dui story

DUI lawyers, MADD agree only drinking, driving don’t mix

By JACK ELLIOTT JR.

Associated Press Writer

Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Mississippi attorneys specializing in drunken driving defense agree on one thing: It’s a bad idea to drink and get on the road.

After that, they see little eye-to-eye about DUI.

Lawyers say they expect little change in the number of DUI cases as the state’s legal level of intoxication falls from .10 percent blood alcohol content to .08 percent on July 1.

“They keep making violations of the implied consent act tougher and tougher and it has not reduced to any significant level the number of offenses,” says Dwight Ball, an Oxford attorney who handles DUI cases.

Ball says few people ask MADD or legislators how many people are killed by motorists exceeding the speed limit or disobeying red lights or stop signs, compared to DUI.

“In the vast majority of DUI arrests, there are not any kind of physical injuries involved,” Ball says. “It’s a crime of poor judgment.

“It’s also an offense that law enforcement officers certainly want to make the arrest because they want to belong to the 100 Club, which means 100 or more DUI arrests, and they get a little badge and they go to a banquet free,” he says.

Federal law requires states to approve a .08 percent BAC drunken driving standard by Oct. 1, 2003, or face the loss of federal highway construction funds each year to a maximum of 8 percent by 2007.

Legislators resisted making the change until this year. When the vote finally came, there was no opposition.

“We’re not talking about social drinking. It takes several drinks to get to .08,” says Mississippi MADD director Danny Berry. “It takes a 170-pound man four drinks in an hour on an empty stomach.”

Jackson attorney Vic Carmody, another DUI defense lawyer, says legislators should have enhanced the penalties for repeated drunken driving offenses rather than dropping the intoxication rate.

“We don’t see anybody between .08 and .10. The average test result in Mississippi is .17,” Carmody says. “Nobody goes out specifically to put themselves in a position of liability. Sometimes when you’re out drinking you just don’t pay attention.”

Carmody believes the .08 percent threshold is not the end. He said as long as the federal government ties lowering the DUI rate to access to highway funds, the country could be pushed back into prohibition.

“The only way to ensure you are never caught is to never drink,” Carmody said. “If the public is ready for no drinking then all these things are OK.”

Berry says if the Legislature enacted the lower standard only to save federal highway dollars “then so be it.”

“We just know it’s going to save lives” in a state that saw 256 alcohol-related traffic fatalities last year, down from 380 in 2000, he said.

“It will be a deterrent to people who want to drive while they’re intoxicated. They need to think about that before they drive a vehicle. There are consequences to every decision we make,” Berry said.

Gulfport attorney Wayne Woodall says many drivers registering under .10 are charged with driving while impaired and must prove they were not intoxicated.

“They’re finding when they pass the breath test at .08, they’re still getting arrested at .04 or .05 on impairment,” he says. “And judges are so scared of the public perception (of drinking and driving) that we see more convictions on the lesser impairment standard every day.”