» DUI, Government Rants, jail » Predictability


The folks at the MVD tell me that, if you do your administrative suspension before you are convicted of DUI, you can get a restricted license after thirty days and avoid having to get expensive SR22 insurance. They say you won’t get those benefits if you are convicted first. Speaking with former clients, however, the ones who do the admin per se suspension first do indeed experience what the MVD predicted, but so do the ones who get convicted first. I haven’t called the MVD to argue with them about why they didn’t screw my clients like they said they would.

The folks at jail tell me that, if the order of confinement for a day of jail says “one day,” they will hold my clients for a full twenty-four hours. However, several clients have gone in at 9pm and been released before dawn the next day. Apparently, 9pm to midnight can occasionally be the first day. One client was sentenced to “two days” and was out of jail before dawn on the day following his 9pm self-surrender. Apparently, 9pm to midnight was the first day and a few hours the following morning counted as the second. I haven’t called the jail to complain that they should be keeping my clients longer. I’ve also never consistently been able to predict when good fortune will strike, instead just trying my best to put clients in situations where the odds seem to be best.

The MVD once told me a particular client would get a one-year license revocation pleading to a count of Endangerment and a misdemeanor DUI, but that he would get a three-year revocation pleading to a felony DUI. The judge, the prosecutor, and I told my client that was the case because it had always been the case in all the matters we’d handled before. Shortly after being convicted, however, the MVD sent my client notice that his license was revoked for three years. When I called, the MVD at first thought it had made a mistake, but eventually decided the three-year revocation wasn’t necessarily an error. Now, its position is that my client probably should’ve done the opposite of what everyone told him. Except that he may end up with a three-year revocation for that too. No promises.

When you go from serving a jail sentence to serving a consecutive period of home detention, you’re supposed to go straight from one into another. That’s what the court staff told a client of mine. That’s what the home detention people said. However, I recently spoke with a client who had just finished his sentence in that jurisdiction, and he said he had to wait a week between the two. Another client with a similar sentence in the same court was trying to get them both done in a short period of time due to work constraints, and she was understandably worried to hear that.

In her case, the court had set a day for her to go in for an alcohol screening. We told the clerk the date would not work, and the clerk said that the client could just call the counseling provider to reset it. When the client called the counseling provider, they refused to reset it without a court order. Court staff later indicated to me that the judge wouldn’t be inclined granted a motion to change the date because my client should be able to just reset it through the provider.

Sadly, this post could go on indefinitely. Sentences are seldom simple these days, especially with hot-button crimes like DUI, drug offenses, and sex crimes, just to name a few. There are a lot of moving parts, as the court doesn’t just bang its gavel and have a courtroom deputy take you away for an exact period of time after which it is all over. You have to arrange much of your own punishment. You have to pay for it. You have to scramble around from one place to another, and you have to do what you’re told. A half dozen or more people, all of whom have just enough authority to make your life very difficult, will be telling you completely different things. Vogons take charge of your life for what might be a very, very long time.

At some point, there might have been good intentions behind much of this. Somebody thought that treatment might be helpful or that home detention might be a little more humane than jail. The people who always clamor for more punishment, however, did what they always do. People in the system now get all the punishment that vocal traditional punishment-lovers demand, but there’s a whole bunch of other stuff to the sentence as well. By the time anyone stuck in the system is done with it all, they’ve had to do so many things and dealt with so much bureaucracy, inconsistency, and outright incompetence that they can barely remember what it was they did wrong in the first place.

The lucky business owners who are fed a steady stream of reluctant but court-ordered customers and the people who love anything that makes life sucks a little more for people charged with crimes are probably quite fond of what we’ve created. I’m hard-pressed to find any reasonable person who doesn’t see a big problem, though. In fact, I’ve yet to meet even a single person who is willing to actually admit that the system should be unpredictable and confusing, though some people might adopt that view if they knew how hard uncertainty is on individuals caught up in the system and how strained it can make the attorney-client relationship when the attorney either doesn’t have answers or has right ones that suddenly and inexplicably turn out to be wrong.

The way it is now, punishment is neither swift nor proportionate. More importantly, it is unpredictable. If we want to promote respect for the law, at the very least we should know how it applies. That should apply as much at sentencing and afterwards as it does to what constitutes a criminal offense in the first place.

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One Response to "Predictability"

  1. Jordan says:

    Excellent points here. I definitely agree that punishments are made in unpredictable and uneven ways. Something definitely has to change about that. Thanks for your insight here.

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