Work Off Drunk Driving Conviction

New Tennessee Law Attracts Criticism

Knoxville, TN-A new
state law permits DUI offenders to work off their first infraction by
cleaning up litter along the roads while wearing a vest that states, “I
am a drunk driver.” Local officials of Knox County have
expressed disapproval of the new punishment.

Courts can now sentence first-time offenders with a minimum of 24
hours of manual labor, entailing trash removal from roadsides.

David Collins, Knox County Commissioner, described the law as ‘out
of control,” while County Sheriff Tim Hutchinson questioned the source of
funds that will pay for the vans, vests, and deputies required put the
new law into action.

While the law is designed to target first-time offenders in hopes of
shaming them away from future offenses, critics say the program could
bring negative results. Jacqueline Helfgott, chairperson and professor at
the Criminal
Justice Department of Seattle University
, said, “If I’m forced to
wear a sign saying that I’m a drunk driver, then I’m going to feel worse
and worse about myself and I may drink more and more because I feel
shunned.”

Other states have methods of alerting the public and police about
previous drunk driving convictions, however they are intended more to
protect the public than to create shame for the offender. Ohio, for
example, requires bright yellow license plates to expose to the public
that the driver has been convicted of DUI.

Gov. Phil Bredesen stated that he opposes the new DUI law because he
believes it weakens existing punishments that have already been
established for DUI offenders over the age of 21.

“Although I am generally supportive of innovative forms of punishment
to address this issue, I am concerned about the possibility of reduced
jail time for DUI offenders,” Bredesen stated in a letter to members of
the House and Senate.

He did not veto the bill, but also didn’t sign it. Under state law, a
bill that is not signed or vetoed by the governor will become law within
ten days.

MADD (Mothers Against Drunk
Driving
) also opposes the new law. “In MADD’s opinion it decreases
the deterrent effect of the law,” said Laura Dial, the MADD Tennessee
executive director. “Jail time is more of a deterrent than community
service, which is trash pickup.”

July 11, 2005

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