2007-07-27 / Editorial/Opinion

New DUI Law Must Codify Punishment For Costly Crime

Joseph Leon, 51, lives in Medford, Long Island. He has become the poster boy for harsher punishments for those who drive while impaired by liquor or drugs. Leon has been arrested 11 times over the past ten years for driving drunk. While he has not yet killed anybody while driving drunk, he has come close a couple of times. He was recently sentenced to a little more than one year in prison on his latest DUI arrest, although Nassau County prosecutors asked for a minimum sentence of four years. He promises that he will never drive drunk again, but one prosecutor told the judge that "it's not a matter of if he will drive drunk again, it is a matter of when he will drive drunk again." Another man, Daniel Flynn, who lives in Suffolk County, was on trial last week for drinking and driving in a 2001 crash that killed his girlfriend. He was found guilty and the judge sentenced him to six months in an alternative jail setting. Why the short sentence? "The only purpose of sending him to jail would be to ruin two lives and that wouldn't be the right thing to do," acting State Supreme Court Judge Michael Mullen said at his sentencing. The judges who set those light sentences were wrongheaded. The court must aggressively address the problem of DUI. A wrist-slap is not the answer to stemming the growing tide of DUI deaths. In November, a new and tougher DUI law will kick in for New York State. Under its provisions, a conviction for vehicular homicide carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and aggravated vehicular assault, 15 years. Both apply to defendants who have done one of the following: had a blood alcohol level of .18 or higher; had a prior DUI conviction within the past ten years; caused injury or death to more than one person while driving drunk; or drove with a suspended or revoked license. We have recently been through a contentious DUI case in Rockaway, where a Belle Harbor man was found guilty of driving drunk and causing the death of his wife. He was sentenced to four to twelve years in prison, a fair sentence for his crime. We would hope that the new law would do two things: First, that it would make people think twice when they get behind the wheel when they are inebriated; and, two that judges will realize the carnage brought by DUI and will set sentences that fit the crime.

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