In my role as a Detroit-area DUI Lawyer, I meet with someone facing a DUI charge almost every day. What leads to a person getting charged with a DUI is something I have examined rather closely within the Drunk Driving section of my website and within the numerous Drunk Driving articles on this blog. Why so many people find themselves facing a DUI charge is something a bit different. In this article, we are going to take a look at how DUI means BIG MONEY for the cities and townships where they occur.
In this article, I am going to be rather candid. I’ll begin by pointing out that I’m far from a cut-rate DUI Lawyer. My Fee in a 1st Offense DUI, for example, is $2800. At this price point, a person can expect to receive the benefit of a much higher level of service that takes into account not only their Legal needs, but their personal and emotional needs, as well. Because I’m not looking for Clients on a “low bidder” basis, I’m not pressured to move cases through quickly (higher volume/lower cost), and instead can take the time to carefully and properly handle a DUI charge and address each Client’s unique concerns. Typically, my Clients that are rather well mannered, to the point, sometimes, of perhaps being a bit too polite to ask some direct, tough questions about the big picture in DUI cases. Yet I think these questions need to be asked…
One of those questions they sometimes hint at (but may be too afraid to outright ask) is whether or not the Police could find better things to do than patrol for Drunk Drivers. Sure, the idea of keeping the roads safe sounds great, in principal, but keeping crooks from robbing people and breaking into cars and houses and garages is important, as well.
To fully answer that question, you need to understand that a person caught driving over the limit almost always represents a financial profit to the city or township where the Arrest took place. Let’s put this in perspective…
Imagine you were out chatting with a neighbor, and that person told you that another neighbor, a few doors down, had his garage broken into and some of his belongings stolen. Wouldn’t you almost feel a sense of violation and even vulnerability about your neighborhood? If he said that the bad guys broke in around midnight, and if, one night, a few days later, you were up around that time, and thought you heard a noise in the backyard, wouldn’t you run to the back door and turn the light on, wondering if your garage was being burglarized?
It’s this kind of crime that really scares people. No one wants to become a victim. Everyone feels better when they see the Police driving down their block. Yet it seems like the Police are out looking for Drunk Drivers a lot more than they’re patrolling the neighborhoods and dark places, where a lot of crimes take place.
According to a recent Michigan State Police report, there were 283 alcohol-related traffic deaths in 2010. In that same year, the city of Detroit had 307 murders, its lowest number in over 40 years. Still, more people were murdered in the city of Detroit than died in all of the alcohol-related traffic accidents in the entire state of Michigan in 2010. Those 283 deaths are certainly 283 too many, but they come as part of over 41, 800 DUI convictions in that same year. That figures out to .675%, meaning that less than 1% of all DUI convictions involve a fatal accident. In fact, it’s about two-thirds of one percent. And that’s not the half of it…
The legal definition of “alcohol-related” does NOT mean “caused by” alcohol. If a person is stopped at a red light, and rear-ended, and it turns out the driver who was at the red light had alcohol in his or her system, even if it was well under the legal limit, and even if the person who rear-ended them had no alcohol in his or her system, the accident is reported as “alcohol related.” That’s not what most people think when they hear “alcohol-related” traffic crash, but that is, in fact why it’s not called an “alcohol-caused” traffic crash. Most people have never thought about that…
If you listen to the most outspoken “critics” of Drunk Driving (I use quotes here because only a psycho is a “supporter” of Drunk Driving), they’ll be quick to tell you that for every Arrest a person has for a DUI, they’ve driven drunk an average of 80 times before that. This means that the 41,800 people convicted of a DUI in Michigan in 2010 represent only a fraction of the actual number of people driving drunk during the year. This makes sense. Most people who drive over the limit get away with it on any given night. Think of a typical Saturday night: only a tiny fraction of those who have had a few too manyt actually get Arrested for a DUI.
Accordingly, then, the percentage of DUI fatalities, compared to the actual number of times people drive drunk (and not just get caught) is much, much lower than the .065 we mentioned as a total percentage of DUI fatalities compared to outright DUI convictions in the year 2010. If you even think about the calculations, you begin to see a lot of zeros after the decimal point.
The point here is not to deny that Drunk Driving is a serious thing, but to observe that maybe it isn’t such a top safety priority as we are told. At a minimum, doesn’t anyone find all of this curious, especially when we realize that DUI is certainly the most “profitable” Offense to go after. Unlike most other crimes, enforcing DUI Laws actually makes money.
In fact, there is nothing that churns people through and can milk them for money as easily and quickly as a DUI charge. Realistically, you have a ride back to the Police station, a quick blow through a portable straw, an overnight stay, and a few hours of Court time after that. The average payout is pretty steep. Sure, it can vary from city to city, but there are no “bargains” on DUI Fines and Costs. If anyone sits in a Courtroom and starts doing some math, it becomes clear, very quickly, that there is big money in these cases.
It makes you wonder how happy all those in “the system” would be if someone had a breakthrough idea that was so effective in preventing Drunk Driving that it would reduce its occurrence by over 90%, and then they promoted how much could be saved in cutting the number of Judges and Police and Probation Officers and Court staff and all the people we need to handle about 42,000 DUI cases a year in the State of Michigan.
