Are Spokane County’s Harsh DUI Policies More Harmful Than Good


Are Spokane County's Harsh DUI Policies More Harmful Than Good?

We all hope that tough policies keep Spokane’s citizens (all people for that matter) safe. However, we are concerned that these new policies are not well thought out. Is this just politics? Does our Prosecutor have some information that led him to believe that this would be an effective policy? I don’t know, but I am skeptical of anything that has a political purpose.

The Other Side Of The "Tough Stance on DUIs."

Just to get to the point. I’m worried that if people know that they will suffer harsh consequences that could make them lose their jobs or whatever, they will run from the police. This stands to increase the danger to innocent citizens, our police, passengers, and the drivers themselves. Only time will tell. Beleive me I’m happy to be wrong here, but desperate scared people can do really crazy things, especially when they already are not thinking straight.

How Does This New Policy Prevent DUIs?

The reasoning seems to be that letting the public know that they may be treated very harshly will prevent future DUIs. This could be true, but I am doubtful that it will actually impact the vast majority of people. Most people don’t ever set out with the idea of drinking and getting behind the wheel of their car. Currently, the presumptive level of impairment for a Washington DUI is 0.08 for adults. For most of us, a few innocent glasses of wine or stout beers at dinner and we are close if not over.

Over the course of my 12 plus years as an attorney, I have talked to hundreds and hundreds of people charged with Spokane DUIs. I can confidently tell you that most of them were good folks that just didn’t realize that they were getting themselves into a situation. If you really think about it, most people do not have any idea of how much alcohol they can have before it appreciably affects their ability to drive. Thus, a few drinks at dinner doesn’t seem like like you’re doing anything wrong.

The fact that most people do not understand how much alcohol it takes to appreciably affect them is exactly why I have little faith that harsh policies will really impact the occurrences of DUI in Spokane County.  Of course, I’m happy to be wrong if it works wonderfully. I’ll be the first to say, “great job.”

Are Politicians Afraid to Do What is Really Necessary?

It seems so. We never hear of anyone tasking bars and restaurants with quantity control. Now, I get that these businesses make money and should be allowed to. Adults should also be able to choose to indulge freely. I certainly do not want to hurt the restaurant and bar businesses (so breath people put the pitchforks down). My point is that we never really seem to go here. But, doesn’t it make sense?

Now, I am not really advocating that we force bars and restaurants to do anything but use good business sense.

The Way To Really Impact The Occurrences of DUI Is To Trust That Most People With The Right Knowledge Will Make Better Decisions.

Trust people – really? Knowing that the vast majority of people would limit their indulgence at restaurants and bars if they had a better way to understand how much alcohol is too much. Try this. Ask somebody how many drinks they can have, before they should drive. Better yet. Go to the bar or dine out and ask you people what their BAC (blood alcohol content) is or will be after they finish their drink. You’ll get a blank state or a range of wild but baseless answers.

So education is the key. Maybe.

Why are there no law enforcement commercials tackling this problem? Let’s spend some money on commercial that gives people an idea of how to gauge their own BAC.

Yes, I realize that the argument is that you shouldn’t drink and drive period. That is probably the best policy I agree, but it’s unrealistic. The statistics show this. There has been plenty of commercials and propaganda pushing this policy. However, our Prosecutor is stepping up the heat on DUI punishment, because that just isn’t going to work. So it’s time to get real.

Let's Borrow From The Fast Food Industry.

Does seeing the calories on that Super-Double-Trouble-Cheeseburger impact the consumers’ decisions. It does to some point. That’s one reason that these businesses are offering more and more healthy choices.

My hypothesis is that taking this same action with any menu with drinks on it would tend to have a statistically significant impact on the occurrence of future DUIs (lowering them). Is it a perfect idea no. But, couple this with some law enforcement commercials getting to the problem before folks get into their cars, we could be on to something. It makes more sense to give some education. Maybe the state could give some breaks to businesses that participate (maybe a stretch).

It goes without saying that people are not always going to get this right. Some will still drink too much and drive. However, I hypothesize that even when people do not stop when they should, but still drive that we will see a statistically significant decrease in the average BAC level (within this group).

The New DUI Policies Do Leave Some Room For a Slight Oops.

While, I am not really a fan of fixed and inflexible policies, there is some good here. The Prosecutor’s new policy does not become harsh and inflexible until a person crosses the 0.121 BAC threshold. This leaves room for those that try to use some good sense when out drinking to still have a chance to face lesser penalties.

Of course, I think this policy makes more sense if we provide the notice and education that I have suggested above.

Author's Info

This article's author is Senit Lutgen, J.D., M.B.A., CPBC. Senit is an experienced litigation attorney. He currently practices in business law but has years of experience in the criminal courts as well. The article is an opinion piece written for Action Legal Group, a Spokane Washington DUI and Criminal Defense Law Firm. The Discussion is based on Spokane County's New DUI Policies that go into effect August 1st, 2016.