Fines for DUI Charges a Step Backwards
By: Gerri Elder
As many states are cracking down on DUI charges, increasing fees and assigning mandatory jail time for first offenses, one Ohio town is taking a different route. Drunk drivers arrested in Pike County have lately been given the option of paying a $1,000 fine to avoid conviction, the Cincinnati Post reports.
According to Ohio state law, a first offense DUI conviction means a 90-day license suspension and a minimum of 3 days in jail or a driver-intervention program. Subsequent convictions are supposed to be punished with mandatory jail time, license plate impounding, and alcohol treatment programs in addition to fines.
Despite these statewide requirements, some of the drunk drivers who escaped with only the fine were apparently not first time offenders. Reports indicate that some had as many as five prior convictions on their records.
That's pretty serious.
Consider this: earlier in the week, the prison sentence of a five-time DWI driver in New York made news. Why? Because it was a mystery why he hadn't served time before. Viewed in that light, fifth-time offenders getting off with a fine seems a little lax.
Supports of the system allegedly insist that this cash-for-clearance deal is like any other plea bargain, citing its positive effects, like lightening the loads on court dockets. But, according to the Post, both the town's mayor and state auditors are concerned about the practice, and plan to take action.
On top of the "plea bargain" fine, the Post continues, police have failed, in some cases, to report the charges to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. This, in itself, violates state law.
So what happens to all the money collected from non-convicted drunk drivers? Since the system's enactment in 2001, it seems, the town has collected more than $90,000 and put it in a "drug law fund" to purchase electronics and firearms.
Apparently, police involved in the collection of the fines are quick to point out that no one was coerced into making the "donations." But, when faced with jail time or a potential felony conviction, would you really need coercion? Most people wouldn't even need nudging.
This incident is worrisome largely because it seems to suggest a step backwards for the eradication of drunk driving. Once upon a time, we believed it was okay to get into a car and drive home after having several cocktails or beers. We also believed that the sun was harmless, red meat was a dietary staple, and smoking couldn't hurt anybody.
As a nation, we know better now. Hopefully, Pike County will realize the potential danger of their policies and will work with the rest of the country to eliminate this problem.