State Senator Jonathan Perry is a good guy. I have known him for many years now. He is a conscientious legislator and responsible public servant. But, when he asks that first time OWI offenders should receive mandatory jail sentences he is dead wrong. He ought to know better.
Currently first offenders will normally receive suspended sentences on a plea or conviction if their reading is under .15. A “suspended sentence” is one wherein a person is sentenced to go to jail unless they complete rehabilitative programs in a timely manner and pursuant to court order. If they do perform as ordered, they do not go to jail. Most people are smart enough to take care of their business and get the job done and never end up in jail for a first offense.
If Sen. Perry spoke to the people who really matter: the judges, sheriff’s offices, prosecutors, defense attorneys, rehabilitation specialists and arresting agencies, he would have found out that incarceration for first offenders is not a smart thing to recommend. Most people who are charged with a first offense never get arrested again for anyreason. There is no need to punish but a need to shape conduct and prevent future criminal activity. The current statutory scheme works. It affords discretion to the people who know how employ it on a case by case basis.
If you really want to do something, how about ratcheting up on those who expose young people to substance abuse in the first place? How about increasing the penalties for those who sell alcohol to underage drivers? Or those who purchase it for them? How about simply earmarking money for enforcement? Or education?
There are more effective ways for dealing with the problem of drinking and driving.
Jonathan, don’t reinvent the wheel, just work on keeping the impaired driver from getting behind it by using common sense.