline Cash, executive director for the Chesapeake Region of MADD.
…MADD Eastern Shore Victim Advocate David Elzey praised the proper use of the tool.
“He administered the (test) after he had decided not to make an arrest and he made the right call by not letting him continue driving,” Elzey said. “He probably saved lives by not letting him drive home.”
MADD representatives expressed absolute faith in Smith, who lost his mother-in-law to a drunken driver and who was himself struck by one in another incident.
“This is an officer with incredible experience and he decided not to go forward with the decision to make an arrest,” Cash said.
“He’s had a couple hundred DUI arrests in a few years,” Elzey said. “Doug Smith has done so much. We have faith he knows what he’s doing.”
Well, that’s one possible explanation for MADD’s reaction.
I’ve got another one. You see, I’ve left an important fact out of the story. The driver, John C. Atkins, is in the Delaware House of Representatives.
It’s known that Atkins flashed his legislative ID at officer Smith during the encounter, and when I thought all this took place in Delaware, I assumed that’s what got him the unusually friendly treatment. I still think it probably helped.
Now that the media has found the story and people are starting to raise a stink about it, MADD is coming to the defense of an officer who has been helpful to their cause.
In an unrelated note of strangeness, according to the newspaper report by Patrick Gavin, a few hours after Atkins was released by officer Smith, he was re-arrested by police in Millsboro on a charge of “offensive touching” of his wife. He plead guilty.