Monday, April 7, 2008

Policy on Drunkenness in Isla Vista has Changed

A source at the Santa Barbara District Attorney's Office has informed me that the policy affecting those facing their first stand-alone Public Intoxication charge, who are under 21, has officially changed. The year-long experiment has, apparently, revealed that the heavy-handed approach will not serve the greater ends of justice. It appears that numerous jury trials, tried by me and my public defender colleagues, made the point. So what's the point? Well, there are actually several: People are willing to stand up for their reputations as law-abiding citizens. They are not, always, going to lie down and take it, just because that's what the Government wants or expects them to do. They have a right to a jury trial, and are willing to assert it in order to answer to aggressive Government conduct. Out of the five Public Intoxications which were tried by jury since the change in the long-standing policy of leniency, only one resulted in a guilty verdict.

The costs of the "experiment" were huge. Among the costs were the human costs incurred by those who were needlessly criminally charged, the reputational cost of criminal convictions (affecting employability, academics, etc.) , the loss of driving privileges, the legal fees incurred by the defendants, the costs to the community of some 20 or more days of jury trial time (conservatively, $80,000 in salaries, and other costs associated with running a courtroom; not to mention the cost of significant time borne by hundreds of jurors and potential jurors).

I will, however, give credit to the District Attorney's Office for having both the courage and wisdom to change their minds and draw a curtain on the policy. The old practice of allowing first-offenders to take classes as a means to wash out the criminal taint and driving privilege loss associated with a Public Intoxication arrest made, and will make, a lot of sense. The hammer has its uses in the courthouse, but not when we are talking about a single instance of drunkenness while in college. The arrest, a night in jail, a hang-over, and some classes should [but doesn't always] resolve the problem. Now we should look ahead toward installing a sobering center in Isla Vista.

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