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(Special to the American Press)

(Special to the American Press)

Calcasieu DA discusses approach to DWI punishment

Last Modified: Saturday, December 07, 2013 10:26 PM

By Johnathan Manning / American Press

The pendulum of DWI punishment has swung far both ways, said Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier. Two decades ago, those convicted of third- and fourth-offense DWI would regularly receive 10- to 15-year prison terms, he said. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the pendulum swung toward rehabilitation, he said.

But neither long prison sentences nor rehabilitation by itself has worked well, so officials are now seeking some middle ground, DeRosier said ­— a chance at rehabilitation, then time in prison, if rehab fails.

“We’re shifting back now toward the center,” he said. “We have no alternative at this point but to kick it up a notch relative to putting people in prison when they just will not quit drinking and driving.

“The reason behind this is not to put people in jail. The reason behind this is to get impaired drivers off of the highways.”

Some people will drive impaired as long as they are on the streets, but others will be so scared and embarrassed by a DWI that they will never do so again, DeRosier said.

When the pendulum began to swing in the late ’90s, legislators and officials began to put more rehabilitation into DWI statutes, he said.

Rehabilitation is “fine and can work when you do it,” but the proper structures were never put into place for people to receive adequate counseling, DeRosier said.

“As a result of that, you see a continued increase in DWIs, say from the early 2000s to where we are today, until we started getting a little tougher again,” he said.

In the past five years, mandatory minimum sentences were raised for both misdemeanor and felony DWIs (third and fourth offenses), he said.

DeRosier said a regimented, strict treatment program, such as Calcasieu’s drug court, which lasts about a 1 1/2 years, is the first step. But if that doesn’t work, there has to be a “fail-safe plan,” he said.

“We’re holding people’s feet to the fire when they continue to go out and get DWIs and continue to endanger the public,” he said.

DeRosier said it often takes time to bring DWI charges to trial, and that can lead to more DWI arrests. Some judges set high bonds for DWIs and some set low bonds, he said. Just by doing nothing, a DWI suspect can slow the judicial system, DeRosier said.

“Then you run into a second set of problems” getting a trial date, he said. “We use the same trial dates that we use for homicides, rapes or armed robbery and child molestation, and those things all have priority.

“Sometimes they can gather up two or three or four DWIs before we can get them into that courtroom, no matter how hard we try,” DeRosier said.

He said there’s also an issue at the state level: When misdemeanor DWI offenders get their charges removed from the record as part of plea deals, they are allowed to get their licenses back while on probation.

“I have proposed legislation that will cure that problem, and it will make it very clear” that licenses are suspended until probation ends, DeRosier said.

“It has always been my intention to maneuver the state DWI statutes into a more progressive order,” he said.

The primary goal, DeRosier said, is to keep impaired drivers off the streets. “We’re going to do everything we can to eliminate the problem,” he said. “But if we can’t, we’re going to put them in jail.

“Fifteen years — that’s a tough lesson somebody has to learn for drinking and getting behind the wheel of an automobile, but if that’s what it takes to show everybody else that this behavior is not going to be tolerated, then we’re willing to do that.”

Posted By: cmm On: 1/23/2014

Title: cmm

Why not the Academy Of training Skills, they have counseling and they still have to work,And guess what, no money out the tax payors pocket.

Posted By: Ruxton Istre On: 12/9/2013

Title: @ Ben V....but that stops tax revenue

Ben V...first off I'm a non-drinker. Have been for 41 years of my life (I'm 41). Whereas I agree with your statement, prohibition didn't work. Not to mention there would be millions of lost tax revenue lost from alcohol sales. Personally I'd rather see home incarceration with GPS trackers. And rather than jail time and drawing a salary on the taxpayer's dime, those people would be forced to do community service everyday..chain gangs if you must. Returning something back to the public. Only cost would potentially be the pickup and drop off of the criminals. But they wouldn't be able to hold a job during this time, no voting rights (same as a felon) and they would be forced to also attend AA or other drug rehab classes. My solution isn't flawless...and isn't totally thought out..but it's a start.

Posted By: Katie B. On: 12/9/2013

Title: Recant That.. Just a thought.

To Ben V: You’re suggesting prohibiting all alcohol? Word has it, the prohibition from 1920-1933 did not exactly work. Moonshine and similar substances will be fermented, regardless. Now, if you mean the drive-thru concepts and lack of restriction on open containers... okay. But do your research or change your grammar.
To Steve A: I get your mind set of the idiot really deserves punishment for actions. Sure, it makes sense to "pay for your actions”. But maybe the driver also sees it as “pay for my addiction” by buying more alcohol. Alcohol is one of the only substances that can cause death after complete, cold-turkey discontinued use (addicted users). Therefore, if this criminal is truly facing addiction issues, throwing them in jail will provide what substantial change? Most likely throwing them in jail will cause further addiction. In order for the body to survive withdrawal, the patient has to acquire some other drug alternative. While we refuse to see the truth, drug trafficking does occur in the jail systems. The alcoholic will then turn to using harsh, illegal drugs in which we banish as well. If the jail offers an addiction program (not AA) and education system, heck yeah, send the violator to jail. If we enforce throwing them into jail to simply pay for their actions, the consequences (especially in the future) are not beneficial to us nor the convict. Do your research. Understand the failure of the prison systems. Your tax dollars can pay for progressive prison systems that help the prisoners and those of us around them or a bone dry, cut-throat hopeless prison sentence that does nothing but provoke and allow the same habits and addictions.

Posted By: Ben V On: 12/8/2013

Title: Eliminate the problem?

If he were to do everything to eliminate the problem, then drive over to beverage sales distribution center and stop them from selling poison to the public. NO ONE IS GOING TO STOP DRUNK DRIVING unless they stop selling booze to people......

Posted By: Steve A On: 12/8/2013

Title: DUI

A second DUI is when they need to go to jail for 5 years. If they haven't learned their lesson after the first, shame on them. Third DUI, 10 years. Fourth DUI, 20 years. I promise you that will handle the issues with an someone who drinks and drives.

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