When government tells untruths — for our own good

by Walter Olson on July 18, 2012

Raised on Hoecakes catches a NHTSA impaired-driving program telling a whopper:

“THE DAYS OF BEATING A DRUNK DRIVING ARREST HAVE BEEN RULED EXTINCT….

“If you are arrested, you will be prosecuted and likely lose your license, money and car.”

As Raised on Hoecakes says:

“Cool, huh? Only one problem: it isn’t true. Someone missed the memo telling judges to make arrests for DUI a resulting conviction 100% of the time.” In Florida, to take one state he says is representative, there were 55,722 DUI tickets and 33,625 DUI convictions in 2011, and although not all cases are closed the same year they begin, the estimated conviction rate still must run closer to 60 percent than 100 percent. Nor is it true that all arrests result in prosecution: prosecutors decline to press some charges where they deem the evidence in hand to be weak, and almost everyone, with the possible exception of certain hosts of TV crime shows, agrees that’s as it should be.

I suppose the generous way to interpret untruths like the ones on this poster would be as a fancier way to say, “Don’t drive drunk, you’ll get caught.” But they also send a rather more disturbing message: “If arrested on DUI and you believe the government’s case against you is weak, better not fight, just take a plea. Because it doesn’t matter how strong your defense is, a judge won’t save you.”

Presumably that second message is unintentional. [More: Scott Greenfield]

{ 3 trackbacks }

When Government Tells Untruths — For Our Own Good | Cato @ Liberty
07.19.12 at 9:50 am
Patrick’s Thursday Linkathon of Whatever | The Agitator
07.19.12 at 5:46 pm
Odds n’ Ends | Raised On Hoecakes
07.23.12 at 6:07 am

{ 13 comments }

1 Jim Collins 07.18.12 at 12:15 pm

What do you expect from an organization that inflates statistics to make DUIs appear to be a bigger problem that what it is?

2 mojo 07.18.12 at 2:10 pm

“We’re from the government. We’re here to give you the straight poop.”

3 Bumper 07.19.12 at 10:25 am

Mojo, you got the poop part right…

4 Gradivus 07.19.12 at 10:35 am

I agree with the sentiment, but in this case the statistics don’t warrant Mr. Olson’s conclusion that in 40% of the cases there is either an acquittal or prosecutors decline to press charges because the evidence is weak, and therefore you should not just “take a plea.” On the contrary the apparent 60% conviction rate could be in part (and from my experience with traffic courts, possibly almost entirely) because 40% do take a lesser plea.

5 Walter Olson 07.19.12 at 12:43 pm

Good point.

6 gitarcarver 07.19.12 at 1:08 pm

On the contrary the apparent 60% conviction rate could be in part (and from my experience with traffic courts, possibly almost entirely) because 40% do take a lesser plea.

While this is a valid point to an extent, strictly speaking if the person accepts a lesser plea, then technically they have not been convicted of a DUI.

Just saying….. :)

7 david7134 07.19.12 at 2:18 pm

Are you aware of anyone that has a DUI? It just about ruins their lives. They are constantly harassed by the government and blocked from many jobs and opportunities. I have a kid and have tried to get the message across to him, but he is in college and alcohol is a big part of that experience. Two drinks and he is over the limit, despite the fact that he is not in any way incapacitated. Or for that matter, myself or my wife could have difficulty if we had a drink while out. Many of the mothers that were mad about drinking are now sad for the laws they pushed. As usual, the government screwed up.

8 marco73 07.19.12 at 2:32 pm

Well, it isn’t like the Florida cops aren’t trying to go for 100%.

Several of the MADD super cops have been caught falsifying DUI reports, to boost their arrest counts. We even had a sheriff’s deputy in Tampa suspended for falsifying the BAC on arrest reports in order to push the reports through. Some of the people arrested had a 0.00 BAC, meaning zero alcohol in their blood.

9 Patrick 07.19.12 at 6:15 pm

Gradivus, it’s worth noting that in many states (mine is one), the law is written so as to make it impossible for prosecutors to offer a lesser plea.

Thank MADD for that.

10 Bergman 07.19.12 at 9:03 pm

The biggest problem with the idea that an arrest leads inevitably to a conviction, or that an arrest is the same as a conviction:

What if police arrest the wrong person due to mistaken identity, then later on arrest the right individual? Do both get convicted because they were both arrested?

And what about false arrests or a cop acting in bad faith? Should people arrested for those reasons also suffer that hypothetical 100% conviction rate?

I recall an old story I heard once; Two farmers are walking down a road in some unnamed Empire. One says to the other, “What’s the penalty for armed rebellion?” The other replies, “Death.” The first then asks “What is the penalty for being late to work?” The second replies again, “Death.” The first then points out that they are both late for work. And the Emperor was toppled by the ensuing armed revolt.

If acquittal becomes impossible, the revolution is not far away. Because if your life will be ruined and you’ll lose your freedom anyway, why not try to make the world a better place?

11 JC 07.20.12 at 12:16 am

The key phrase is “lead to convictions”. When a vanishingly small number of criminal offenses are actually brought to court – I’ve seen 2%, 4%, and 8% listed as the portion of cases actually litigated – it becomes clear that the Judges are not the ones making the decisions but rather the prosecutors. The prosecutors of course can brag on “punishments” and let the law go hang through the use of the bully technique, which I am sure is familiar to all readers of this fine blog (wipes nose).

A conviction requires a case going to law, rather than a behind-the-curtains settlement between advocate (often a court-appointed campaign contributor with no dog in the fight) and adversary (backed with the whole weight of the law-enforcement and judicial monolith).

The true problem is the knee-jerk assumption that the State MUST WIN (sorry to shout, but that’s just what it is). Wins = Good, to the prosecutorial mindset, and that (although it saddens us in the field) a guilty plea is the same as a conviction when you get down to running the numbers and doing the end-of-the-year performance ratings

Sucks, but there it is.

12 DUIsuck 07.20.12 at 3:12 pm

david7134, yes you are correct. However our schools drop the ball in a lot of critical areas of American life. Many parents are not sure about the laws in regard to it either.

I did not know really what a DUI was, and I do not have my head in the clouds. In NY state it is .05, I always thought it was .08, so now my story begins when I was pulled over once after drinking. I was not worried because I had two drinks over the course of 3 hours. However I blew between a .05 and a .07 and so was arrested and taken for a more official test at the precinct and then jailed while waiting to be arraigned. I had a good lawyer and I am a good citizen otherwise so it was dropped from my record, but I was very close to having had to deal with the many consequences the conviction would have brought.

I was however arrested at the time and so it will probably cause a problem at least once in my life. I do say that I wasnt arrested whenever asked because I do not consider an arrest without a conviction to be an arrest. The nature of technology means that its on a record somewhere and will probably never go away.

13 JC 07.22.12 at 1:24 pm

As well to be tried as a sheep as a lamb.

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