Miami Decides to be Nicer to Drunk Drivers

By Dirk Hanson 05/19/11

Miami-Dade is overwhelmed by DUI cases, so it's cutting a deal with first-timers.

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DUI Miami.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

What makes Miami special? Is it the sea breezes, the palm trees, the beach clubs… or is it that deadly snarl of drunk drivers that gives the region its special flavor? In a controversial move that allows most drunk drivers to sneak out of trouble the first time around--by converting a first-time DUI arrest into a reckless driving conviction--Miami-Dade County officials have essentially thrown up their hands and admitted defeat. “At the moment there are so many DUI cases where individuals walk out the back door with a smile on their face because the case was dropped because a witness didn’t show up,” said a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Attorney’s Office, in an NBC Miami report. "It's a good day for my clients," a shocked Justin Beckham, DUI criminal defense attorney, said in the NBC report. Under the new system, offenders will be required to attend a year of drug and alcohol treatment, endure the installation of an ignition interlock in their vehicles, and other possible penalties, said the spokesperson.

What does Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) think about the get-out-of-jail free card being handed out to first-time drunks behind the wheel? "It probably doesn't send the right message, but if you knew how many drunk drivers fall through the cracks, you could understand that it's better than the current system," said Janet Mondstein, executive director of the Miami-Dade Chapter of M.A.D.D. The fact that a modern metropolitan area like Miami cannot handle the legal load of drunk drivers on the docket is a, shall we say, sobering notion.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]