The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” is a cornerstone of American jurisprudence, but this mantra does not always apply when it comes to people who are accused of drunken driving.
Judges in Northampton County. Pennsylvania have faced scrutiny from private citizens who are concerned about the courts’ practice of revoking driver’s licenses before suspected DUI drivers are actually convicted for their crimes, according to a recent report from The Morning Call, a newspaper in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.
In a practice that occurs in states across the country every day, judges in this Pennsylvania county reportedly have been revoking suspected drunk drivers’ licenses before they receive a trial to determine their guilt.
Judge Leonard Zito, who works in Easton, Pennsylvania, has started to revoke the driver’s licenses of people who he believes are dragging their feet in court.
According to Zito, taking these licenses early in the process helps speed up the DUI court process and potentially protects other drivers on the roads.
One DUI attorney, however, has joined several other legal practitioners in criticizing this maneuver, claiming that revoking a person’s license is akin to presuming that person’s guilt.
There are many features of modern trials that enhance the appearance of a person’s guilt. Presence in front of the court, for example, suggests that a person has done something wrong—and there’s little judges can do to dispel this presumption.
The revocation of a license does seem to strongly suggest that a driver is indeed guilty of a DUI, but it does burden them with a consequence that could otherwise be dealt only after a trial, well before that person receives the due process he or she is entitled to under the Constitution.
Of course, while lawyers will continue to challenge such decisions, public safety concerns seem to trump other factors when the merits of revoking driver’s licenses are debated.
Judges simply don’t want the risk of suspected DUI drivers getting into potentially fatal accidents while they await their hearings.
Still, many advocates for criminal defendants claim that the damage such actions do to the presumption of innocence outweigh any real or perceived public health risks.
The debate, it’s fair to say, will likely continue as long as the judges across the country continue this controversial practice.