It’s all been building up to this.
When it comes to Evil Lawmaking, DUI has it all. Every evil lawmaking practice I’ve mentioned so far, and then some.
That alone makes it an example of the evil lawmaking practice of Piling On. The DUI laws are are twisted maze created by decades of legislators trying to prove they’re tough on crime. I’m not very good at reading statutes, but I think the DUI section here in Illinois is 625 ILCS 5/11-501 which runs to over 30,000 words. And that doesn’t include all the administrative rules or, of course, all the case law created by decades of DUI battles in the courtrooms.
I can remember when a conviction for drunk driving was not a big deal. It was worse than a speeding ticket or running a red light, but it wasn’t quite seen as a real crime. That was unfortunate, because drunk drivers were killing a lot of people.
That led to the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to educate people about the dangers of drunk driving and to lobby for tougher laws against it. MADD was successful at both those missions within a few years. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop them from continuing to lobby for an endless series of ever-increasing legal punishments for drinking and driving.
Nowadays, thanks to MADD and the resulting 30,000-word laws, DUI is its own legal specialty. Visit Findlaw and check out the legal categories. In a list that includes both Criminal Law and Traffic Violations you still see a separate category for DUI. There are lawyers who do only DUI defense. In fact, there are entire law firms dedicated only to DUI defense. DUI defense lawyers have even managed to create an ABA-accredited certification program for a specialty in DUI defense.
Naturally, a DUI is a reason for evil lawmaking practice of suspending your driver’s license. That actually makes sense: If you drive drunk, you’ve demonstrated poor handling of the responsibility of driving. However, they do it with a statutory suspension under administrative law, a thoroughly evil practice that saves the state the dreary task of proving your guilt in a courtroom.
Here in Illinois, the Secretary of State’s office has an estimate of the average cost of a DUI conviction and it’s $14,600. That figure is so large in part because it includes $4,000 in lost income and $4,500 for three years of high-risk insurance (whatever that is), along with $2000 in legal fees. The state also hits you with a fine of up to $2500.
Then, in the best profitable punishment tradition, they nickel-and-dime you for hundreds of dollars more, including court costs of $500, reimbursements to law enforcement, towing, and storage of $250, a payment of $100 to the trauma center fund, a $50 substance abuse class, $200 for counseling, a $500 license reinstatement fee, $50 more for the reinstatement hearing, and $10 for a new copy of your driver’s license.
A lot of that money goes to the state government, but note that some private parties are also getting a piece of it. This is a kind of Profitable Punishment I haven’t discussed before.
DUI defense is a big business. Every time the laws get more complicated, every time the penalties get harsher, DUI defense lawyers get to charge a little bit more for their services. That may not be entirely due to good career choices. I think some DUI defense lawyers are very active supporters of tougher DUI laws (although probably very few go as far as David Albo, who is in the Virginia General Assembly and actually votes for laws he later earns money defending against).
I have no idea what mandatory high-risk insurance is all about, or why the state gets involved, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that insurance companies were in favor of it. And I’ll bet the folks teaching substance abuse classes and providing substance abuse counseling have done a bit of lobbying as well.
Before you think I’m being too easy on drunk drivers, keep in mind that you can get hit with all these penalties even if you haven’t actually hurt anyone or damaged any property. If you have a child under the age of 16 in the car with you, in Illinois you could get a mandatory 6-month jail sentence. I’m not saying drunk drivers should get off easy because they got lucky and didn’t kill anyone, but these punishments seem way out of proportion to the crime.
It may surprise you to discover that you don’t even have to be drunk to get convicted of drunk driving, at least not the way you think. If you give a breath sample and the test comes out below 0.08 BAC, you’re not necessarily free and clear. In Illinois, if the state can offer additional additional evidence of impairment, they can get you for DUI all the way down to 0.05 BAC. That’s only two quick drinks. In other states, the limit is even lower. If you’re under 21, the limit is zero. Again, that’s without actually hurting anyone.
And no matter how much we think drunk drivers should be punished, it’s not that complicated of a crime. There’s no reason for the laws to be this twisted.