Sunday, October 09, 2011

Lake County Lenient On Drunk Drivers

People who have experienced a drunk driving arrest in Indiana generally have the same experience. If you are charged with the crime, you have little choice but to plead guilty because the prosecutor's office will generally tell you it won't plead down a drunk driving arrest. That's not the case in Lake County where less than half of the persons arrested for drunk driving are convicted of that charge. The Northwest Indiana Times has an interesting story discussing Lake County's lenient prosecution of drunk driving offenders.

Less than 40 percent of drunken driving cases filed in the last five years resulted in drunken driving convictions, a Times investigation found.
The Times analyzed more than 9,000 misdemeanor and felony drunken driving cases filed in Lake County between 2006 and 2010. The Times' analysis did not include drunken driving cases filed in city or town courts.
The Times' investigation also found:
• More than half of all drunken driving cases were pleaded down to misdemeanor reckless driving.
• About 2.8 percent of drunken driving cases were pleaded down to misdemeanor public intoxication.
• More than 700 defendants reoffended within the five-year period.
• Repeat offenders were responsible for 17.3 percent of all drunken driving cases filed.
• At least 28.8 percent of defendants charged with injuring or killing someone in a drunken driving accident had been charged with drunken driving before.
A former prosecutor who now is a defense attorney said Lake County is among the most lenient counties in the state in prosecuting drunken driving cases.

I wish the analysis had gone a step forward and tracked campaign contributions made by attorneys who represent drunk driving offenders. I would be curious to know if the attorneys who handled most of those cases were among the largest contributors to the occupant of that office. Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter tells the Times that the person's level of intoxication and whether there were aggravating circumstances such as death or injury or resisting arrest dictates whether the charges are pleaded down. Carter claims defense attorneys would threaten to take most of the cases to trial if his office didn't offer plea agreements, but most attorneys down in this part of the state who handle drunk driving cases tell you it's very hard to beat the charges at trial, and many defendants can't afford to contest the charges. Surprisingly, Lake County isn't the most lenient county on drunk drivers. That honor belongs to Floyd and Clark Counties in southern Indiana according to a former Lake Co. Prosecutor, Jack Crawford:

Crawford said drunken drivers receive the most lenient treatment in Floyd and Clark counties in southern Indiana, followed by Lake County.
"I know at first glance that might appear to be unfair," he said. "If you have the same law in one county, and you're convicted of it, shouldn't you receive either the same or at least close to the same penalty as if you were convicted in a county 300 miles away? Technically and legally, I suppose that's true, but, practically, it isn't true."

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