When discussing national policy stances in regard to the fundamental elements that can assess impairment, a one size fits all approach to dui punishments is fraught with peril. A justice system founded upon a generalized assessment of criminal penalty without sufficient regard to the individualized circumstances of a given case is both irrational and against the principals of the U.S. constitution.
When politicians within Congress and within respective state legislatures are permitted to intervene in allowing political pandering to inject itself into the hard decisions of effective judicial criminal sentencing rulings, manifest injustices are bound to surface with increasing regularity.
Over the last few decades individualized state justice systems within our country had implemented different community based standards in regard to culpable bac levels such to impose criminal sanction against those detained for impaired driving. More succinctly, what standard of bac level for drunk driving existed within one state jurisdiction would not necessarily be equally punishable within another state jurisdiction.
For all of the conservative political platitudes in reference to respecting, “State’s Rights,” and the ability to restrain the over reaching hand of the federal government from imposing its will upon state governing choices as to what works best for each state, the political will of both conservative and liberal politicians alike were all too willing to surrender their individual state autonomy in favor of the federal spigot of federal tax funds on this issue.
Compelled by the federal power to appropriate and disburse needed tax revenue to the states, the notion of state’s rights went conveniently out the window for national congressman on the issue of uniform national bac policy. Imposed by unknown government bureaucrats undoubtedly influenced by Mothers Against Driving and other like minded organizations, the notion of respecting individual state autonomy on the issue of bac impairment would no longer be deserving of consideration.
As the driving force to thwart the will of any independent thought on the issue, such political groups were all too willing to foment the needed hysteria necessary to insure that federal funding to the states would be predicated upon each state adapting national uniform standards as to what would arbitrarily be a level of presumed bac impairment.
As such, a national policy of .08 bac would be imposed upon all states. Those states that deigned to question such national standards would have their national highway funds cut off until surrendering their independent thought as to the appropriateness of the .08 bac standard.
Despite the objections of many thoughtful and learned scholars on the issue of presumptive alcohol impairment, the lowered .08 bac standard would become the law of the land on all states. Despite reasoned objections to the seeming scattershot rationale for decreasing the level from the former.10 bac level generally adapted within most states, the will of self interested politicians not wanting to become in the cross hairs of anti alcohol organizations allowed for this national .08 measure to become the presumptive bac standard of presumptive alcohol impairment within all states at the present time.
Political operatives understand all too well that once national policy initiatives have been adapted, it is incredibly difficult to reverse such legal mandates, especially so in the realm of politically charged topic such as curtailing an increase in drunk driving.
Despite this political reality, at some point injustices behind political initiatives meant to cater to public opinion and not reasoned public policy begins to become questioned. In the wake of grass roots examples that tip the scales of justice more toward the cause of fundamental civil liberties than criminal punishment at all costs, even the most hardened champions of law and order criminal sentencing initiatives can retreat from their former strident positions.
In Indiana, new criminal sentencing laws have been adapted completely revamping the criminal code so as to provide more emphasis upon the cause of rehabilitation and away from incarceration as a first recourse to deter criminal conduct. I submit that such policy alterations have not been instigated over a general belief that convicted criminals should be treated more humanely, but more pragmatically as a recognition that tax dollars being increasingly devoted toward incarceration of individuals merely for punitive purposes has to end.
To release convicted criminals back on the streets in a more hardened condition than when they entered our penal facilities has become a non sustainable proposition for taxpayers throughout America. Not observing a tangible decrease in crime as a result of these get tough on crime initiatives, continued unenlightened adherence to such politically charged sentencing decisions has promoted taxpayers to voice their displeasure at increasing incarceration costs with little beneficial results.
Not dissimilar from the, “No Child Left Behind,” objections within the realm of national education policy, attempting to adapt cookie cutter approaches to assessing educational proficiency has now begun to be met with the same resistance among the general public as national uniform criminal sentencing considerations in all of its forms.
No better example of strict formulaic equations promoting catastrophic injustices has come at the hands of the Federal criminal justice code. During the term of former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, national politicians outside of the state of New York seized upon the opportunity to adapt Rockefeller’s draconian approach to the punishment of drug crimes within his state. By setting formulas in the sentencing of defendants, irrespective of the tailored extenuating circumstances behind a defendant;’s conduct, Rockefeller sought and achieved a sentencing scheme that, in effect, took away the reasoned discretion and wisdom of state judges. As a result, judicially tailored tailor sentences in a manner that conformed with reason and mercy after weighing both aggravating and mitigating circumstances within the circumstances of a specific Defendant’s criminal conduct would no longer be endorsed.
Each and every day, state court judges throughout the country are given the ability and more importantly, the obligation, to weigh both the aggravating as well as mitigating circumstances that could have played a role in a convicted individual’s conduct following a case conviction. In order to impose a sentence of punishment that promotes rehabilitation as well as needed respect for the law, the role of criminal judges within national state jurisdictions is to be entrusted with the learned ability to impose his or her experienced legal wisdom to promote the cause of justice with each respective case decision rendered.
Toward this proposition it is refreshing to uncover respected national organizations willingness to speak out in favor of more reasoned thought as to continued blind adherence to national bac policy levels that have failed to differentiate tolerance for impairment within each respective prosecution. Through more reasoned approaches to the issue of assessing equitable punishment for those subject to dui punishments, organizations such as the National Motorists Association should be commended for having the courage to question continued application of uniform bac standards.
In time it should be the goal of our criminal justice system to have the courage of conviction to continually assess the merits of legal policies that can potentially impact all of us and the ones we care for. With this objective in mind, it is my contention that the cause of justice can best be promoted in the realm of drunk driving policy to revamp uniform arbitrary standards as to bac impairment in favor of a case by case approach to justice.