Washington State's DWI Follies

The state of Washington has tried to position itself as one of the most aggressively anti-DWI jurisdictions in the country. A couple of years ago, the legislature passed a laughably absurd law instructing juries to consider evidence in drunk driving cases "in a light most favorable to the prosecution." The law passed, but was promptly nullified in its first court challenge. The state also has a law mandating the installation of ignition interlock devices in the vehicle of anyone arrested—not convicted, merely arrested—for drunk driving.

Which makes a couple of headlines this week rather interesting. In the first, the manager of the state's toxicology lab has admitted she signed false statements about having tested the state's breath test machines for accuracy. The statements go back seven years, and could affect hundreds of cases.

The second story is a three-part investigation by Seattle's Post Intelligencer which found that police officers caught driving drunk are frequently let off by fellow officers who pull them over, rarely receive criminal sanctions when they are arrested, and generally get off with light disciplinary action. There also seems to be quite a bit of administrative incompetence in cases where cops have been implicated for DWI—lots of mishandled evidence and missed filing deadlines. In some cases, the lab manager mentioned in the prior story would tell prosecutors that there were too many problems with evidence collection to charge a cop with driving while impaired.

In one case, a cop who crashed his patrol car after drinking at a holiday party was met at the police station by a prosecutor who'd been at the same party. The prosecutor attempted to act as the officer's defense attorney, despite the fact that he worked for the office that would be investigating the accident for possible charges. That officer was eventually suspended, and ordered to sign a "last chance" agreement requiring his termination for any alcohol-related infractions. He still works for the police department, despite three subsequent alcohol-related citations.

What's more, the paper found that the Seattle police department was stingy when handing over case reports, even in cases where drunk cops were drinking on duty, or caused injuries to other motorists. Even when the department did finally turn over the case reports, they redacted the names of the officers.

Related: In a story loaded with misinformation and MADD propaganda, Time reports on a recent study indicating that immediate license revocation at the time of a DWI arrest may reduce drunk driving accidents by five percent. I don't doubt the statistics. But it's always interesting to see a major media outlet advocating we preemptively punish people before they've been convicted of any crime.

(Thanks to James Powderly for the tip on the Time story.)

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  • ||

    Time reports on a recent study indicating that immediate license revocation at the time of a DWI arrest may reduce drunk driving accidents by five percent.



    Heck, execution for all citizens immediately following birth would eventually reduce drunk driving by even more than that!

    Insert that quote about "and may posterity forget you were our countrymen" here.

  • ||

    the legislature passed a laughably absurd law instructing juries to consider evidence in drunk driving cases "in a light most favorable to the prosecution.

    Jebus H Christ walking on wine! Dude! That's fucked up.

    As always, Balko brings us the very best violence.

  • ||

    On the morning news today, there was a report on the shocking increase in the number of women who've been arrested for drunk driving (11%over the past 4 years). They wemt through all the reason that alcohol affects women more strongly than men, and came the the conclusion that more "young women" are drinking with the goal of intoxication that before. Curiously, they never even hinted that the increase in arrests might be explained by ever-tightening DUI/DWI standards and nothing more.

  • ||

    I don't mean to be a cynic here, but the fact that DWI laws don't apply to cops shouldn't come as a suprise to anyone. Furthermore, this informal rule usually extends to firefighters, emts, federal law enforcement officers (FBI/DEA/SS/ATF), AND their spouses, siblings, and children.

  • ||

    It isn't surprising in the slightest, Eric. That just makes it all the more sad.

  • ||

    "Alexander Wagenaar, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida's College of Medicine... ...if you do something wrong, you should suffer the consequences immediately. It's a basic behavior-curbing tenet called negative reinforcement that works on rats in the lab, and on humans just as well."

    FUCK! It works on rats, so let's do it to humans! They're both the same in the eyes of the law.

    CB

  • ||

    Quick anecdote - I'm friends with a prosecutor (despite her profession), and she doesn't hesitate to drive drunk - because she has a badge. In fact, she frequently volunteers to drive when we go out drinking because her badge is essentially a DUI insurance policy.

    The rub is that she's adamently opposed to me having the right to safely and quietly smoke a joint in the provacy of my own home, which is orders of magnitude safer than drunk driving. It must be nice to be able to decide which laws are valid and important o enforce and which are not.

