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San Francisco DUI Attornety: Helping people avoid drunk driving

Posted on in DUI

Following is an article I wrote recently for a guest op-ed column in the Marin Independent Journal. http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_20552333/marin-voice-helping-people-avoid-drunk-driving?source=rss

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Marin Voice: Helping people avoid drunk driving

ALLOW ME to share my perspective on how to reduce recidivist drunk driving. It's based on 27 years of representing individuals criminally charged with this offense, and 20-plus years of personal recovery.

It begins with criminal defense attorneys. We have a meaningful opportunity to address substance abuse with clients who have hit a bottom — been arrested, incarcerated and utterly humiliated.

We can provide guidance and direction when they are most receptive to hearing it, and may even condition our representation on their getting treatment. With prosecutors and judges working with us, treatment in lieu of jail may be offered as a powerful incentive for their getting help.

DUI offenders include lawyers, doctors, nurses, firemen, paramedics, teachers and clergy. They are not morally bankrupt people who want to drive drunk.

Some have the disease of alcoholism, which somehow convinces them that they can control their drinking. Putting them in jail for 96 hours does not address their disease, and yet this is what the Marin County District Attorney insists upon on a second offense, even if the defendant is willing to complete a 28-day residential treatment program.

You put an alcoholic in jail and they want one thing when they get out — they want a drink.

In the zeal to be tough-on-crime, an opportunity is being lost. Absent the sheriff insisting otherwise (which he doesn't), both the district attorney and our judges have the authority to avoid actual jail time in appropriate cases, but they are reluctant to do so for fear of political reprisal.

Police chiefs and prosecutors may not endorse their re-election bids, and prosecutors may threaten peremptory challenges that keep judges from hearing criminal cases.

So John S. comes into my office after being arrested for his second DUI offense. He previously swore to himself that it would never happen again. I point out to him that if eating bananas caused him these problems, he would just quit eating bananas. He would not consider just having a bite or two of banana on the weekends, or just eating bananas at home.

I say, "John, what you really need is a treatment program. You will be in a safe environment where you can focus on sobriety and learn the process of a relapse. You will obtain some valuable tools for living life without mind-altering substances, and your relationships will improve beyond your wildest dreams."

John may resist, explaining that finances are tight and he has work and other obligations.

Now I need leverage.

My leverage is being able to say, "John, if you go into treatment right now you will not only help yourself personally, but you will help yourself with the judge and the prosecutor."

John says, "If I go into treatment will they give me credit against the jail time?"

If I can answer John's last question with a reasonable degree of certainty, I have a much better chance of persuading him to commence treatment.

I want to help people avoid the offense of drunk driving, and other colleagues of mine in the criminal defense bar share my passion. Working together we can all help and protect society, and further alleviate some of the pressure in our criminal justice system.

I urge our district attorney to extend this kind of discretionary power to his front-line prosecutors. It's not about being soft on crime — it's about finding real solutions to real problems.

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