Life in prison for a DUI?
In this video, Mr. Taylor is interviewed about a man who was sentenced to life in prison for his ninth drunk driving charge. Mr. Taylor believes that this punishment does not fit the crime in that alcoholism is a disease and should be treated instead of simply sending someone to jail for life. The interviewer stresses that the general population is fed up with drunk driving and most don’t feel that this punishment is too severe. Mr. Taylor responds that not only is this an unjust punishment, but also looking at it from a cost benefit analysis, imprisoning this fifty-four year old man for the rest of his life will roughly cost tax payers three million dollars. A much smaller amount of money could be spent rehabilitating this man instead of simply sentencing him to life in prison.
Interviewer (IT): A ninth conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol appears to have been the last straw for a Texas judge. Last week the judge sentenced fifty-four year old Bobby Stovall to life in prison after the habitual drunk driver was arrested in July. Police say Stovall had been weaving in and out of traffic, hit another car and injured the driver before he was pulled over. His blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit in Texas. But even though this was Stovall’s ninth drunk driving conviction, some say life in prison is too harsh. I’m joined by one of them, Lawrence Taylor, a lawyer and author of Drunk Driving Defense. Mr. Taylor, tell us why you think this punishment does not fit the crime.
Lawrence Taylor (LT): Good afternoon, Chris. First of all, let me be clear, Stovall case is not a rare exception, it’s an increasing phenomenon. According to the Texas Department of Justice, there are currently sixteen people serving time, life sentences, ninety-nine years to life and an additional twenty-three individuals from sixty to eighty-eight years. So you’ve got thirty-nine people in state prisons in Texas alone who are essentially serving time for being alcoholics and getting behind the wheel and none of those cases involved either serious injury or death.
IT: And wouldn’t you say this is a reflection, this is a reflection of the fact that juries, that judges and I, I would argue, a big chunk of the American public in general is fed up with drunk driving.
LT: Well I don’t blame them, it’s a serious problem and I’m not suggesting that it should not be dealt with severely. What I am suggesting that alcoholism is behind these types of cases. When you have someone with a 0.32 alcohol and he’s on his ninth case, you’ve got a severe alcoholic and these are the ones who cause the damage. But alcoholism is a disease; it’s a disease that has a strong genetic component. In other words, the propensity, a strong predisposition for alcoholism, is inherited and I suggest to you to start with that it is not fair to imprison a person for the rest of his life for what is essentially a problem, a disease.
IT: Well, let me play the devil’s advocate here. You certainly might be able to make that argument on the first go round, the second, maybe then the third go round, but nine times in, he hits a car, injures the driver. He is essentially walking around firing a loaded weapon and just waiting for it to hit somebody.
LT: Well, that’s true, but what’s the answer? To throw the person in prison for the rest of their life? Or in the alternative, to sentence him, but also to give him extensive rehabilitation and I mean real rehabilitation. If you look at it from a cost benefit analysis to society, a life sentence is going to, well, let’s see, about a hundred thousand a year to the tax payer for a person in prison. Say thirty years, that’s three million dollars. You can provide an awful lot of rehabilitation to an individual for much less than three million dollars.
IT: At what point, but of course we have gotten to this extreme situation where he’s had so many multiple drunk driving convictions. At what point do you do that? Do you do that on the first conviction? And then if they fall off the wagon and drive again, then they could possibly get much more sever sentence? Where does that fit in to this whole process?
LT: I was going to suggest, Chris, that, that is the reverse approach to this situation. It is the first time or even the second time offender, who is not an alcoholic, is a social drinker. Where you find the serious alcoholics, who are the danger, are the ones that have multiple DUI or DWI convictions and have unusually high blood alcohol. You’re always going to find those two factors in situations involving severe alcoholism.
IT: Lawrence Taylor with I think an opposing point of view to a lot of people, but we thank you for coming on and talking about it.
LT: Thank you Chris for having me.