  • ||

    David,In Ohio in the last 25 years dui bac levels have went fron .15 to .12 to .10 to .08.They've dropped the standard in half.Plus 80 percent of all accidents are cause by people with no alcohol.

  • ||

    Don't worry, Seattle is going to solve this problem with light rail!

  • ||

    Mike ,if she does this often how many accidents has she caused and how many people has she killed.If we believe MADD 1 drink makes you a huge danger.I'm guessing none.Does she not find it a contradiction she has to prosecuye people for behavior she herself considers harmless?

  • ||

    Michael Pack,
    DUI BAC levels in Virginia have dropped the same. In addition, if under 21, and you breath a .01, they can charge you with DUI.

    F-ing ridiculous.

  • Brian E||

    In a story loaded with misinformation and MADD propaganda, Time reports on a recent study indicating that immediate license revocation at the time of a DWI arrest may reduce drunk driving accidents by five percent. I don't doubt the statistics. But it's always interesting to see a major media outlet advocating we preemptively punish people before they've been convicted of any crime.

    Replace "drunk driver" with "illegal immigrant", and the media'd call you a racist xenophobe. Funny how the media fawn all over it when you're an anti-alcohol organization.

  • LibertyPlease||

    "Furthermore, this informal rule usually extends to firefighters, emts, federal law enforcement officers (FBI/DEA/SS/ATF), AND their spouses, siblings, and children.

    That is sad Eric. Worse, there are many many other areas where Federal and State law enforcement are a more priviliged class of citizen. Over at http://waronguns.blogspot.com Davis Codrea keeps track of these folks' claims that they're the "only ones" who should be granted 2nd ammendment rights (for all sorts of claimed reasons). Sad.

    If they continue to increasingly deny us our rights, increasingly exempt themselves from their own draconian rules, and continue to become increasingly contemptuous of us, what choice do we have but to consider them enemies?

  • Episiarch||

    mike, she just realizes that DUI prosecutions are mostly for pandering to certain swathes of the public and for revenue generation.

    I assume you have never called her on this because you want to stay friends with a prosecutor and designated driver? Not that I blame you, but I was wondering if you've ever discussed it.

  • ||

    ...if you do something wrong, you should suffer the consequences immediately. It's a basic behavior-curbing tenet called negative reinforcement...



    I'm amazed at the sorts of people who make this mistake. What the professor is describing is called "positive punishment." Negative reinforcement is something quite different.

  • ||

    if you do something wrong, you should suffer the consequences immediately. It's a basic behavior-curbing tenet called negative reinforcement that works on rats in the lab,

    Professor Weingaar, that's not negative reinforcement, it's punishment. Negative reinforcement is when you remove an unpleasant stimulus when the subject does the behavior you want it to do.

    And "it works on rats in the lab" is not an accurate summary of research on effects of punishment on behavior. The avoidance of the unwanted behavior lasts only a short time, and it produces other unwanted side effects.

  • ||

    Son of a!,

    Damn, I shouldn't have spent all that time looking up the terms to make sure my barely-remembered psychology wasn't wrong...

  • ||

    David,In Ohio in the last 25 years dui bac levels have went fron .15 to .12 to .10 to .08.They've dropped the standard in half.Plus 80 percent of all accidents are cause by people with no alcohol.

    DUI standards are like a reverse Sorites paradox. The keep taking grains away yet insisting that it's still a heap.

  • ||

    crimethink:

    Unlike me, you actually explained what negative reinforcement was, so it's all good.

  • ||

    Extend "spouses and family" to "spouses, family, best buddies and girlfriends" and "road violations" to "all victimless crimes plus anything one could conceivably intimidate the aggrieved party into clamming up about" and you have an accurate view of the blue immunity doctrine. My best buddy is a cop in Revere MA and I'd pretty much have to murder someone to get arrested there, and by "someone" I mean "a english-speaking person with no immediate friends or family of dubious immigration status or on parole"

  • MattXIV||

    if you do something wrong, you should suffer the consequences immediately



    Well, given that getting arrested for DWI pretty much precludes you doing anymore driving that evening whether or not your license has been formally suspended, the only immediate consequences are for the idea of due process. If Prof Wagenaar were serious about providing immediate punishment, he'd favor breaking out the tasers.

  • Nephilium||

    Actually... in Ohio, and several other states (Florida is one I remember off the top of my head), you can blow a .00 and still get a DUI.

