Rapper Killed By Suspected Drunk Driver
Rapper Dewayne Coleman, otherwise known as MC Supreme, was killed by a suspected drunk driver last weekend. Coleman was in his parked car on PCH in Malibu when it was hit by a pickup truck. Coleman’s sedan rolled over onto an embankment above the beach. His female passenger was also injured in the crash. After hitting Coleman’s car, the pickup truck slammed into another parked car. The driver of the pickup truck sustained minor injuries and was arrested on suspicion of DUI and vehicular manslaughter.
In reading the ABC7 news report of the incident online, what struck me was some of the views posted by members of the public after the article. The comments included; “You always wish the drunk driver dies when stuff like this happens. They deserve to die”, and “Unreal we need harsher punishment for drunk drivers”.
The public and the media sometimes lose sight of some very important constitutional protections when something like this happens. The response is inevitably an emotional one. However, the suspect is entitled to the presumption of innocence until he is proven guilty. We do not know whether he submitted to a blood test and what the results of that test were at this stage. We also do not know the cause of the collision as the investigation is ongoing. All we know is that the suspect was arrested on suspicion of DUI.
Calls for more punitive DUI laws are also misguided. We already have some of the most punitive DUI laws in the country. Miranda warnings are not necessary in DUI cases; a suspect has no right to consult with an attorney and has no right to refuse a breath or blood test following a lawful arrest. A blood test may be taken without consent if a warrant is obtained, and the police may use reasonable force to obtain that sample.
A defendant on a first offense, even without a traffic collision faces up to six months in county jail and a lengthy license suspension. Fines and fees increase every year. The standard fine on a first offense is now over $2000. A defendant convicted of a first offense in Los Angeles must install in their vehicle an ignition interlock device as a condition of driving.
Every person convicted of a DUI must attend an alcohol education class for between three and nine months. If the defendant was involved in a traffic accident and caused personal injuries to another person, the defendant faces multiple years in state prison.
The vast majority of DUI cases do not involve traffic collisions and injuries to third parties, and the average DUI suspect is a person with a family, a good job and an otherwise good moral compass who made a bad choice to drink and drive. These people generally accept personal responsibility, learn from their mistake and will not drink and drive again. I am not condoning drinking and driving. However, we should think carefully before calling for the law to be tougher on DUI cases.
The DUI net is already cast very wide. Even suspects with a .06% or .07% breath or blood alcohol level are now being prosecuted aggressively in some jurisdictions. There are calls to drop the legal limit to .05% whether or not a person is actually impaired to drive at this level. A criminal conviction for DUI often leads to the loss of a career and all sorts of other ramifications.
Some states will allow a first time offender to complete an education class and earn a dismissal on a first offense by remaining offense free for a period of time, thus allowing first time offenders to protect their records and careers. This is not allowed in California, even though the courts often extend this courtesy to defendants charged with possession of drugs or petty theft.
Those who are charged with DUI and attorneys who defend DUI cases are easy targets for the public and the media. There is no effective political voice protecting suspect’s rights. We must be conscious of the fact that not everyone charged with DUI is guilty, that the police sometimes abuse their powers, and that penalties for DUI are already very tough.