Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A real unfortunate DUI case

A case of where pursuing DUI cases is a situation where no one seems to consider the big picture. In fact common sense is thrown out of the window when it comes to pursue such cases. I'm going to highlight a real unfortunate aspect of this.

You're going to have to read the whole thing. For the most part it talks about two women who were booked for DUI. One had dental surgery but a busybody was under the idea that she was drinking nothing but wine, she wasn't she was drinking water only because her gums were irritated if she drank anything else. They tried to charge her with DUI although her blood alcohol level was well below the legal limit.

Another lady had one drink at a concert but she clipped some cars checking out another accident. Her alcohol level was also below the limit and she told them that she had some vicodone for her back which was long out of her system before they even tested her. Still they tried to charge her with DUI with drugs even though she was never under the influence.

Then there's this story of an older man who did have DUIs but someone was still out to get him...
But what happened to Phil Cisneros last year says a lot about our attitude toward DUIs and, indeed, toward anyone who gets caught in the criminal justice system here.

Here's the backstory: Cisneros had racked up a number of DUI convictions in the 1980s while his wife fought Alzheimer's and soon after her tragic death. But then he remarried, and seemed to be walking the straight and narrow. He stopped driving, for one thing; his neighbors in Maricopa would later aver to the court that they never saw him behind the wheel of a car. (See "Death Sentence," June 21, 2007.)

Then, returning from a trip to Mexico as a passenger in his new wife's car in early 2007, Cisneros was flagged by the border patrol and hauled away to jail. Turns out he had been convicted in absentia for his last DUI, in 1998, and had never showed up to serve his sentence.

Last spring, Gila County Judge Robert Duber sentenced him to three years in prison.

Not jail. Prison.

Cisneros' family — a huge, close-knit group — begged the judge. They said that the old man suffered from a host of health conditions: prostate cancer, diabetes, pulmonary hypertension, sleep apnea, shingles, and shortness of breath. He'd already had double bypass surgery.

He would surely die behind bars.

But the judge wouldn't relent. Neither, in fact, would the public. After I wrote about Cisneros' case, urging leniency, I heard from several readers who thought I was crazy. He'd driven drunk, they argued. He could have killed someone! (Never mind that, for all his DUIs, Cisneros had never hit anything, much less actually killed someone.) One man commenting on New Times' Web site said that drunk drivers were worse than drug dealers. Let 'em rot.

Well, those people got their wish. Phil Cisneros was repeatedly hospitalized during his prison stay, his lawyer, Jason Squires, tells me. Last month, he had a heart attack.

Cisneros had perfectly good insurance — he'd worked for a copper mining company. But because he was a ward of the state, we taxpayers had to foot the bill when Cisneros was checked into the hospital time and time again this winter. When he had his heart attack, we picked up the bill for his care.

Even worse, Cisneros' family had to deal with the pain of seeing their patriarch handcuffed to his death bed. That's the rule for incarcerated people who end up in the hospital, even a non-violent guy like Phil Cisneros.

The family petitioned Governor Janet Napolitano for clemency: His death, they said, was imminent. Her board of executive clemency recommended his release, unanimously, on March 4.

Three days later, the governor commuted Cisneros' sentence.

His handcuffs were removed, and he was moved to hospice, but the damage of nine months in prison was done.

Phil Cisneros died two days later, on March 9.
Article was found via Instapundit.

Hmm convicted in absentia? That almost sounds like what a two-bit dictatorship would do. How come he was convicted of a crime and he didn't know about it? Sounds like a violation of his due process right? Well I think it is! He should have at least the ability to face his charges, I think that is owed even the most heinous criminal, but this man never faced his charges. The motions of "justice" moved forward without him and he didn't get a chance to answer his charges. If a court does this the least they could do is give proper notification or I should think so!

Anyway there's an angle to this. Well meaning laws throw the book at someone, but it turns out the problem isn't being solved. Don't get me wrong I don't want drunk people behind the wheel, I've been in a car with a DUI person once too many times and I stopped riding with him eventually. Still police officers and prosecutors doing everything it takes to charge people with DUI even if they aren't DUIT? Something is wrong.

The article mentions Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Their activism is well meaning and surely they got what they wanted, but their activism has caused some unintended consequences. That's the only way to see that and I would expect that sometime we have to look at a lot of stories in this way as well.

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