Life In Prison for His 9th DUI. Too Much? Or Well-Deserved?

What does it take for a person to be apprehended 9 times for drunk driving?

For Donald Middleton of Houston, Texas, it took 36 years of intoxicated driving, after which a judge said, “Enough!” and delivered a sentence of life imprisonment.

It might have taken 36 years (his first offense was in 1980), but it took many more than 9 drunk driving incidents – possibly hundreds. For among the things we know about drunk driving:

  • One arrest occurs for every 27,000 miles driven while drunk. So in the course of those 9 arrests, about a half million miles were covered by someone who was not fit to drive. Not all of those miles might have been driven by Middleton, but he had to have been driving a lot to bring down the law 9 times. Think of how many people make it home after having one too many.  An arrest is an almost sure sign that someone is in the habit of drinking and driving.
  • Traditional punishments often don’t work on repeat offenders. Middleton had served four prison terms. He would have endured license suspensions, paid fines, and been on probation, and none of that kept him from drinking and driving. That is the nature of drunk driving recidivism.

According to Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, a “hard-core drinking driver” is one who ignores advice and punishments and drives frequent at high BAC levels. They are considered a serious public safety threat.

Long-term imprisonment is generally the last resort for DUI offenders, and life imprisonment is rare, especially when a death is not involved. For cases not as extreme as Middleton’s, courts must find a balance that protects the public while leaving open some hope of reform.

One vital part of that balance is the ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, a device which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

In Texas, ignition interlocks are mandatory for all DUI convictions. The term varies, but some states allow for lifetime ignition interlocks. The premise is that the offender can never be allowed to make the decision to drink and drive again.

This might be a case which imprisonment was the only option. But there are many cases in which a DUI offender will take the chance to get life back together after a conviction, with the aid of an ignition interlock. Few cases, fortunately, are as extreme as this one.