The Rich Pay to Play; Let the Poor Eat Cake.


My old friend Mr. X, the Deep Throat of the DA’s Office, does not like DA Lykos’s proposal to offer pretrial diversion to people charged with first DWIs. He writes:

Let’s assume the pretrial diversions will be expungeable because the way that Lykos has talked about them they’ll be more like pretrial interventions where charges are not formally filed (like the current juvenile system). Why is no one bothered by the inherent problem that rich folks get to buy justice?  Only folks of decent means will be able to afford the guardian interlock that will be required plus the lab and supervisory fees. That means that defendants with less money will end up with convictions PLUS they get doubly screwed because they’ll have to pay the DPS surcharges that accompany a conviction that the rich defendants won’t have to pay.  Call me idealistic. I know the system favors wealth but I don’t think it should do so so obviously.

How about it?

Having an ignition interlock, a device that requires the driver to give a breath sample before starting the car, is not ordinarily a condition of probation for a first DWI in Harris County. Such a device costs about $100 a month. That’s less than the monthly Starbucks budget for most judges, but it’s serious money for ordinary folk.

Add to that supervisory and lab fees (for random urinalyses while on supervision), which are an ordinary part of a DWI probation in Harris County, and the cost of avoiding a conviction for DWI is close to $200 a month.

If the only people who are allowed to take pretrial diversion (and eventually get their cases expunged) are those with an extra $100 of discretionary income a month, as Mr. X says, those who don’t have the money will get screwed and stuck with a DWI conviction and probation. Those who can’t afford either probation or pretrial diversion will, as Mr. X writes, be doubly screwed: they’ll have to plead to time served, take DWI convictions, and be stuck paying $1,000 a year for three years to keep a driver’s license.

How is that fair?

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0 responses to “The Rich Pay to Play; Let the Poor Eat Cake.”

  1. This is all a little too complex for me to follow, so I’m just speculating here, but what does the DA’s new policy do to cash flow in Harris County? In this troubled economy, with local government budgets being busted by lost tax revenue, is this new policy saving the DA a little money and perhaps allowing the County to collect fees that would have gone to the State as a DPS surcharge? If so, that would explain why the policy favors the rich: It’s a fundraising measure, and you can’t get much money from the poor.

  2. I bet your friend’s solution would be to take it away from the rich, not help make it more available to the poor. I have yet to see any ADA do more than feign indignation at what others may view as disproportionate justice.

    Do they stomp their feet about “justice for the poor” when a judge yanks appointed counsel just because they made bail?

    And I know $100 is a lot of money to a person who has none, but just about anyone can dig that up. Maybe they stop buying the beer that got them in trouble in the first place, and they find the money. Buy a few fewer cigarettes. Around my house, when times get tight the vices go first. We manage to find the money we need, by not spending it on the things we want.

  3. Sorry Mark, I often agree with the things you say but this is not one of them. You act as if driving is a right when at least on public roads it is a priviledge. If person X is in a better position to keep that priviledge even after screwing up than person Y I have no problem with it.

    And as stated above, perhaps if the D were to spend the money on the interlock instead of booze everyone would be better off.

  4. I agree with Soronel on this one. The risk that a drunk driver will offend again is, effectively, a cost he imposes on other people if he drives. If allowed to keep driving he *should* be required to bear the cost.

    If he can’t, then sorry, Charlie. We already (correctly, in my opinion) don’t let people drive who are too poor to pay for liability insurance, not just because crash victims wouldn’t get paid (without UM coverage) but because “judgment-proof” people have too little to lose to be deterred from dangerous driving practices.

    In fact, I would extend this situation to its logical conclusion by abolishing all the states’ “assigned risk” insurance plans. If the insurance companies feel you’re too poor a risk, then you *should* be prevented from driving unless you can post a six-figure bond! “Safety” authorities sometimes neglect their duty to protect the public, but no company will neglect its own bottom line.

    • Would that we could stop people from driving without liability insurance. We punish them for it if we catch them, but they can do it nevertheless, and do.

      Refusing driver’s licenses to people convicted of DWI just puts more unlicensed (and likely uninsured) drivers on the street.

  5. “but no company will neglect its own bottom line.”

    HealthSouth
    General Motors
    Enron
    Chrysler
    Ford
    Goldman Sachs
    Merrill Lynch
    Arthur Andersen
    Countrywide

    …I could go on.

  6. I have seen a few DA’s offices across the state require a probation-pleading DWI defendant to install an ignition interlock device on their car if they blew a .15 or higher. Is this a statutory requirement? If so, where can I find it?

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