I received a phone call yesterday from Jesse Fruhwirth, who works for the Standard Examiner newspaper. I was in the middle of arguing a case before the District Court regarding the illegal search of my client. "What do you think about the DUI registry in Davis County?", he said. Did I hear him right? They are trying to bring the Scarlet letter to a person convicted of a DUI? See, if a person is a registered sex offender, that is put in the public on a registry and on the internet for a reason. It is perceived that it is not punishment, but public safety. Before you buy a house in a neighborhood, and you have children, you may want to know if there is a child sex offender living next door. Does a DUI registry serve the same purpose? Does the public safety of knowing your neighbor really outweigh the person’s privacy issues? I mean would you really care if the guy next door has had DUI’s so you can stay away from him? The article was printed this morning. The highlights are:
- This is punishment not public perception
- A registry would hold people back from becoming productive members of society
- DUI is now being compared to a Child Sex Offense.
People should be punished for their transgressions. However, we want people to become productive members of society. For a person who has lost their job over a mistake needs to find a new job. This would just make things harder.
Group wants DUI registry
Proposal draws mixed reviews from Davis lawmakers
By JESSE FRUHWIRTH
Standard-Examiner Davis Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
LAYTON — Davis County lawmakers heard this week about a preliminary proposal to post information on the Internet about residents who have been twice convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The DUI offender Web site was proposed by a new group, Davis Helps, to the Davis Council of Governments Wednesday night. Brandon Hatch, prevention coordinator for Davis Behavioral Health, gave a presentation regarding Davis Helps’ plans and said the Web site could be launched as soon as this fall.
Hatch told COG members Wednesday there were 1,700 DUI arrests in Davis County in 2008.
Thursday he deferred questions to Brent Wilhite, a public relations professional and member of the Davis Helps coalition. Wilhite declined to discuss the group, its members, or its mission besides saying, “It’s a coalition of health, education and law enforcement in Davis County.”
Wilhite said his group is “not really ready to talk about” the DUI registry, despite talking about it publicly Wednesday in front of Davis County’s biggest coalition of elected leaders.
“We don’t have enough information on what that would entail,” he said of the proposed Web site. “It’s very conceptual right now. … It’s just kind of gauging the public pulse on that right now.”
Wilhite and Hatch said they would be ready to discuss the proposal at greater length on Thursday.
DUI defense attorneys Glen Neeley, of Ogden, and Jason Schatz, of Salt Lake City, each said such a Web site would serve no purpose other than humiliation. Both used the term “Scarlet Letter.”
Melinda Murchie, director of House of Hope Residential Treatment Center in Salt Lake City, said people with addictions rarely consider the consequences of their actions, so fear of appearing on a public registry won’t deter them from making dangerous choices.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, has sponsored various legislation over the years regarding Utah’s Sex and Kidnap Offender Registry. He knows as much as anyone about the history and legalities of registries such as the one proposed by Davis Helps.
His initial thought was that no legislation would be required for a local government to create a DUI registry. He said he’s aware of no debate or proposal by legislators to have a statewide DUI registry.
Ray said he’s very intrigued by the concept and would likely endorse the plan when he hears more details about it.
“As a parent, I would love to have that tool, because if my kids are going to a friend’s house, I can check the DUI registry and make sure that person is OK,” he said.
He disagreed that the registry would place an onerous stigma on the offenders who appear on the Web site, a complaint the sex offender registry has received often.
“DUIs are terrible. I lost a grandfather to DUI. I lost a lot of loved ones to DUI, but I believe the public perception is ‘this person has an alcohol problem, but otherwise he’s a pretty good guy,’” Ray said.
“With a sex offender, they look at a person as a deviant and think, ‘I’m not sure I trust him for much of anything.’”
Ray said the Web site could help employers who want to avoid unnecessary risks, but said employers probably would not concern themselves with the DUI registry unless they were hiring a driver.
“If this person isn’t driving a vehicle for the employer … I don’t know that a DUI registry would hurt their employment much,” he said.
Murchie said such a registry would serve to further stigmatize alcohol abuse. She envisioned a situation in which one child calls out to another child, “Your daddy’s an alcoholic” based on information available on a Web site. DUI records are publicly available already, but Murchie said making those records more accessible could embarrass people without modifying their behavior.
“I don’t think it would work as a deterrent for those people who are alcoholics or drug addicts. It’s not going to be a great way to stop them because they’re not using a lot of consequential thinking anyway,” she said. “For nonproblem drinkers, it would probably just embarrass them and add to the stigma of alcohol abuse. Clearly (driving under the influence) is alcohol abuse.”
Neeley said DUI offenders are ordered to seek treatment, but that current laws make recovery difficult. Utah’s law that allows offenders to get a need-based license to drive to work and treatment while their license is suspended is almost impossible to use. He said DUI offenders would have an even harder time gaining or maintaining employment if a group put their mug shot on a Web site.
“You’re going to put them up on a registry and a person goes to try to get a mediocre job or any job and someone can pull them up on the Internet, see your mug, and say ‘You’ve been twice convicted of a DUI. You won’t be working here.’”
Schatz also complained that such a Web site would fail to deter unsafe drivers and said not all DUIs are the same. Schatz estimates he has handled at least 700, but perhaps 1,000 DUI cases in the last five years and said many responsible people drive under the influence once or twice.
Someone who just left the dentist’s office and does not know how impaired they could become after taking their first narcotic painkiller like Lortab can be convicted of DUI, Schatz said.
“(DUI offenders) are not all people who chugged a 12-pack and drove down the road to hit somebody,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of good, normal people whose reputations are damaged immensely without any real benefit from it.”
Neeley also disagreed that embarrassment could serve well as a form of punishment.
“Get these people help, don’t blast them all over the public, ‘Look at him. He’s a DUI offender.’ That doesn’t help the person or society. It hurts them.”