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.

Harris County Commissioner's Court Decides Not to Appoint Judges During Executive Session

While the appointment of Harris County Criminal Court Judges was on the agenda this week, apparently Harris County Commissioner's Court decided to wait on the appointments until after the primary elections in March.  Not sure exactly what happened in the executive session with the Commissioners, but it seems they made the correct decision to appoint after the primary election.  This allows the voters to decide who they want on the November ballot.  It seems logical that the Commissioners will then appoint the victor of the primary election to fill the vacancies.

I guess we are going to continue to see Neal Richardson in Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 1 and Henry Onken in Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 3 for the near future.

Texas Drunk Driving Campaign - False and Misleading

This billboard image was recently sent to me and it reminded me of the Texas DWI campaign,

DRINK, DRIVE, GO TO JAIL

The problem that Houston driver's face - Houston Police officers believe the statement to be true.  Unfortunately, the statement is very true for all intents and purposes.  Many citizens are arrested simply because they have had a drink, smell like alcohol and are driving.

This is just simply not the law.  The law allows a person to drink and then drive so long as they are not intoxicated at the time they are driving. 

I believe the Texas Department of Public Safety is not only trying to curb the number of people that drive while intoxicated, but also to taint the jury pool for DWI cases.  The state and DPS  are purposefully misstating the law on the  DPS signs in the hope that jurors will believe that the law is any drinking and then driving is enough for a DWI conviction.

Is the Driver of this Houston Police Vehicle Intoxicated?

I took this photo this morning at the State Office.  Presumably, the cop that drove this Houston Police vehicle was at the State Office for an ALR hearing to suspend the driver's license of a person the officer arrested for DWI.

Do you think the officer would consider this a sign of intoxication if the driver was one of our clients?  Would he listen to the innocent reason our client had for the reason he parked the entire front of his car on the curb?  Would this Houston police officer give our clients the benefit of the doubt?  Was this cop DWI?  Had he been drinking?

Tiger Woods and the Constitution - Even Tiger has the Right to Remain Silent

According to reports, Tiger Woods was involved in a single car accident near his residence.  The big story seems to be that he is "refusing" to talk to investigators about the accident. 

Just a guess, but he probably hired a competent lawyer to advise him on the matter.  That competent attorney probably told Tiger he did not have any obligation to answer any questions about the accident and did not have to speak to investigators about the accident.

Remember that document that I write about - The United States Constitution?  We as citizens have no duty to talk to the police about anything.  Yes, this includes the famed Tiger Woods.

As a Houston DWI lawyer, we have had several clients that have been contacted by the police to get "client's" side of the story.  The problem is, the police are often trying to gather evidence to use against that person.  In our experience, it is rare that law enforcement contacts our clients to exonerate them.  More often than not, the police are seeking information to build a case against the person to whom they are speaking.  

If the cops come knocking on your door to speak to you about a crime, I suggest you find a lawyer to help you through that process (even if you have nothing to hide.)