Texas: Go Easier on 1st-Time DWIs – But Keep Ignition Interlocks
A bill in the Texas State Senate could change the way drunk drivers are handled. Senate Bill 761 would allow a judge to give first time DWIs something called deferred adjudication community supervision – provided they also install an ignition interlock.
An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
To understand what’s on offer, one needs to understand the difference between deferred adjudication community supervision and what it would replace – normal community supervision.
- Community Supervision – the Texas term for probation. Community supervision allows an offender to avoid jail or prison if they stay in the community, agree to be supervised by the court, and fulfill other requirements. These could include community service, drug or alcohol testing, and maintaining employment. If the offender commits another crime or otherwise violates probation terms, the deal is off, and the probation can be revoked, resulting in jail time.
- Deferred Adjudication Community Supervision– a similar array of supervisory measures, but if the offender completes them without incident, he or she will not have a conviction. The charge remains on record, but the person accused will not have been found guilty. Often a deferred adjudication can be kept from public view as well, increasing an offender’s opportunities for employment.
The key element in this bill, as proposed by State Senator Jose Menendez, is the ignition interlock. Many legislators are wary about lessening punishments for drunk driving because there is a direct relationship between anti-DWI efforts and lower drunk driving numbers. Any easing up can be seen as permissiveness, and might even cause alcohol-related road deaths to rise.
The ignition interlock keeps that from happening, however. Because it keeps drunk drivers from getting onto the road, the worst possibility is off the table. Offenders can concentrate on getting their lives back in order, going to work, attending school, and handling family matters. But if they lapse and start drinking, they cannot drive.
The new bill might be a worthwhile experiment in how to handle drunk driving. As long as the essential element is kept – the ignition interlock – it could help put offenders back on track while keeping the public safe. That sounds like a worthy goal for a justice system.