Mark W. Prothero
Last month, Governor Gregoire signed a bill to increase penalties for the crime of Vehicular Homicide while driving under the influence. Previously, a first time offender would face a standard sentence range of 31 to 41 months in prison. The new law increases the prison time to a range of 78 to 102 months, or 6 ½ to 8 ½ years. The reason I note this is because the crime of Driving Under the Influence is an all-too common crime committed by folks who have no criminal intent nor any intent to hurt, much less kill, another person. But the line between a DUI and Vehicular Homicide doesn't exist. A first-time DUI can become a Vehicular Homicide in a fraction of a second, simply dependent on chance.
As a young lawyer, I started out in the misdemeanor unit of a public defender office, where I represented hundreds of folks over the years charged with DUI. They were most often very nice, middle class working people, moms and dads, businessmen and women, your friends and neighbors.
As I gained more legal experience, I moved into the felony unit of our office, representing people charged with more serious crimes, including DUI's which were Vehicular Homicides because the "buzzed" (intoxicated) driver had caused an accident and someone had been killed as a result. The human tragedy was emotionally overwhelming. My first Vehicular Homicide case forever changed my perspective on DUI's. The families and friends of the victims were devastated. The drivers were the same people that had DUI's, your friends and neighbors, but through a twist of fate, they were criminally responsible for killing another human being, someone's grandfather or someone's child and were put in prison for 2½ or 3½ years.
And now, they will go to prison for 6½ to 8½ years. This new law should be a much stronger deterrent to reasonable people thinking about getting behind the wheel after drinking. A momentary distraction...a tenth of a second delay in reaction...impairment in judgment and perception...while maneuvering 5000 pounds of swiftly moving steel and machinery. It's a tragedy waiting to happen, dependent only on chance and fate. Good, innocent people get killed. Good people, otherwise normal folks like your friends and neighbors and their sons and daughters, go to prison. Now, in Washington, for up to 8½ years.
After leaving the public defender's office, I began charging for my legal advice and representation. But here's some FREE legal advice for you: Do NOT drive under the influence, not even "buzzed" as you don't have to be stumbling and wasted to have an accident. Have a sober friend drive you home. Your car will be there tomorrow. Call your mom or dad or son or daughter. Call a friend. Call a taxi. Walk. Very simply, I advise you: Do NOT drive if you're under the influence of any intoxicating liquor or drugs.
Mark W. Prothero