By Luanne Zuccari
Lately, after some very disappointing verdicts in DWI cases, I have come to the conclusion that no one is safe on the road. It seems there are more ways to get out of a DWI arrest than there are ways to gain convictions.
As the mother of a child who was killed by a drunken driver, I am a regular speaker on Niagara County’s Victim Impact Panel, where people convicted of DWI or DWAI are sent to listen to our stories and, hopefully, be persuaded not to do it again.
Each month, we face 80 to 100 offenders, and statistics show that drunken drivers have driven that way an average of 80 times before their first arrest. Fifty to 75 percent of convicted drunken drivers continue to drive on suspended licenses. Those are the numbers in Niagara County, alone.
Let’s say a driver is arrested for DWI because he’s involved in a fender-bender, or he is driving erratically. His Breathalyzer test registers .24 percent – more than three times the legal limit and a felony, if convicted – and he fails the roadside sobriety tests. He has the right to refuse a blood test, and does. The Breathalyzer result is not allowed in court because according to the law, sensors are not calibrated regularly enough.
If he is savvy enough to refuse a blood test, he almost certainly will not be convicted of a felony. That’s because the prosecutor can’t use the Breathalyzer result or any prior offenses the driver may have unless they are within the last 10 years and were not pleaded down to DWAIs. Clever defense attorneys don’t charge astronomical fees for nothing, and they are smart enough to know how to convince a judge or jury that there isn’t enough evidence to convict. The driver gets off with a DWAI, a misdemeanor with a fine and a relatively short or no probation, and sometimes he attends the drug court program.
At MADD, we also know that more than 30 percent of drunken drivers are repeat offenders, and across the country, nearly 10,000 people lose their lives each year in drunken driving crashes. In addition, drunken driving costs the United States more than $132 billion a year – $500 for every adult in this country.
Every prosecutor has horror stories about the difficulty in getting drunken drivers off the road. Jurors consistently express anger after learning facts that were suppressed during a trial, resulting in a lesser conviction.
Because I hear it every day, I know the public wants drunken drivers removed from our streets and highways. We want DWI laws that have teeth and judges who do their jobs and enforce those laws to the fullest. We want roads that are safe, and protection for ourselves and our children and grandchildren, and we want a stop to the hijinks in courts that protect only the incomes of high-priced DWI defense experts.
Luanne Zuccari is the Niagara County representative of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.