DWI, or Driving While Intoxicated, is an increasingly complex field of law. Since Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) was founded in 1980, the field of DWI law has come to the forefront of the efforts of many district attorneys. The Department of Public Safety is in MADD’s pocket, and every time the legislature meets, the DWI laws are made more punitive, and the rights of drivers in Louisiana are impinged upon.
In 1980, the DWI law “Louisiana Revised Statute 14:98” was only a couple of paragraphs long. Now it is over 4,000 words long. In Louisiana and every other state, drivers are often convicted of DWI who may well have been innocent. They are convicted in spite of having competent defense counsel.
Unfortunately, the mission of the police is no longer to pull over drivers who appear to be driving erratically or in a manner that suggests they are impaired. Their marching orders are to pull over every driver they can so that they can determine if the driver has alcohol on his or her breath, or exhibits any sign of drug or alcohol use. If they smell alcohol, they are going to make an arrest. If the driver just had a small amount of alcohol in them and blows under a .05, then the police officer is going to demand a urine test to look for drugs.
No matter what the results, our experience is that you are going to be arrested and charged with a DWI. There are cases in Louisiana where a person accused of DWI is convicted solely on the subjective opinion of the arresting officer with no other supporting facts other than the officer’s opinion that the arrested subject “appeared to be impaired.”
The only way you can defend yourself against DWI charges is by hiring a trained DWI defense attorney who will aggressively do all he can to defeat the DWI.
However, it would be naive to suggest that all DWI charges can be defeated. The State’s job is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person charged with DWI is guilty. Until that happens, you are innocent under the law.
The fact that you may have been impaired due to drugs or alcohol does not make you guilty under the law until you are proven to be so by the State or until you plead guilty. However, even in those cases, a trained and experienced DWI attorney can generally mitigate the damages and may well avoid a mandatory jail sentence.
The Criminal Judicial System in Louisiana
MADD has been very effective at demonizing anyone accused of Driving While Intoxicated. Furthermore, MADD has been very effective at lobbying for harsh penalties for anyone convicted of DWI.
Every time there is a fatality caused by someone charged with drunk driving, the names of every prior judge or prosecutor who has previously been involved in a DWI case with that person will be put on the front page of the news. If that judge or prosecutor appears to have given that person a break, they will face severe criticism that will affect their job.
Prosecutors and judges are elected officials. They do not want to lose their jobs. As a result, prosecutors and judges are generally not inclined to give out any breaks to anyone unless trained defense counsel, a DWI lawyer, can show that he has a winning case or demonstrate mitigating factors that must be considered.
Complicating this even further is the fact that Louisiana is one of only 5 states that do not allow jury trials in misdemeanor DWI cases (1st and 2nd offense DWI charges).
Not all judges become prosecution oriented, but most do have the mindset that a person charged with DWI is already assumed to be guilty.This is not a popular opinion among judges, but every criminal defense attorney would agree.
All prosecutors are prosecution minded. Their job is to convict rather than judge. Frankly, very few prosecutors will consider the possibility that a person might be innocent of the charges.
To fight this system, you MUST have a competent, well-trained, experienced DWI defense attorney.
The Legal Climate in Louisiana
The New Orleans newspaper, The Times Picayune, recently ran a series of articles with one of the most astounding and hard to believe conclusions:
- The state of Louisiana puts in jail and incarcerates more persons per capita than any other country in the world. I did not say “any other state.” Rather, I said any other country in the world.
- Seventy-three percent of those persons are sent to jail for non-violent alcohol and drug issues with the law.
- St. Tammany Parish leads the state in sentencing people to jail. Criminal defense attorneys handling cases in St. Tammany commonly refer to the Parish as “St. Slammany,” in deference to the propensity for the criminal justice system to put people in the slammer rather than help them deal with their problems.
Don’t think for a minute that this can’t happen to you. The good news is that with proper representation you can avoid jail most of the time. James Bates has very few clients serving time in prison as he has been very effective in avoiding long prison sentences or prison sentences at all. Even when it is unavoidable, James has gotten comparatively short sentences for the majority of his clients.