    In Ohio, there's three levels of punishment. If you blow over a .16, you get what's referred to as a Super-OVI. This carries double penalties and the special orange plates on the first offense. There's also a regular OVI, and then there's DUI. For an OVI, you have to blow over .08, for a DUI, the cop has to think you are under the influence. You can get a DUI blowing a .07 or lower.

    Also, in Ohio, for more fun OVI laws. You can get an OVI on a bicycle (which will cause you to lose your Drivers License), but you cannot get one on a unicycle. If you are a passenger in a care, you can be charged with an OVI if there is a reasonable chance that you will take possession of the vehicle/keys. You will get charged with an OVI if your vehicle is parked, and you are in the vehicle with the keys in your possession.

    I met someone who had gotten an OVI when he went to downtown Cleveland, valet parked his car, get it back, and realized he wasn't good to drive. He took his car to the parking lot around the corner, paid for a parking spot, and got into the back seat to sleep it off. Because his keys were in his pocket, he got arrested.

    I also know that in Ohio they tried to pass a law saying that if a urine test showed evidence of marijuana use (up to 30 days later), you would be charged with an OVI.

    Ahhh... the fun of drunk driving laws...

    Nephilium

  • Russ 200||

    Replace "drunk driver" with "illegal immigrant",

    Replace ".08 BAC" with "Jew" and you begin to understand far too much about human nature - living in denial is an important survival tactic.

  • ||

    On the first story,

    But because between three and 15 technicians test each batch, he said, any doubts about certificates can be handled by simply having one of the other technicians testify about it in court.

    This is an unfortunate tempest in a teapot. The lady is being accused of trusting her subordinates to follow the strict protocols that she put into place and monitored. What good would her personally being the 4th or 16th person to test the batch do?

  • ||

    Next question: why is an epidemiologist in charge of a public policy study that has nothing to do with disease?

    A brief bio:

    Alexander C. Wagenaar, Ph.D. Few scientists conduct studies that directly help save a thousand lives a year every year, but Dr. Wagenaar's research has had such an effect. Starting in the late 1970s, he studied the effects of increasing the legal drinking age to 21 on a state-by-state basis, using such "above reproach" research methods that even the alcohol beverage industry had little recourse but to acknowledge his findings. The result was a uniform nationwide age-21 policy that clearly saves lives. Dr. Wagenaar is a Professor of Epidemiology and Health Policy at the University of Florida College of Medicine. Dr. Wagenaar will convene a panel of experts to investigate the role of law and policy in reducing alcohol-related problems. The effort will specifically focus on similarities and differences between prevention efforts across high-risk products such as alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.

  • ||

    Next question: why is an epidemiologist in charge of a public policy study that has nothing to do with disease?

    Let me guess... because epidemiologists study public health and driving drunk leads to injuries in the population...an aspect of public health.

    Did I get it right?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemiology

  • ||

    I thought epidemiology was a study of the spread of disease. And drunk driving accidents are only a disease if you really, really stretch the meaning of the word (which I'm sure public health types are wont to do).

  • ||

    crimethink,

    Well, I guess that explains the confusion.

    Another definition for you.

    http://cancerweb.ncl.ac.uk/cgi-bin/omd?query=disease&action=Search+OMD

  • ||

    "...more "young women" are drinking with the goal of intoxication that before."

    WOOOHOOOOO

  • ||

    For those interested in learning more about epidemiology and how these studies are conducted... and how to properly interpret results....

    http://www.pitt.edu/~super1/

  • ||

    Crimethink,

    Looking back, I think my post might have been unclear.

    The reason epidemiologists might study drunk driving is not because drunk driving is a disease... it is because it is a cause disease (injury).

    The distinction: HIV is not a disease...it is a virus.
    AIDS is the disease (ignoring for now the distinction between a syndrome and a disease).

    You study HIV because it causes AIDS, you study drunk driving because it leads to brain injury, broken limbs, etc...

  • ||

    In the P-I story click there's a link revealing the interesting 'bear sticker' scam. Police (and friends of police) get little stickers of a bear to put on the back windows of their cars which alerts other officers that this is someone to give special consideration on traffic violations, DUI stops and so on. In one of the DUI cases mentioned the drunk officer specifically asked the arresting officer whether or not they'd seen the sticker when they pulled them over. Apparently it's even color coded: a green bear is King County Sheriff's department, a blue bear is Seattle PD, and a yellow bear is Washinton State Patrol.