Imagine asking some Judge, or some Police Officer, or a Probation Officer (or, for that matter, a DUI Lawyer), to push a button that would so effectively eliminate DUI’s that he or she wouldn’t be needed anymore and could go find work in another field. Imagine trying to tell such a person, that, even though they’d become unemployed, they should find comfort in the fact that the roads would be much safer because DUI’s would become almost non-existent.
Do you want to bet that they’d find a million reasons to not push the button and render themselves jobless? They’d second-guess things and think up enough questions to choke a horse.
I’d be devastated, and any Judge or Cop who would suddenly become unneeded (and unemployed) would feel the same way. If I have to be honest here (and that’s kind of the point of this article), I certainly wouldn’t push that button!
What I’m trying to say is that as much as “the system” talks about stopping Drunk Driving, it has a vested interest in the existence of these cases. More than anything else, DUI Drivers are low hanging fruit, ready to be plucked and squeezed. Is it any wonder that enforcing DUI Laws is such a priority?
I want to be clear, however, that I’m just pointing out how thing are. I don’t’ want this to be some kind of beacon for conspiracy theory nuts and government haters to start calling me. I am not going to be part of some “movement,” nor do I want to participate in some kind of public debate about the money aspect of DUI’s beyond writing this article. I work within the system, and really have no interest in radically changing it beyond hoping that a little common sense becomes part of the equation someday.
In that sense, and as the saying goes, “it is what it is,” and things have pretty much always been about the money. If you want to know why anything works the way it does, just follow the money.
Have you ever parked in a structure and locked your car, and hoped, as you walked away, that no one breaks in? Have you ever looked at the cars around, and tried to pick out “better” cars to park near? Wouldn’t it be great to see the Police just driving through a parking structure? Have you ever seen that? I haven’t…
In Birmingham, the local paper reports break-ins and thefts from cars parked in the downtown parking structures on a weekly basis. I wouldn’t’ leave my car in one of those structures unless I had an armed guard standing watch. I wonder, why don’t the Police do something about that? I mean, these incidents happen all the time, so why don’t they “step up” patrols there, or announce a “crackdown?”
While only the Police officials can answer that, I can tell you this: There is NO MONEY in Arresting the kind of low life that will steal a GPS from a car. If the Police were to catch one of these losers red-handed, what kind of money do you think they’d net from his prosecution? Try none. In fact, this kind of dirtball probably couldn’t even find anyone to bail him out of Jail. He’d cost money to Arrest and prosecute. A DUI driver, on the other hand, almost always pays handsomely to get the matter behind him or her.
DUI drivers get bailed out of Jail as soon as the Police will let them go. They hire Lawyers. They pay their Fines and Costs. They pay reimbursement Fees to the city. They pay their Probation screening Fee. They pay Probation oversight Fees. DUI Driver’s pay a lot, and most of the time, they cannot pay fast enough…
On the other hand, some crumb ball picked for breaking into a garage undoubtedly has zero personal worth. In the history of the world, no one but a really broke guy has ever stolen a lawnmower. Anyone caught stealing a lawnmower will NOT be hiring his own Lawyer. In fact, you can count on a lawnmower thief being brought over from Jail for his Arraignment, looking disheveled, needing a shave, and then asking for a Court-Appointed Lawyer. In the end, he costs the city, and everybody else, money. He cannot pay his own way. He represents a net loss, not a profit.
Not so with a DUI driver. Anyone reading who is facing a DUI has undoubtedly questioned “How the hell much is this going to cost me?” I doubt any reader has thought, “I wonder if I can scam out of paying for any of this, and maybe just do Jail time instead of paying fines and costs?” That’s the world of the lawnmower man. In fact, most DUI Drivers wonder if there is some way to pay more, just to make things better…
According to some studies, some Police departments (none in Michigan, or at least none that I’m aware of) actually have quotas for DUI’s, and some even have reward systems for the Officers who make these profitable Arrests. Is that really a surprise?
Even here in Michigan, the bread and butter of any local Court system is the money paid by DUI Defendants. When Police departments are facing the same budget crunch that hurts everyone else, Arresting people who will pay big money makes sense. The easy solution is to enforce those laws that actually turn a profit. And no matter how vigorously anyone were to deny that this is the case, I’d challenge any suburban municipality to show how it has lost money on DUI cases, and how it has made money, or even so much as broken even by picking up vagrants and dirtballs, like the lawnmower man.
DUI cases are huge moneymakers. As I hinted before, I’d be pretty dumb to pretend I’m not part of that same money train, either. But I don’t control the assignment of Police resources. I just work with what is. I do know that, as a citizen, I am more worried about being robbed, or having my car stolen, or broken into, than I am about a Drunk Driver. Yet for all I know, I could be wrong. I just know what goes through my own head, even though I suspect most people share my same fears and concerns.
The other day, my dad mentioned that he had read about a weekend Drunk Driving crackdown in his local paper. He said, “they sure are getting tough on that.” I agreed, but spared him the lecture about why. Imagine the Police deploying extra patrols, running up the overtime budget, and then coming back without a single Arrest. The public might, at first, call that a success, but the people who crunch the numbers wouldn’t. Far better to have a profitable increase in the number of DUI Arrests made as a result of those extra Officers being paid to drive around.
Thus, when some of my polite Clients, facing a DUI, rather tentatively ask why the Police aren’t concentrating their efforts on more serious crimes, they may not really understand that their anger is NOT misdirected, and that, in truth, they’re right on the money.
And that’s really the point, isn’t it, to be right on the money?