In the newspaper Friday there was an article about a drunken driver who hit an elderly man crossing the street. The driver was so “out of it” that she did not even know she was dragging the elderly man under her truck. People on the street had to yell to get her attention. I think we all have to wonder how a person gets so drunk they can run over a person and not know it. It’s cases like this that cause social drinkers all their problems. Does that make sense? Let’s explore this issue together.
It is not illegal to drink and drive in Mississippi. It is not illegal to have alcohol on your breath. Yet, there are police officers out on the street who arrest everyone they stop when they smell alcohol. These officers are trying to get the most DUI arrests in a year. If an officer gets over 100 in a year, he gets a gold plated pin that he can wear on his uniform. Among police officers there is a sense of a challenge to see who can get the most DUI arrests each year. I have defended hundreds if not thousands of people charged with DUI over my 29 years. The majority of people were not under the influence. They were not drunk. They were not going to hit someone and kill them because of alcohol. Right now we are representing two people who were hit by drunk drivers. And I mean drunk drivers. These drunk drivers were so out of it that one did not even know he had an accident. Our office has filed a civil action (lawsuit) against both of these drunk drivers for the serious injuries they caused to our clients.
What is the answer to this problem. Ordinary people who go out to have a social drink get arrested, hauled to jail, and humiliated by police officers who look at their job with the attitude of “us against them.” They view their job not as a “serve and protect job,” but as a game of “bust them all.” I have often thought that maybe we should have a zero tolerance for drinking and driving law. Let’s just pass a law that says you can never drink and drive. No restaurant can serve alcohol. No lounge can serve alcohol. No charity or social event can serve alcohol. Whoa, you say that is unreasonable? Why? I don’t have the answer to this problem. That is one suggestion. But to be honest with you it won’t solve the problem. The person who has a social drink is not the person who crashes their car into another car or is not the person who hits a pedestrian. And the drunk is not the person who gives a flip about a zero tolerance law.
I will tell you bluntly, I don’t know the answer. I know the restaurant association and other groups would strongly oppose a zero tolerance law. Why? It would hurt the money they make. Social groups and charities would not like the idea either. Why? Because lots of people like the taste of wine. They enjoy wine tastings. For many people these social functions are the only time they get out and have time free away from their children. They want let down their hair and have some fun. Is it acceptable to drink and drive? Well, I suppose that is a moral question and each person has an opinion on whether drinking is good or bad. I have had comments from people like this: “How can you represent a drunk driver.” How can you represent a drunk driver and on another day represent someone who was seriously injured by a drunk driver.” These are all good questions. I hope I can give you a satisfactory explanation.
Our system of justice is an Adversary System of Justice. I have written about this before in a Blog article. Our system of justice presumes both sides of an argument or legal position have zealous advocates who are presenting their positions. Through these adversaries it is believed the truth will emerge or at least be made available for the jury to determine what is just. So, we can represent different people, at different times, who may have opposing viewpoints on the same issue. Our duties as attorneys is to present our clients issues or positions with vigor and force. We may or may not personally believe in those positions. I have been helping people for over 29 years. After that many years I reserve for myself the right to accept the clients I want to represent and the clients that I know I can feel pure, unadulterated passion for when I go to Court. Representing a DUI client one day, and a victim of a drunk driver the next is not contradictory because I accept and take on the person, not the event!
Years ago I represented a drug agent who was accused of brutality and planting drugs on people he arrested. For years prior thereto I had represented hundreds of people charged with drug crimes. I made sure when I represented him there was no conflict between who he had arrested and clients I represented in the past. I accepted his case and treated him as a human with frailties, prejudices, a family man, and a law enforcement officer charged with a crime. In other words, I treated him the same way I would treat any other client. Representing people who get arrested for DUI and representing injured people who are hurt by drunk drivers is not inconsistent. Each person is an individual entitled to effective representation.
We are back to the DUI issues. I don’t have the answer for the occasional drunk who hits and injures another person. A zero tolerance drinking and driving law will not stop that person. This is a policy decision that will have to be decided by the Legislature. I will say this to you. If you like to go out and have a social drink be very careful. There are cities like Ridgeland, Madison, Flowood, and Clinton who have officers who wait and watch for anyone out late at night. If you are DWL (driving while late) you are going to be pulled over. If you have the smell of alcohol on your breath the odds are you will be going to jail no matter how good you do on the Field Sobriety Test. I guess I could say: “Driver beware.”
Coxwell & Associates is a law firm helping people who are seriously injured or who get arrested for criminal offenses. Four of the five attorneys work in these areas. Frank Coxell is the sole attorney who handles bankruptcy, predatory lending, and other consumer issues. Office number: (601) 265-7766.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.