    Not surprisingly, cops want to get a pass on the same behavior they routinely arrest normal citizens (i.e., 'little people') for. And they need a system to identify who's who. Although how the bear stickers are substantially different than the 'Law enforment- Firefighter' customized license plates they can buy for their personal vehicles, I don't know. Probably just cheaper. And more like a secret handshake. After all, you don't ALWAYS want to advertise the fact that you're a cop-- just when you might get arrested.

  • ||

    "cause of disease (injury)"

  • ||

    Plus 80 percent of all accidents are cause by people with no alcohol.

    Which means that 20% of accidents are caused by people with alcohol in their system.

    I wonder what other easily identifiable factor contributes to that degree?

    Denying the problem is not necessary to make the libertarian argument.

  • ||

    On the .08BAC.

    This level is set based on actual research into the effect that alcohol has on the skills needed for driving (reaction time being the primary proxy). The research shows that measurable deficits occur well below .08BAC, but that you can't subjectively recognize the impact of the alcohol until around .08BAC.

    So the policy went with a common sense level that says...If you are driving with enough alcohol in your system that you can tell you've been drinking, you have made a conscious choice to drive under the influence. Driving under the influence causes at least 20% of accidents, showing that you have recklessly and knowingly disregarded the safety of others.

    Like I said. You can make the libertarian argument without denying that drunk driving is a problem. Even without arguing with how to define drunk driving.

    Sticking to arguments about where to draw the line, in this case, doesn't seem productive.

  • ||

    Studies also show taht distracted driving is as or more dangerous as drinking,the same for being sleepy.I would much rather punish offence like weaving or a crash .You don't see road blocks for people on the phone or such.Plus road blocks take officers off patrol were the do more good in spoting bad driving.

  • Radley Balko||

    Neu Mexican:

    In 1999, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reviewed statistical data on states that had and hadn't passed .08, and concluded, "the evidence does not conclusively establish that .08 BAC laws by themselves result in reductions in the number and severity of crashes involving alcohol."

    The state of Minnesota conducted a study in 2002 to help determine whether or not to comply with the federal .08 mandate and found that it was actually cheaper for the state to forgo federal highway funding than to adopt the lower standard. The study found that .08 would not make the highways safer, and the state would actually lose more money processing people between .08 and .10, who aren't much of a safety risk, than it would get from the federal government for adopting the standard.

    The state ended up adopting it anyway, mostly due to pressure from MADD.

    Come to think of it, I wonder if the extra money .08 cost the state could have been used to repair bridges!

  • ||

    Radley,

    But drunk driving kills more people than collapsing bridges blah blah blah...

  • ||

    Nice to assume that everyone reacts the same if they had a .08 BAC. Kinda like everyone has the same driving skills, eh?

  • LibertyPlease||

    "Nice to assume that everyone reacts the same if they had a .08 BAC. Kinda like everyone has the same driving skills, eh?"

    Well, for non-"Only Ones" the law makes those questionable assumptions. The special class of civilians (those parasites funded by our tax dollars) are exempted, either explicitly or in practice.

    Now quit responding to blogs and earn some money to tax, your masters need updated weaponry!

  • A.G. Pym||

    >the legislature passed a laughably absurd law instructing juries to consider evidence in drunk >driving cases "in a light most favorable to the prosecution.

    >Jebus H Christ walking on wine! Dude! That's fucked up.

    Not the only thing in WA state law that is so.

    If you're part of an irrigation district that wants to expand or annex (involuntarily for those who live in the area to be annexed) or do something else to grow their power, and a vote of the district residents is held, it is on the books in WA that if any person does NOT vote, that vote is automatically counted as a "Yes" vote.

    Irrigation districts in WA are some of the worst good-ol-boy abusive of power organizations there are. You can be billed for water not delivered in pipes that were dug up years ago - and then billed for drainage allowance for that water that doesn't drain into ditches that were filled in and built on even longer ago than the pipes were removed.

    And not a single lawyer or legislator (until recently) would ever, ever try and touch the situation.

  • ||

    "That officer was eventually suspended, and ordered to sign a "last chance" agreement requiring his termination for any alcohol-related infractions. He still works for the police department, despite three subsequent alcohol-related citations."

    But you can't fire someone for having a "disability".

