Waiting at a red light in Denver in the summer of 2004 Sonja DeVries, who was planning to become a child therapist, was struck and killed, allegedly by Ramon Romero. Not only was Romero allegedly drunk when the accident happened, but he had been arrested six times for drunk driving before, but had been in jail only once-for 15 days. Romero pleaded not guilty in the case involving DeVries, and a trial was scheduled for February 2005.
The incident is not unusual. Statistics show that 500,000 drunk drivers arrested every year are repeat offenders. In 2000 in Minnesota alone more than 1,000 people were arrested on drunk driving charges for the sixth time, and 182 of those were arrested for the tenth time. In 2001 drunk drivers killed almost twice as many people as the terrorists on September 11 did-more than 5,000 people. That is not even to consider the tens of billions of dollars spent every year for higher expenses for medical care and public services, including the police, fire, ambulance, and higher insurance premiums for everyone-all because of drunk drivers. There are things you can do to fight against drunk driving, however.
Experts say one solution for the drunk driving problem is for everyone to demand local judges be tougher on drunk drivers and that their state legislatures pass tougher laws.
The well known organization, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), believes that although many judges are seeking innovative solutions against drunk drivers, others are too lenient. Those who want to make a difference against drunk drivers could become a volunteer for MADD to monitor and gather data on DUI/DWI court proceedings, arraignments, pretrial hearings, trials, and sentencing. Those in MADD are among those actively fighting against drunk drivers.
Volunteers evaluate judges, prosecutors, defense staff, and court staff. They see how prepared everyone was, how they understood the law, and how the proceedings were conducted. They track information on the current charges against someone accused of drunk driving, previous charges against the accused, any previous punishment received, if any, against the accused; and his demeanor during the proceedings. Being a volunteer for MADD is one way anyone could fight against drunk drivers.
MADD shares the information obtained with the court, so improvements can be obtained.
MADD also takes note of any plea bargains, and whether it beliefs such a plea bargain is consistent with the severity of the offense, if a victim impact statement was allowed to be read in the courtroom, whether the accused received jail time or probation, had to pay a fine, or had his license revoked.
MADD believes its mere presence in the courtroom holds those in the legal profession accountable and sends a message to judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and court staff.
Those who care about the issue and believe in what MAAD is doing can even receive college credit for participating at many colleges, including Xavier University in New Orleans, LA, Tulane University in New Orleans, and others. The program exists in Louisiana, Alaska, New Mexico, Nebraska, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Missouri, North Carolina, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, and there are plans to expand it to every state.
To learn more about the program, or if you would like to fight against drunk drivers through the program, go to www.madd.org or call 1-800-GET-MADD.
MADD believes other ways to fight against drunk drivers include high sobriety checkpoints that are monitored by law enforcement authorities, impounding the cars of repeat offenders (because many drive even with suspended licenses) license plate confiscation, and alcohol ignition interlock systems that require a breath alcohol test before a car will start.
Some have said that two of the biggest causes of allowing repeat drunk drivers to continue to kill are lenient judges and weak laws. Judges had suspended Romero’s license several time, but had handed it back to him after a year, because of state law. Following some arrests, judges let him plead to a lesser charge and accept counseling, instead of jail time.
In most states, a first arrest for drunk driving is a misdemeanor that does not usually lead to jail time. In many states it takes three or more convictions before drunk driving becomes a felony. Even repeat offenders seldom get the maximum sentence. Only 15 percent ever serve jail time.
Although the problem of drunk driving is a national problem there are things everyone can do to help. As we’ve seen, we can fight for tougher laws, demand accountability from judges, and remember when you vote, judges are elected officials who are accountable to you.