This question was recently posed to me:
- Should DUI/DWI offenders be imprisoned on the 1st offense? What if the offender’s decision to drive drunk resulted in the injury of an innocent person? Explain your answer.
Every twenty minutes in Texas someone is injured or killed in an accident involving driving under the influence of alcohol. Most, if not all of these victims are innocent, guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While public education widely exists, drivers still choose to get behind the wheel of a car when they are too incapacitated to drive. While they take their own life in their hands, they endanger anyone and everyone they come in contact with. Their blatant disregard for the safety of others should be punished at a level such that they choose to never repeat this action again. The law should support the punishment level necessary to send a message to the public that if you drink and choose to drive; if you choose to endanger yourself and others; and, if you choose to break the law, you will lose your freedom.
The twenty years in prison Lance Palermo agreed to serve can never make up for the loss of life of 16-year old Shelby, whom he killed after choosing to drink and drive. With a blood alcohol content level of 0.353, he slammed into the rear of the vehicle she was in with her tennis team, causing it to wreck and eject her from the vehicle. Losing a daughter, a sister, a friend, a child with dreams of playing tennis at Texas State University, no amount of time a person serves incarcerated can make up for this. The empty seat at graduation this year will serve as yet another reminder of the loss suffered from this tragedy that could have been prevented.
The current law in Texas allows for a first time offender to be sentenced to jail for anywhere from 3 to 180 days. In reality, due to overcrowding, the jail time is usually always no more than three days. Whereas the victim may be hospitalized for months depending on their injuries, or even planning a funeral for those lost in the accident, the offender merely has to sit for three days in a jail cell, then return back to their life. What have they learned in this short time? Just the fact that Texas has penalties for up to five convictions implies there are offenders who do not learn their lesson the first time, or the second time, or even the third and fourth time. Perhaps a longer jail term and loss of freedom would send a more punitive message and dissuade offenders from repeating this crime.
While a 3-day break from society may seem torturous to some, one must think about what amount of time would really create a disruption in someone’s life, enough so that they never want it to happen again. A minimum of one month is what comes to mind, while the term should be based on the blood alcohol level in addition to the consequences of their actions. Time should be added for an accident resulting from their offense, and should increase for any injuries that occurred. If an offender was imprisoned for even a month, they would have to go through all of the trouble of getting their personal affairs in order, possibly losing their job, their home, the inability to pay their bills, etc. Having to go through all of these extra steps and suffer the additional consequences would make a bigger statement on their life, hopefully dissuading them from future offenses. There should be NO second offenses in the state of Texas.