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How does 13 DUIs happen?

A man was arrested earlier this month and charged with what could become his 14th drunk driving conviction if he is convicted. Many complain and wonder how is this possible? Because the Michigan legislature says so. The news report states he has not had a valid license since 1983. Some outraged individuals wonder why he has not been sentenced to life in prison since that is the only time he seems to stop driving while intoxicated.

It's a complex issue. Part of it is the difference between policy and adjudication. The legislature makes policy. They decide the types of activity that are considered "criminal," and the penalties. Back in the 1970s, when this man began driving, prohibitions against drunk driving were different. People thought little of having "one for the road," and punishments were much lighter.

Adjudications are what occurs in court, involving a single person and limited to a single set of facts. This means courts are required to look at a charge based on the facts related to that incident only. Because of "double jeopardy," you can only be tried for a crime once, and it is only in sentencing that previous convictions can be taken into account.

This man's repeated arrests also suggest he has a substance abuse problem. For decades, the legislature has attempted to solve these issues by more severe criminal penalties. When it comes to substance abuse, jail time is often ineffective at change behavior.

Additionally, the Michigan legislature, courts and the department of corrections have to be mindful of the costs of incarceration. In 2015, MADD reports that there were 26,845 drunk driving arrests in the state and 16,470 convictions. If every conviction meant jail time, Michigan taxpayers would be seeing a tax increase to cover the large cost of incarcerating that many people.

Michigan could establish a comprehensive statewide system for assessing substance abuse problems and create more effective treatment options. That, however, is also expensive. So instead we are left with individuals who have 13 drunk driving convictions driving.


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