Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Weigh in on the Scales of Justice

First frustration of the day: The Wyoming State legislature is considering passing a law that would consider a person who refused a breathalyzer test guilty of drunk driving.

OK, peeps, I understand those of you who have weighed in on the "don't drink and drive if you don't want to face the penalty," and "give our police officers all the tools we can to keep drunks off the road" and the "people die because of drunk driving and those who have been affected want drunks put away" messages.

But, you are missing my main point: This country is one in which the justice system presumes innocence until guilt is proven. Sure, if you commit a crime, you are guilty. But we don't automatically lock you up or kill you or whatever unless you are proven guilty. We all know this doesn't always work, right? That innocent people have been locked up for life, or killed, for crimes they did not, in fact, commit. Still, presumably we give a person a fair shake.

So, technically speaking, to me it seems that if a person says "no" to a breathalyzer, that person is not necessarily pleading guilty. Nor should that person be assumed guilty. That tool that could help the cops get a drunk off the road is not necessarily accurate. And although someone in this state has noted that the breathalyzer has yet to be shown to be inaccurate, that may be true in this state, but there are places in which the machine has, in fact, been proved inaccurate.

I also recognize that Wyoming is one of a few states that do not yet have on the books the law that says you are as guilty if you refuse as if you fail. None of this alters the fact that machines do not always work, nor does it alter the fact that in this country one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, yet refusing a breathalyzer, FOR ANY REASON, in the future in this state, and currently in several other states, can be used as an admission of guilt.

Boo hiss, guys. I could refuse a breathalyzer test out of the sheer pissed-offedness at being pulled over for speeding, the officer smelling alcohol on my breath because I had a beer with lunch two hours ago, and deciding because I was driving over the speed limit and have the scent on my breath, I am drunk. Come on!

With all due respect to Tim, my friend former cop who busted me for my stance earlier today on Facebook, there are officers out there who are not as goodhearted as he is. Really! Believe it? I've experienced this fact on occasion. But, to put the good cop- bad cop argument to rest, I have also experienced the kindness and helpfulness and humaneness of local, county and state law enforcement. So, for all you cop-haters out there, that's not the argument. They are people, just like the rest of us, prone to good days and bad days, and with the same human frailties we all have, which sometimes include giving someone a hard time who doesn't deserve it, just because we are in a bad mood.

I'm going to leave the subject of the breathalyzer now because there is ample room for debate on this one. I know my stance, and I have made it clear, I think. Lemme know if not, OK? If you've got this far.

Here is the next frustration over the concept of justice and human rights that I have had in the last 24 hours: Last night I read a blurb in TIME mag, and followed up today, about a French ban on the burka for Muslim women. French President Sarkozy supports such a ban, claiming the burka is not welcome in a society that values sexual equality.

What equality is that? If a lady wishes to wear a burka so she doesn't feel naked, as one Muslim woman claimed would be the effect of such a ban, then why can't she? What's really going on here? Where is respect for a person's preferred mode of dress? And I realize I step out on a limb here, because the counter to this question could be, "Is it OK, then, for a 20-year-old man to wear his goddam pants down around his knees so we can all see his plaid boxers? "OK?" OK, while I can't count the times I've told one of my students to haul his britches up so I wouldn't have to look at his underwear, technically speaking, I could look the other way, right?

On that note, my last comment for the day- I'm on a tear- is that I also read all these complaints in TIME's letters about how the aging generation can't find decent young people to hire and that "kids these days" are slackers without any respect for real work. Well, you dumb shites, who brought them up- or, I'm sorry, DIDN'T bring them up- to lack fundamental respect for people and work and the world. What the hell do you think they're trying to say? Duh.

I have to get off here and back to work before I blow a fuse. Before I leave, though, I love when people weigh in. Please do.

BTW, I totally missed my chance to yap with Bill Gates yesterday. Huh


robrohr said...

By signing your drivers license application you are entering into a contract with they state under an Implied Consent agreement. They will allow you to operate a motor vehicle on public roads within their jurisdiction while you consent to obey the traffic laws and, among other things, consent to testing of your sobriety level if there is probably cause to believe you aren't sober.

If there is no "cost" associated with refusal to submit to a breath test, then everybody would do it. Some states (NJ for example) tack an automatic $3000 insurance surcharge for refusing a breath test. In my home state of VT, individuals previously convicted of DUI who refuse subsequent breath tests can be sentenced to jail terms of up to 2 years.

Innocent until proven guilty is true and fundamental, but doesn't mean that law enforcement can't use investigative techniques like warrants, searches, breath and blood tests once the threshold of probably cause has been met.

Feel free to refuse a breath test, but expect the justice system to treat you in a similar way to how it would if you refused a law officer bearing a search warrant.

robrohr said...

By the way, a web page listing various states and how they respond to breathalyzer refusals: http://www.totaldui.com/breathalyzers/overview/implied-consent-refusal.aspx