  • ||

    """But you can't fire someone for having a "disability"."""

    LOL, But can you jail someone for having a disability?

  • Alice Bowie||

    MADD is a neo-prohibitionist movement.

    They know that if they propose outlawing liquir...everyone brings up prohibition.

    So...what they do is NOT advocate prohibition...but advocate making anything involving 1 drink of liquir illegal.

    Pretty soon, the BAC will be something along the lines of 1/2 a beer

  • ||

    Radley B,

    Assuming that your citations are consistent with the majority of research, then regulations will eventually move towards the better cut-off point. The 0.08BAC laws were adopted based on the best evidence at the time. Responsible law makers will balance the newer, refined science with other factors as the continual discourse of legislation and outcome unwinds. MADD's lobbying will only defeat fiscal responsibility up to a point.

    But libertarians arguing about where to set the best-cut point just validate the state's claim that they have a right to set a cut-off and to restrict your driving based on BAC.

    If the state has that right, then the libertarian argument merges with the utilitarian one. Set the BAC based on best results, not restrictions to liberty.

  • ||

    A recent research review:

    The effectiveness of reducing illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits for driving: evidence for lowering the limit to .05 BAC.

    Fell JC, Voas RB.
    J Safety Res. 2006;37(3):233-43. Epub 2006 Jul 7

    PURPOSE: This scientific review provides a summary of the evidence regarding the benefits of reducing the illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for driving and providing a case for enacting a .05 BAC limit. RESULTS: Fourteen independent studies in the United States indicate that lowering the illegal BAC limit from .10 to .08 has resulted in 5-16% reductions in alcohol-related crashes, fatalities, or injuries. However, the illegal limit is .05 BAC in numerous countries around the world. Several studies indicate that lowering the illegal per se limit from .08 to .05 BAC also reduces alcohol-related fatalities. Laboratory studies indicate that impairment in critical driving functions begins at low BACs and that most subjects are significantly impaired at .05 BAC. The relative risk of being involved in a fatal crash as a driver is 4 to 10 times greater for drivers with BACs between .05 and .07 compared to drivers with .00 BACs. SUMMARY: There is strong evidence in the literature that lowering the BAC limit from .10 to .08 is effective, that lowering the BAC limit from .08 to .05 is effective, and that lowering the BAC limit for youth to .02 or lower is effective. These law changes serve as a general deterrent to drinking and driving and ultimately save lives. IMPACT ON INDUSTRY: This critical review supports the adoption of lower illegal BAC limits for driving.

  • ||

    My mother-in-law is a Washington state legislator. These laws have her (or her ilk's) name written all over it. Just the sort of pandering, nannystatism we all love so much here.

    I kinda have to stay off the subject of politics when she visits.

  • ||

    """you study drunk driving because it leads to brain injury, broken limbs, etc...""

    It is the collision that leads to injury, not the act of driving drunk.

  • ||

    Tricky Vick,

    Risking a drunk posting... the research would indicate that the drunk driver leads to the injury in a substantial proportion of the cases....

    Relationship between Traffic Fatalities and Drunk Driving in Japan
    Authors: Yuki Fujita Akira Shibata a
    journal: Traffic Injury Prevention, Volume 7, Issue 4 December 2006 , pages 325 - 327

    Abstract
    Objective. The present study was performed to clarify the relation between alcohol use and traffic fatalities in accidents involving motor vehicles in Japan.

    Methods. Data on traffic accidents were collected from Fukuoka Prefectural Police records of traffic accidents which occurred in that prefecture between 1987 and 1996. Multiple logistic regression models were used to assess the effect of alcohol use on the risk of traffic-accident death.

    Results. The data showed that 58,421 male drivers were involved in traffic accidents during the 10-year study period, and that 271 of these were killed as a result of the accident. Alcohol use was significantly associated with speed, seat belt use, time, and road form. Among male motorcar drivers, the odds ratio of alcohol use before driving, after adjusting for age, calendar year, time, and road form, was 4.08 (95% confidence interval, 3.08-5.40), which means that about 75% of fatalities (attributable risk percent among exposed) might have been prevented if drivers had not drunk before driving.

    Conclusions. Alcohol use before driving resulted in a 4.08-fold increase in the risk of death in a traffic accident. It is suggested that alcohol use is considered an important risk factor for fatality in traffic accidents.

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