Houston Law Professor Suggests No More Jury Trials in DWI Cases - What a Joke?

Adam M. Gershowitz, law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, has proposed a simple solution for deterring Drunk Driving / DWI cases - eliminate Jury Trials.  The abstract from his paper reads,

Over the last few decades, states have imposed tougher punishments on drunk drivers. This article argues that increasing punishments is counter-productive. If legislatures are seeking to hold guilty offenders accountable and deter drunk driving generally, they should keep punishments low and instead abolish the right to jury trials. Under the petty offense doctrine, the Supreme Court has authorized states to abolish jury trials when defendants face a maximum sentence of six months' incarceration. . And researchers have also found that the certainty of punishment, not the severity of punishment, is the key factor in maximizing deterrence. Thus, by keeping maximum sentences for most drunk driving offenders at six months or less, states can abolish jury trials, thereby raising conviction rates and improving general deterrence. Additionally, bench trials will be far more efficient because the greater certainty of conviction will give defendants an incentive to plead guilty rather than taking their cases to trial. When trials do occur they will be much faster because there will be no need to select juries, and lawyers will have to present far less background information to already knowledgeable judges. At present, only a handful of states have eliminated jury trials for drunk drivers. This article outlines the specific steps that states should take to abolish jury trials and thereby increase convictions, maximize general deterrence, and more efficiently handle one of the most common crimes in the United States.

Although I'm admittedly no Constitutional scholar, I firmly believe in every citizen's right to a jury trial.  In fact, the right to a jury trial before incarceration has long been a tenet of not only our national criminal jurisprudence, but also here in Texas.

Quoting Gershowitz' abstract,

Social science evidence has long demonstrated that judges are more likely to convict than juries, particularly in drunk driving cases.

I doubt Gershowitz would like a rubber stamp guilty verdict by our judiciary if he (or someone he knows - possibly the colleague at the University of Houston Law Center that was recently charged with DWI whose case was ultimately dismissed) was wrongly charged with a DWI.  I'm quite certain that his law professor colleague is glad the judiciary doesn't have the right to just rubber stamp a guilty verdict for DWI.  Gershowitz - why don't you walk down the hall and ask your fellow law professor that had his case dismissed if he agrees with you. 

Let me tell you, there are many of our Harris County citizens that have been wrongly charged with DWI that are thankful we do still have a right to a trial by jury.  Gershowitz couldn't be more wrong on this point.  He seems to be buying into the ever increasing attitude by some (including Justice Roberts of the United States Supreme Court) that the Constitution does not apply in DWI cases.

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Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Mark Bennett - February 18, 2010 6:14 PM

Good find, Dane.

As Adam Gershowitz (if you squint, it looks like "Alan Dershowitz") notes, the U.S. Constitution doesn't require jury trials for "petty" offenses. But the Texas Constitution says, in Article 1, Section 10, "In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall have a speedy public trial by an impartial jury." (I am, as it happens, a Constitutional scholar.)

So Gershowitz's proposition couldn't take hold here without a constitutional amendment.

Carl David Ceder - May 12, 2010 11:06 AM

Wow. That is really scary. I just came across this blog and needless to say...I am stunned. As a UH law grad I am ashamed. That is ridiculous. I don't remember Gershowitz there...but if I had to guess, he likely never practiced law representing people...either in the civil realm or criminal. Needless to say, he never represented someone that was at risk of losing their entire life and profession as a result of a possible criminal conviction. This mentality makes me sick. Goes against everything this country was founded on. I would also assume this professor has never been in an actual trial, where something real is at stake. He works in a world of legal fiction, general "deterrence"...and other legal mumbo jumbo. I would like to tell this professor there is more to the real practice of law than what is written in text books and what is taught inside a classroom.

john white - August 19, 2010 3:46 PM

Sure sounds like someone I wouldn't want my children to be exposed to, at any age. He should get along with our president, who doesn't believe in the constitution either. He will probably be a "rising star" of the New World Order. I knew the UofH wasn't a great school, but they should be able to have contained this moron. Or is he just one indicator of what's going on in the field of "education" nowadays? Probably. Backwards is the new Forward. Just imagine having to get a grade from this A**hole to continue on, and get a degree.

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