Thursday, August 11, 2011

State to compile DWI prosecution data

On September 1, 2011, the Texas Department of Public Safety will begin compiling statistics on the disposition of DWI offenses across the state.

Under SB 364, every law enforcement agency, prosecutor's office and court throughout the state will be required to provide the following information to the DPS regarding drunk driving arrests:

  1. The number of DWI arrests;
  2. The number of arrests in which no charges are filed;
  3. The number of DWI arrests in which the defendant pleads not guilty and requests a jury trial;
  4. The number of DWI arrests in which the defendant pleads guilty or no contest; 
  5. The number of cases resulting in DWI convictions;
  6. The number of cases resulting in convictions for other offenses; and
  7. The number of cases resulting in dismissals.

The data will be compiled and presented to the legislature by February 15 of each calendar year. According to the bill's author, Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan), the information will be used to determine the "effectiveness and appropriateness" of the state's DWI statute.

Two witnesses spoke in favor of the bill back on March 22, 2011 - Bill Lewis, the public policy liaison for MADD and John McCluskey, the president of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas. I understand why Mr. Lewis would speak in favor of the bill -- he believes the requirement that prosecutors and courts report the disposition of DWI cases will pressure them not to offer plea deals to other offenses.

But why would a bondsman be in favor of the bill? Could it be that Mr. McCluskey's organization believes that these reporting requirements will increase the number of DWI arrests which would increase the number of  folks needing to post bonds?

I also wonder if member of the legislature are looking for an excuse to introduce the offense of driving while ability impaired to the books. As I've written before, DWAI would be the most illogical addition to Chapter 49 of the Texas Penal Code yet.

If Sen. Ogden is concerned about the number of DWI arrests that result in dismissals or convictions of other charges, maybe he should take a look at the manner in which the DWI statute is enforced in Texas. Too many officer are arresting too many people for DWI simply because they smell alcohol on their breath. Cases are being dismissed because drivers shouldn't have been arrested in the first place. First time offenders in some counties are offered pleas to other offenses to avoid paying surcharges to the DPS.

Of course that might just be too complex a matter for legislators in Texas to grasp.

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