I’ve watched a lot of drunk-driving cases go through the court system in Texas and I’m convinced not a single person involved in a drunk-driving case is acting ethically. We all know Williamson County, just north of Austin, has a reputation as a throw-the-bookshelf-at-‘em-no-matter-what jurisdiction — thus, making it likely one of the worst offenders.* At least, I know it to be one.
How can everyone be unethical in drunk-driving case? Easily and dispassionately.
The driver acts unethically, the cops act unethically, the prosecutor and DA’s office act unethically, the defense lawyer acts unethically and the judge acts unethically. I’ve yet to see justice in the Williamson County criminal justice system.
I have a friend who got into an accident, the cops arrived and were far more concerned with arresting him for drunk driving than for getting into a wreck with the right-hand freeway barrier with no other vehicles around. All because he smelled of alcohol. It later turned out that he only had .04 BAC – well below the legal limit — and a trace amount of marijuana in his system. He spectacularly failed the roadside sobriety test, though. He was also barefooted on sharp roadside gravel.
He acted unethically by telling the cops he blew a tire before running into the wall of the freeway and not telling them he was driving recklessly on purpose, even if that purpose was because he was suicidal.
The cops acted unethically by not including that statement in any of their reports. (I know this because I was present when he visited with his lawyer. He needed a ride to court because his lawyer is a failure, addressed below). Cops routinely lie (by addition and omission) on reports. I’ve seen this from what are ostensibly good cops. (They also refused to give him his psychiatric medications while in jail.)
The prosecutor acts unethically by trying to charge my friend with a DUI anyway — because of the trace amount of pot in his blood.
His defense attorney acts unethically by failing to contact him and keep him apprised of the case, failing to respond to emails for weeks, failing to secure and attend an ALR hearing for my friend’s license revocation (failing to fix that), failing to actively provide any real defense. His modus operandi (M.O.) is to collect his fee and funnel his drunk-driving clients into one of a couple of diversion programs. That’s all. I’m sure there’s some unspoken agreement among defense attorneys and the prosecutor’s office: you guys get to use the funnel as long as you offer up a sacrificial lamb every now and then to pad the prosecutor’s office’s punishment rate. It isn’t a conviction rate. It’s a punishment rate and nothing more.
The lawyer also acts unethically by contacting his client, my friend, at 5:30 PM the Friday before his, what he’d hoped to be final, court date on Monday morning to tell him the prosecutor is going after the DUI after months of being told it would be knocked down to a reckless driving charge or, possibly, only property damage fine.
The judge acts unethically by knowing about all this — he or she can’t be blind to the goings on of his or her court jesters.
Sometimes, I think it’s better to just take a case to trial and depend on the reasonability of twelve people than the political ambitions of one or two. (I also think prosecutors would stop threatening to pursue charges that are BS in order to get a plea deal from a defendants if more people started pushing for trials. It’s hard to prove BS charges in front of a jury. It’s easy to scare a non-lawyer with a crappy, in-on-the-deal lawyer into doing something that makes it look like prosecutor is doing his/her job.) I also think lawyers need to have grievances filed against them more often when they fail to provide any truly adequate representation to a client (unless the word “adequate” is used the way the Texas Legislature uses it to fund public schools, which is shittily and seemingly uncaringly). Sanctions are the only way to improve this situation and achieve real justice.
Too many people making up the justice system – as we see by so many cops and judges getting off on their drunk-driving allegations — are too unethical and unjust to call this a “justice” system of any kind. I get the feeling and the thought that it needs to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up.
If you’ve never been touched by the criminal justice system, you have no clue how thoroughly screwed up it is.
*Maricopa County, Arizona, would be comparable, I suppose.