District Attorney Larry Krasner recently provided a list of offenses that won't require cash bail, in fulfillment of a campaign promise.
I'm so angry that DUIs are on that list.
Traditionally, a first offense got you released on your own recognizance unless there was some kind of injury, or you were driving with a suspended license or no license at all. And sometimes that "first offense" is more of a "first time he was caught" offense. Other times, people who "knew someone" were the happy beneficiaries of a shrugged shoulder and a pat on the head. So in some ways, Krasner is simply continuing an unofficial policy established by his predecessors.
Law and society often make distinctions between chronic drunkards and the people who have too much chablis and too little brie before they head to their nice suburban homes. When I reached out to the DA's Office for clarification about that difference — a one-time offender vs. a regular drunken driver — I learned that while the presumption is strongly against cash bail, aggravating circumstances could warrant a cash bail being set.
But for me, that's not enough. There should be bail even for the guy who blows a little high on the Breathalyzer.
It's a safe bet that the first time he's caught is not the first time he's been driving buzzed. Unless that guy is made to see how deadly his actions can be the first time he does it, it's likely that he will do it again. And the next time could wreak havoc.
People need to know that a car is a two-ton weapon that is as much a threat to the public safety when operated by a drunken fool as an AR-15 wielded by a sick kid. They need to understand that drunken driving isn't just a regrettable societal faux pas. We need to shame the people who are capable of shame into thinking that maybe it won't look so good hanging out in jail overnight when you have an important meeting the next day — or at least cause some damage to their wallets.
Essentially, we need to make them afraid to get caught and have to deal with the consequences. Because some actions have dire consequences.
I once knew a boy my age, from my neighborhood, who would have graduated from high school in 1979, like me. Kids back then didn't really care about safety belts. Youth is invincible, and bad things don't happen.
Except on that summer night in 1978, the boy I knew was thrown through the windshield when the driver of his car hit a tree. The driver was drunk.
He has spent the last 40 years confined to a wheelchair, deprived of his future, his memory, and the joys and sorrows of a blessedly common life. He doesn't have graduation pictures in his photo album, doesn't have a diploma framed on his mother's wall, doesn't have a partner, has no children of his own. He's a first grader trapped in the body of a middle-aged man. He is cared for by his loving but aging mother, and he's visited by a few friends who come by to bridge the then and the now. Mercifully, he doesn't understand how the ledger of his life has been so unfairly balanced by a youthful mistake.
Many argue that jailing people for drinking and driving is counterproductive, that the drivers are addicted and need help. I know far too well how we look at addicts in this fair city, since we're actually willing to allow heroin users to shoot up at municipally sanctioned centers. If we're ready to let hard-core addicts violate the Controlled Substances Act in broad daylight, why would we lock up the guy who drinks a six-pack and then heads home after a hard day's work?
Krasner came into office with the promise of fixing the criminal justice system. To me it seems that his primary concern is with trying to empty the jails, which he and his supporters think are filled with the hapless souls crushed under the dystopian weight of our unjust society.
He isn't concerned with run-of-the-mill offenses like identity theft, retail theft, drug possession, and driving while intoxicated, because these are "victimless."
But I know someone who spends his day in a wheelchair, because his buddy drove that 1978 Monte Carlo into a tree. I know other families who visit their children and parents at cemeteries. If Krasner needs proof that victims exist, he just needs to ask me.