Many states around the country are pushing for tougher DUI laws in the upcoming legislative session. There have been debates about this in the Pennsylvania legislator as well. Many times passing tougher penalties for criminal offenses is easy for lawmakers because many voters support stricter consequences for criminal offenses. This stems from the incorrect belief that tougher penalties in and of itself will reduce crime. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. PA DUI laws have grown harsher over time and this has done little to curb the number of people who are making the wrong decisions.
Nevertheless, people wholeheartedly support stricter penalties for DUI, unless of course it is them or their loved ones who stand accused.
This mentality is very similar to what I witnessed in my 4 years as an elected School Board director for the Central Dauphin School District. One of the most amazing things I dealt with was the issue of School Discipline. Time and again, I would hear from parents about how we should have a zero tolerance policy for any kid who violates even the most trivial of offenses and ruin that kid’s life and expel them. They didn’t see it that way of course. They saw it as “tough love” or “getting rid of the trouble makers” or some similar buzz word or cookie cutter phrase. They would line up every year at the podium when we would adopt the student code of conduct and to much parent fanfare would address us about the need to make more and more categories of offenses in the district’s zero tolerance category.
We got to the point where other Board members, bowing to voter pressure, voted to adopt a policy where even a simple fist fight (one-on-one) and even when there was only one punch was automatic cause for an expulsion. As the rest of the school year progressed, we as the school board would inevitably see, time and again, a few of those same parents who championed the adoption of the zero tolerance policies themselves arguing how the zero tolerance policy should NOT apply to their kid who was caught up in a circumstance or made an error of judgment.
You see everyone is in favor of zero tolerance until it happens to them or a loved one.
The simple fact is that our criminal justice system is broken and as a result many innocent people are arrested and charged with crimes they did not commit. If we, as a society, blindly increase criminal penalties we would actually be doing an injustice. Just take a look at the stories of the 265 plus people exonerated by the Innocence Project which includes 17 people who were on Death Row . For many people, a DUI conviction can be like a death penalty. I have seen Harrisburg residents who were faced with the prospect of their careers being devastated by PA DUI convictions. Fortunately for some of them, we were able to get them acquitted.
It’s very easy to push for tougher DUI laws in PA but keep in mind, the next falsely accused person could be you.