Jail, loss of license deter those with prior DWI convictions

Thursday, June 19, 2008

On Monday, a Delta man, Dallis Coomer, received a one-year jail sentence for driving while revoked after what would have been his 10th driving while intoxicated case was thrown out on a directed verdict of acquittal. Over the weekend, James Anthony Garrett, of 2485 County Road 442 in Jackson, was arrested in Cape Girardeau and charged with driving while intoxicated, less than a year after pleading guilty to the same offense.

While rehabilitation programs may be effective for first-time offenders, when it comes to those with prior DWI convictions, the only real deterrents appear to be jail time or loss of license, said Cape Girardeau lawyer Malcolm Montgomery.

Montgomery said from his experience, only about one out of 10 people convicted of drunken driving will be a repeat offender.

"I think what is effective is when you know that the next time, you're going to jail," Montgomery said.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said 85 percent of people prosecuted for DWI and convicted in his jurisdiction never get arrested for the same offense again after attending the required Substance Abuse Traffic Offender Program.

"We believe a first-time offender needs to get treatment and probation. Normally it's someone who didn't realize they had a drinking problem," Swingle said.

Second-time offenders usually either must attend a 30-day in-patient clinic or spend 30 days in jail, and sometimes "sitting in a jail cell really drives it home," Swingle said.

By the time someone has committed a fourth offense, the state's focus becomes simply "warehousing" that person so they don't harm anyone on the roads, Swingle said.

Terry Cole, who runs the traffic offender program, said sheer expense that follows a DWI conviction may also deter some people.

A first-time DWI costs $271 just for the 140-question evaluation when someone is required by the courts to attend the program. Then there are three levels of classes depending on the person's evaluation, the cost of which range from $100 to a six-week program that costs $800, Cole said.

And that's not counting fines or attorney's fees.

"Most of the people we see have three or four offenses," Cole said.

The programs are effective, and though there are people who will come not caring about the outcome, Cole said he's also had people come up to him later and say it changed their lives.

"We show the effects of alcohol in excess, but our main objective is keeping them from getting behind that wheel," Cole said.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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