Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Deterrence and DWI

Doug Berman, the author of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, has chimed in with his opinion regarding the "leniency" courts have (supposedly) shown convicted drunk drivers. His argument is that repeat offenders should be treated more harshly in an attempt to get them to see the error of their ways.  

Mr. Berman's thesis is based upon the faulty notion that we are all rational beings and subject each and every decision to a cost-benefit analysis.  This is the basis of the concept of deterrence.

Senior Criminal District Judge Larry Gist, of Beaumont, Texas, has a slightly different view of our fellow citizens.  In an October 2007 article in Voice for the Defense (the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer's Association magazine) he suggests we all fall into one of three categories: NORPS, SLICKS or SLUGS.

NORPS are Normal Ordinary Responsible People (presumably like us) who are generally responsible and are capable of self-correction.  Rehabilitation and deterrence work for NORPS because NORPS are rational (most of the time).  For instance, when a NORP is arrested for DWI his or her eyes are opened wide to the cost (in time, reputation and money) involved in handling a DWI arrest.  Going through the process is enough to convince them not to get behind the wheel impaired in the future.

SLICKS are the folks who think they are smarter than everyone else -- we all know someone who falls into this category.  SLICKS are (generally) incapable or rehabilitating themselves due to their anger and hatred of society.  These are the folks who deserve to be hanging out in the "Grey Bar Hilton."  SLICKS are incapable of rational thought and deterrence doesn't work for them.

SLUGS get into trouble because they commit stupid, impulsive and poorly-planned crimes. SLUGS seek out attention.  SLUGS never accept responsibility for their actions and don't really care if they are incarcerated (three full meals a day and a bed to sleep in) or rescued by a "do-gooder" who take over his problems.  SLUGS don't respond to deterrents.

Mr. Berman's idea seems to be to raise the cost of committing a DWI to such a level that the cost far outweighs the pleasure/benefit derived from driving drunk.  The problem is that most folks who pick up multiple DWI's aren't NORPS and don't think rationally when making decisions. Therefore, upping the penalties won't cause them to curb their behavior.


Joni Mueller said...

So why punish them at all is what you're saying? If they aren't learning from their mistake, why bother? That's not the primary point of imprisonment. And heh, death penalty for a three-time loser, would pretty much take care of the SLICKS' and SLUGS' learning curves, huh?

I'm so tired of people making excuses for what they did. Own it, man. And then, step up to the plate and pay for it. With your life if that's what it takes.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

My point was that upping sentences as a deterrent isn't going to solve the problem. SLICKS won't respond to anything but jail time. For the SLUGS a more effective mode of punishment might be to force them to accept responsibility for their actions (a strict probation rather than jail time, for instance).

Thanks for the comment.

Joni Mueller said...

Ah, I get it now. That makes sense, but .. until either group "gets it", which isn't likely, we're just faced with continued overcrowding of jails. Which in turn leads to courts giving probation to more and more folks ... which in some cases may be dangerous too. So .. it looks like it's an unsolvable situation.

SunshineNroses said...

I agree with Doug Berman, unless repeated offenders are treated with iron fist they are not going to learn the lesson.

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