In 1997, a drunk driver killed my closest friend from law school, her brother, her sister-in-law and her infant niece in a one-crash accident in a residential neighborhood north of Miami right around “bar time.” The drunk driver fled the scene, having in no manner attempted to render aid to the wounded or even to have called the police, the fire fighters to douse the burning car or the EMTs to the scene of the crash. My friend had gone to the airport to collect her family and bring them home from a late flight arriving in the wee hours; the crash occurred within about a mile of her parents’ home on the ride back. The drunken motorist has been serving a life sentence arising out of the incident.
Over 16 years later, after one marriage, one divorce, two sons with autism, several major career metamorphoses, the relocation of my residence maybe 7 times and many personal lows and highs, it still hurts. I don’t think about my friend daily now, but rare is the week when I don’t think of her.
I represent accused drunk drivers and do so without apology. It is necessary work constitutionally and deserves to be done well. The accused deserve competent and diligent representation; “competent” and “diligent” aren’t a brag but the merest ethical “opening bid” for practicing law. But the following is about not hiring me or any other Maryland attorney for a DUI charge, by not catching the charge in the first place. St. Patrick’s Day is less than 10 days away and a lot of fools use it as a rationalization for driving drunk.
Cabs look expensive, but aren’t. Okay, $100 cab ride is epic, but if you get held on a DUI bail (not that common in MD but it does happen), you are going to kill that amount and more on the fee to the bondsman before you get sprung. The highly skilled professionals at Big Boyz or Fred Frank or Busting Out All Over Bail Bonds have one thing in common: not a damn one of them is a pro bono operation. You will lose that cab fare before you get sprung. If you can get sprung, if you aren’t in a hospital cell with a deputy watching over your wrecked, burned body.
Lawyers are expensive. Even cheap lawyers are expensive; some say that a cheap lawyer is the most expensive thing ever invented. When you get a services agreement from an attorney, even if there’s no “accident”, even if you have no priors, you are probably going to have to tap savings or get a loan from somebody. If you can afford to get lit on St. Patrick’s Day, you probably aren’t indigent, which means that you probably shouldn’t be a public defender client.
Rehab and alcohol treatment cost money. My favorite alcohol assessment resource in Baltimore County is very good and costs around $200.00 to open, and the weekly visits won’t be cheap either. Does the $100 cab ride back home look cheap?
Then there’s the interlock. Without getting into the specifics of Maryland law, refusing or failing the breath test may result in pre-trial license suspension, unless the motorist arranges for the installation of an interlock device. The interlock isn’t free; the providers of interlock installation and monitoring aren’t Communists or hippies. If you live in the suburbs and you face a license suspension, you may lose your job if you cannot drive to work. More money for the install and for the monthly monitoring.
There are the indirect costs of lost time. If you need to go to an AA meeting on direction of your attorney or your alcohol counseling provider, that’s time you cannot bill/earn on the clock. If you need AA you should absolutely go there for its benefits, but AA meetings have set start and stop times; when you are there, you aren’t earning.
It should shock no one to learn that GEICO’s Gecko and that camel from “Hump Day” aren’t exactly looking for an opportunity to do business with drunk drivers. They hate paying out money and drunk drivers are nothing but liabilities to them. While you might not get cancelled, you will probably suffer severe consequences from a drunk driving charge on your rates. Do you want to cover the costs of the town drunk’s wreckage? Neither does “Hump Day” or the lizard.
People do go to jail on first-time DUIs sometimes, even in relatively moderate Maryland. The bench in Baltimore County has shown an increasing willingness to jail defendants at least briefly on jailable traffic offenses, especially for DUI defendants who show up to court with no alcohol treatment plan in place. If you are convicted or found guilty, you will be fined, have to pay probation fees and related costs.
Then there are the intangibles. A lot of fair-minded people don’t want to date someone who drives drunk. If you get caught drunk driving, you may have to face the humiliation of your spouse seeing you having done this stupid thing. Your infant children won’t know (if you are lucky), but your teenage children will lose respect for you (as they probably should.) Your boss, if she finds out (and she probably will), may conclude that you are a screw-up and cannot be trusted with more responsibility. You may find it difficult to face yourself in the mirror after you come home.
If you are religious, you will probably have to account for this act of recklessness in your religious life, as no religion makes peace with getting drunk and risking other people’s lives. Specifically, the Catholic Church (which, after all, canonized St. Patrick) condemns drunk driving and reckless risk to human life generally in its Catechism of the Catholic Church:
…one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so. (2269)
Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air (2290).
No moral or disciplinary law of the Catholic Church requires drinking or eating anything on St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the ascetic and penitential season of Lent in the Roman Rite calendar.
Maybe the biggest intangible should be the end of your life or the life of another person. Drunk driving fatalities aren’t a talking point; they are physical piles of dead human flesh that EMTs have to drag and bag out to the hospital or the morgue. Some poor soul has the job of counting, identifying (preliminarily) and removing the road kill of the drunk driver. That roadkill could be you, if you drive off the road and your car catches fire in a crash. You could kill some teenager, some family of four. Drivers’ licenses numbers should start with 007; every license is, in a certain sense, a license to do something that sometimes kills people. Maybe this video can make the point more concretely than I can:
If you really need to party on St. Patrick’s Day, please be sensible. Restrain your consumption, or be the designated driver. If that doesn’t work, get a cab and if necessary a hotel/motel room, sleep off your drunk watching reruns of Seinfeld on the hotel TV. Get drunk at home and carry on there, if you must.
If you have to do something stupid with a piece of equipment while drunk, then “drunk dial” and not drunk drive. You may annoy your “ex” with your drunken call, or cause yourself other embarrassment with your boss, but at least they won’t have to attend your funeral and you will be around to face your humiliation. If you think you shouldn’t drunk dial, then dial the cab.
Nancy Sara Yellin, 1969-1997. May her family and those of her brother, sister-in-law and infant niece, be comforted.