Sunday, November 13, 2011

Globe's horrifying series on how drunk drivers get off so easily

The woman who brazenly bragged to Plymouth police that “my OUI that I have is going to get thrown out, and [my lawyer] will take care of this one, too,’’ during her arrest for drunken driving only a month after she allegedly hit a truck with more than twice the legal amount of alcohol in her bloodstream.

And she was right: Not guilty on the first. Not guilty on the second.


For the past three Sunday's, the Boston Globe has written an incredibly interesting and depressing series of articles on how drunk drivers are treated in Massachusetts. It reveals how the laws mean nothing, when judge's habitually declare drunk drivers innocent, just because, and how having money means you will get off, every single time.

This series will depress you. Or quite frankly, make you extremely angry. It did to me.


Here are some selections from the shocking series of articles. I recommend you check out the entire series. If I had quoted every example used....well, I would have just pasted the entire article.


From the first article:
For drunk drivers, a habit of judicial leniency
October 30, 2011
First Article

This article focuses on judge's that refuse to give guilty verdicts on drunk driving cases. It also looks at improper behavior by judges that have gone back and forth between defending drunk drivers as a lawyer, and then ruling on DUI cases.


The case appeared airtight. The driver, by just about every measure, was drunk. As a police officer watched, he sped down Southampton’s College Highway at 2:30 one morning, twice drifting over the center lines. The 26-year-old railroad worker’s speech was slurred, his eyes were bloodshot, he smelled of booze, the officer said. He couldn’t walk heel-to-toe in a straight line and flunked four of five roadside sobriety tests. Back at the station, when the driver blew into the breathalyzer machine, the result was .13

“I’m going to give you a break,’’ Goggins said during a bench trial in February, and then rendered his verdict: not guilty.
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The judges’ acquittal rate now exceeds 80 percent across Massachusetts, the Globe’s detailed review of thousands of court documents shows, meaning at least four out of five alleged drunk drivers who place their fate in the hands of a judge are walking out of court free of the burden - and penalties - of a guilty verdict.

Free, like one acquitted driver who barreled the wrong way onto a Route 1 ramp - and slammed into an oncoming car, sending both drivers to the hospital.
----
Judges in Suffolk County, for example, are acquitting drunken driving defendants 88 percent of the time in bench trials. Plymouth County judges are ruling against prosecutors 86 percent of the time.

It's ok, because everybody does it.

Raymond J. Zukowski, police chief of the tiny western town of Montague, agreed. “I think sometimes the judges possibly feel the penalties are too stiff,’’ he said. “It’s a lot of money out of [the defendant’s] pocket for something we all did in our day.’’

And what about judges unwilling to declare people victim because they also drive drunk?

Judge James J. McGovern was charged with OUI in Scituate in 1995 and was acquitted at a bench trial. He was appointed a judge in 1999, left the bench three years later, and returned in 2006. He disclosed his OUI arrest on his judicial questionnaire in 1999 but not when he was reappointed.

McGovern presided over 11 OUI trials in 2009 and 2010 in Bristol County, according to records from the district attorney’s office there. He found all 11 defendants not guilty.


The second article:


A judicial haven for accused drunk drivers
Globe Staff / November 6, 2011
Second article

If there is an epicenter for that judicial leniency, it is Plymouth County.

No county for which data are available holds a greater proportion of bench trials in drunken driving cases. And two judges there have been veritable magnets for savvy defense lawyers, with acquittal rates of more than 90 percent.
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- Judge Thomas S. Barrett presided over the bench trials of at least 210 OUI defendants in Plymouth County between 2005 and 2010, more trials than any judge in the county during that time, according to the DA’s data. He found 12 guilty and 198 of them not guilty - an acquittal rate of 94 percent.

This second article is also full of shocking case examples that must be read in full.



This weeks article:
Court mismatch makes OUI justice elusive
Globe Spotlight Team / November 13, 2011
Third Article

The lawyers are making huge amounts of money, as so can afford cheap expert witnesses and other tools. The prosecutors cannot. Further, the lawyers pick and choose which judges they want...the ones they know rule "not guilty" almost every time.

An in many cases, the judges are their longtime friends and partners.

He’d had a few beers, he said, and hadn’t eaten since noon. Now it was 1 a.m. When he blew into a breathalyzer, it registered .25, more than three times the legal limit.

Jones got the breath-test result thrown out of court. Then he masterfully recast his client’s feeble performance for police as a by-product of fatigue, not beer. The judge’s verdict: not guilty.


A lawyer, on getting dangerous drunk drivers off scott free, and justifying it:
“I’m sort of like an OUI nerd; I love this stuff,’’ Jones told his audience of fellow attorneys, joking, “I wouldn’t do it for nothing - I wouldn’t even do it for a reduced fee - but I really like doing it.’’
If he gets a break, you know, who’s hurt?’’ said Jones, an affable 55-year-old. “Most people learn their lesson just by their arrest.’’
----
A number of other local OUI specialists maintain flashy websites. Joseph Waldbaum’s is bursting with exuberant testimonials that play up how much evidence was stacked against clients he successfully defended, like the accused three-time offender who crashed his snow plow into a house: He had a vodka bottle on the dashboard and his 5-year-old in the front seat. He called Waldbaum “a panther in the courtroom.’’


