When Washingtonians repeatedly put other people’s lives at risk by getting behind the wheel drunk or high, leniency shouldn’t be part of the conversation. State senators last week declined to help prosecutors crack down on people who refuse to learn the lesson that drinking and driving never go together. Time remains to correct that mistake.
Seattle Times reporter Christine Clarridge recently told the story of Joseph Shaun Goodman, who was arrested for a DUI in Seattle. It was his eighth impaired-driving arrest in 26 years, most of which had ended in convictions. Yet because they were spaced out enough, this new arrest won’t be a felony.
Washington law calls for a felony DUI charge when someone has three previous convictions for driving while impaired in the previous 10 years. A bipartisan group of senators wanted to increase that window to 15 years, but the Democratic Senate majority voted down their bill (SB 5299) shortly before Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline to advance legislation.
The Senate could have a do-over, though. The House passed a bill (HB 1504) related to impaired driving. And the Senate could amend it with the felony language because it’s on the same topic.
Other states have similarly strict rules for repeat offenders. In Oregon, for example, voters passed a ballot measure in 2010 setting felony threshold at two previous convictions in 10 years.
The most substantive concern raised was cost. Officials estimate that the 15-year window would lead to 129 more felony DUI convictions and incarcerations per year.
Anyone can mess up once. It’s not excusable, but one mistake shouldn’t necessarily stain someone’s record for life. That’s why Washington has a diversion program for first time DUI offenders. They can earn a second chance through education and good behavior.
It’s almost impossible to manufacture sympathy for repeat offenders, though. By the fourth offense in a decade — or 15 years — they have proved that the threat of a misdemeanor isn’t enough to convince them to drive sober or just call an Uber or Lyft. They lack the fundamental respect for the law and public safety that most people have.
Senators should have passed the original bill. Now they should take advantage of their second chance.