DennisBeaverJune 30, 2012 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Today’s story will be great news if you are personally facing or know someone dealing with a charge of DUI, or anyone who had a conviction in the past, never got the message and keeps on driving drunk.

The reason is that if our governor signs a certain bit of legislation into law,  behavior changing  punishment — spending time in a really bad place we call jail — will become a thing of the past for a lot of dangerous people. And anyone who drives under the influence of alcohol is as dangerous as a bank robber with a shotgun.

Flying under the radar of public scrutiny, a bill proposed in California’s Legislature earlier this year has now been passed which could dramatically soften punishment for those convicted of a crime, including DUI, where work release is a possible sentence.

In our opinion and that of law enforcement, District Attorney associations and many other respected organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), this piece of legislation is simply an effort to save money at the expense of people’s lives. If you ever had doubts about the common sense of our elected officials, consider the following:

The brainchild of Assembly members Wilmer Amina Carter and Roger Hernandez, Assembly Bill 2127 provides that a person sentenced to do time could completely avoid any jail — even someone who was found guilty of a drunk driving and caused injury or death — by doing any of the following:

1) Attend a work release program, including going to their own jobs!

2) Attending “life skill” classes.

3) Any kind of manual labor for the “good of the community.”

MADD spokesperson Brenda Frachiseur told us:

“Drunk Driving is a 100 percent preventable, violent crime. Incarceration sends a powerful deterrent message to potential drunk drivers. This change in sentencing laws has the effect of decriminalizing drunk driving in California and compromises public safety.”

Of course, this law was not put in place just for DUI cases, but it will affect actual DUI sentencing, even where the drunk driving offender kills or injures an individual.

You and the Law asks, “What kind of sick message does that send to California residents or the 9 million people who visit our state yearly?”

Is it: “We are so cool, come visit us and don’t worry about a little thing like a DUI arrest. Drink up, because you have a great chance of not going to jail even if you kill someone. But you also better hope your life insurance payments are current.”

Criminal defense attorneys know that some jail time for a DUI sends a powerful message to most clients, but if the governor signs this into law, innocent people will be harmed. Frachiseur observes:

“MADD is very concerned that the passage of AB2127 will hurt victim rights significantly. Offenders can serve time by working for their current employer as a way around jail! They continue on with their lives just slightly interrupted, while the lives of victims and families are changed forever. We hope that the governor will veto this law.”

Hernandez got popped for his own DUI

If you ever thought that our politicians in Sacramento have no sense of humor — or timing — then Assemblyman Roger Hernandez will change your mind. The law originally had his name on it. He proposed the law to the Legislature two months before he was arrested for his own DUI!

Since that time, gutsy Roger had his name removed, leaving Carter’s on. Now that’s real friendship.

Who knows what he had in mind. Perhaps he should change occupations and open up his own fortune-telling business. Could you imagine a conversation he might have had with family or friends about his drinking. “Roger, dear, if you keep this up, you’re going to get arrested for DUI, so better change the law, cause we need your paycheck!”

How many times did they drive drunk before?

“Research tells us that a first-time offender is really not a first-time offender, and has driven, on average, 87 times legally drunk (at the .08 limit or above) before being arrested for the first time,” Frachiseur points out.

We asked MADD’s spokesperson: “If the governor signs this into law, won’t it appear that drunk drivers are rewarded with a get-out-of-jail card and don’t worry about doing it again?”

She replied: “People who are educated about the danger and consequences of drunk driving will be much less likely to drink and drive. They will have an awareness of their choices, and of what the potential impact could be on their life and the lives of others.”

And finally, folks, we were promised a call back from the offices of both Hernandez and Carter. But we’re still waiting.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.