And here's a huge problem...many of the legislatures are or have been lawyers. There's huge amount of money riding on lawyers getting $10,000 to get a client off. And some are habitual drunk drivers themselves.

Massachusetts is one of two states where refusing to take a breath test is not evidence that can be used in court. Other states, like California, will take blood if the driver refuses.

Melanie’s Law was supposed to make refusing the test unpalatable by inflicting severe driver’s license penalties on those who refuse. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and House Judiciary Chairman Eugene L. O’Flaherty - both, at the time, among the state’s most powerful defense attorneys - strongly opposed several provisions of the bill that Governor Mitt Romney and Senate leaders sought, arguing they threatened the constitutional rights of defendants.

...

O’Flaherty opposed such sanctions.

“You have a constitutional right to not cooperate with law enforcement,’’ he said Friday. “You have a right against self-incrimination.’’

So the bitterly fought final compromise opened a loophole: A driver who refuses the test gets his license back if he is acquitted. Unless prosecutors can make a special case he is a danger.

In a way, it was a double win for defense lawyers.

Stiffer punishment means more people hire a lawyer to fight the charge. And taking the sting out of refusing the breath test makes it that much easier to win in court.

“It caught people’s attention that there were OUI defense attorneys in the House who were essentially doing everything they could to gut the thing,’’ said Haley, who wrote Romney’s version of the bill. “There is still an incentive for drunk drivers, particularly serial drunk drivers . . . to refuse a breathalyzer. And it’s a huge incentive.’’

Salvatore F. DiMasi, by the way, is now serving 8 years in prison for fraud.


And it seems like fraud is a daily occurrence in Massachusetts. Here is one of the "experts" the attorneys call up. The prosecutors rarely use experts because they lack the funds and time.

New Hampshire toxicologist JoAnn Samson, who has testified scores of times in the state. She is Jones’s go-to breath-test expert, partly because she charges only $1,500.

Samson acknowledged that her physiology master’s thesis was on termites, and that her doctoral work was on a drug used to treat hookworm in dogs. Samson acknowledged that she did not belong to any professional toxicology organization, and that until a few years earlier she spent most of her time working as a lawyer. The three publications on a recent copy of her resume include a letter to the editor.


I'd like to thank the Globe for doing the kind of journalism we deserve to read every week.

Unfortunately, this rather depressing series of articles can make one lose huge amounts of respect for our legal system, our political system and our financial system, in which penalties are only for those without money or without connections.


The articles also touch on how officers who do their best to stop drunk drivers are discouraged because all their work is thrown out, almost every time.

An as for the question that "who gets hurt" when a drunk driver is set free? Well, the article lists multiple cases of drivers with multiple DUI's in their history...drunk driving events that can't be entered into the record because "they deserved a second chance".

And what's worse, these are only cases where the driver gets CAUGHT. How many times are these criminals hitting the streets and not being stopped?

The blatant disrespect for life is infuriating.

6 comments:

  1. I disagree with your comment that "laws mean nothing, when judge's habitually declare drunk drivers innocent, just because, and how having money means you will get off, every single time."

    As you properly note, "Massachusetts is one of two states where refusing to take a breath test is not evidence that can be used in court. Other states, like California, will take blood if the driver refuses." You also discuss the "loophole" that was apparently *enacted as law* in Massachusetts that lets people get their licenses back if they're acquitted. The implication that it is the judges, rather than the legislators, who have acted improperly frankly astounds me. It sounds to me like this problem would be solved a lot more quickly by enacting a law that made people take blood tests than it would by replacing all of the judges in Massachusetts.

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  2. Anon, please read the entire series, not just my quotes. When some judges have a 100% acquittal rate, and they state "I'm giving you a break" it is the judge that is the problem, not the law. Note that the article mentions some cases where the person gave a .13 breath rating (.08 is the max) and the judge said that wasn't enough....even though again. .08 is illegal.

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  3. It is sad indeed that the law is being subverted.

    Every one has the right to a vigorous defense but nobody is being served is habitual drunk drivers are returned to the roadways.

    DUI attorney in Philadelphia

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  4. This is happening in al of our States. My daughter was killed by a drunk driver who "might" do 2 years. The drunk was driving on a suspended DL for over 5 years , yet this made no difference. Now in custody the drunk has access to Fb and posts with NO remorse. If you'd like to know more please join me in my fight against drunk driving http://www.facebook.com/#!/ambers.angels.1 Thank You

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  5. The acquittal statistics of these counties is quite disturbing. I hope that through the efforts of Boston Globe, in addition to well written articles such as yours, will bring enough publicity on these judge's actions that our checks & balance system will finally take it's correct course.
    Spread the word.
    Keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete