MADD Moves to Ease Drunk Driving Penalties

Drunk DrivingMothers Against Drunk DrivingKIAHHarris CountyBill Lewis

Research has shown Harris County has the highest rate of alcohol related traffic deaths among large counties nationwide and, in recent years, Texas has had more drunk driving deaths than any other state.

But now, Mothers Against Drunk Driving is trying to decrease the penalties for first time offenders.

MADD has come out in support of a proposal that would allow deferred adjudication. In short, those arrested for drunk driving will not have to go through the court system and can avoid an official conviction if they complete supervision, treatment and probation.

MADD supports the measure because it would boost future punishments if someone is arrested for drunk driving more than once, plus it utilizes "ignition interlock" as a condition, so the offender would not be able to start his or her car while intoxicated.

Bill Lewis, public policy liason for MADD, said this is crucial because of the backlog of drunk driving cases in Texas courts. He said a lot of people who get arrested get off on lesser charges because the DWI system is too clogged to handle the volume of arrests.

Attorney Jordan Lewis, with the DWI law firm Johnson, Johnson & Baer, agrees the program could clean out court dockets, but he said that could come at a cost -- enticing people not to fight, burt to accept a settlement that makes them look guilty.

"The problem is that, in the future, anyone who sees the person was on deferred adjudication ... is going to know they [virtually] entered a plea of guilty ... even though there's not a conviction for some purposes, there is still technically a conviction," he said.

Supporters say the measure has a good shot at passing this legislative session.

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