Revolving Door Keeps Spinning for City’s Drunk Drivers

amd_tenzing.jpgDWI Killer Tenzing Bhutia got two years for the 2007 death of Julia Thomson. Photo: Daily News

The Post last weekend noted some disturbing statistics relating to city drunk driving prosecutions. Out of 10,000 arrests last year, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, 6,000 cases worked their way through the courts, with just 187 offenders receiving jail time. Further tarnishing DA Robert Morgenthau’s record on traffic justice, Manhattan was the "most lenient" on those convicted of DWI — with just 2.8 percent landing in jail — and also had the city’s lowest conviction rate at 75 percent. (The state conviction rate, the Post reports, is 95.6 percent over the last three years.)

Advocates, lawmakers and families of drunken-driving victims said
the shockingly low number of jail sentences shows courts go too easy on
offenders and do little to discourage recidivism. The claim is
bolstered by state data showing 17 percent of arrested drunken drivers
in 2008 had already had a DWI arrest in the past five years.

"Statistics seem to show that all too often, there is no effort to
put these people behind bars," said state Sen. Craig Johnson (D-LI).

The numbers alone are startling enough, but the implications for traffic justice in the city are even more grave. As we’ve learned, it took a mammoth effort to get Albany to approve tougher penalties for drunk drivers, though such behavior had decades before come to be considered taboo among Americans at large. Now, as advocates and prosecutors in other jurisdictions are taking the next steps — working to strengthen penalties against deadly drivers who aren’t under the influence while vigorously prosecuting those who are — the mindset of New York City enforcers apparently remains entrenched in the past.

When being caught driving drunk in pedestrian-populated New York City still means a slap on the wrist and a pat on the back, how long before we can expect justice for those injured and killed by drivers whose negligence isn’t abetted by alcohol?

  • christine

    This is infuriating but explains why the police does not enforce the vehicular law.

    The justice system tells them: You are wasting your time !

  • PaulCJr

    I agree with you Christine. I also blame the NYPD as well. I’ve seen many times cabbies and other drivers run red lights in front of cops and they do nothing. It makes me feel that they really don’t want to be bothered. Its horrible that these individuals that mow down people only get only a couple of years. Then they get to go off and live their lives. The dead and their families get no such luxury. Its a pity. 🙁

  • CRealityPPL

    I agree, we should tie them up and burn them like they used to do the witches in the olden days.. COME ON PEOPLE WAKE UP! Reality is that DWI offenses are generally non-violent in nature. The statistics stated in the article also represent situations where people are arrested for being drunk and sleeping in their PARKED cars with the keys in the ignition. Do these people merit incarceration as well? I’m sure any reasonable person would agree they don’t. Almost none of those “6000” DWI arrests that resulted in nonincarceratory sentences involved people getting injured or even in accidents. And those rare situations we see on the news where someone is injured as a result of a drunk driver, the offender is generally given an incarceratory sentence, hence those “187” who were given incarceratory sentences. The reality is that dispositions in drunk driving cases are severe! Anyone charged with a DWI (including those poor saps who are arrested for sleeping while intoxicated in their parked cars) faces at the very minimum a day or two of incarceration while they wait to see the judge, fines that range up to $2,000, lengthy and costly Drunk Driving classes in order to have a chance of obtaining their license again, a mandatory license suspension which can last up to a year in certain cases, the possible forfeiture of their vehicle, additional future fines and surcharges at the DMV and a possible jail sentence. Not to mention the fact that you end up with a criminal record and that if this is your second offense within a 10 year period you will in all likelihood end up doing jail time or at the very minimum an alcohol program which may last over a year and may be inpatient (which is almost the same as jail time). The reality is that not everyone arrested for a DWI deserves jail time – take a couple of hours to go visit your local correctional facility and you’ll understand why. The penalties imposed by the legislature and enforced by the DA’s office protect the rest of the public by keeping DWI offenders off the road and by making it very difficult for them to get back on the road. Oh and to address PaulCJr’s concern about those individuals who “mow down people” and only get a couple of years… There’s a flip side to that coin. Those perpetrators who accidently “mow down people” while intoxicated aren’t purposefuly getting in their cars and thinking to themselves “tonight I’m going to go mow down a couple of people”. That’s not how it happens. NORMALLY IT’S AN ACCIDENT. Yes it’s an accident that may or may not have been caused by their drinking, but it’s something that not only the deceased’s family will have to live with, but the “perpetrator” and his family will also have to live with for the rest of their lives. This is a tragic situation not only for the deceased, but for everyone. Giving someone jail time isn’t always the answer, after all isn’t the purpose of the criminal justice system not just to punish but also to rehabilitate? You shouldn’t get caught up by misleading statistics such as these, take a moment and think for yourselves before you jump the gun.

  • ZK

    Lawmakers drink and drive. They will not make tougher laws punishing something they actively engage in.

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