Washington state's DUI laws are killing us, and costing us. And they have to change, writes columnist Nicole Brodeur.

Share story

God help us all. Joseph Shaun Goodman is free, and possibly on the road, despite eight arrests for driving under the influence, the most recent one last Saturday, when his SUV crashed into a sign near Elliott Avenue and police found him hiding in an alley, red-faced, reeking of alcohol and whimpering like a child.

Goodman is now free because he is the wealthy owner of a communications company and was able to post $250,000 bail. Were he not rich, he may have struggled to pay that amount, and be in jail. And we’d all be that much safer.

Instead, Goodman walks — and drives — among us because current DUI laws only charge suspects with a felony after they’ve had three convictions in 10 years. That flawed formula has allowed Goodman to duck a felony DUI charge like a kid playing dodgeball. He was arrested in 2013, 2011, 2006, 2004, 1999, 1994 and 1993 — a lucky bit of timing that works for him, and puts everyone else on the road in danger.

Right now, there is a bill in the Legislature that would end this madness, and require that DUI suspects be charged with a felony after three convictions in 15 years. (Still madness, but that’s the way it is.)

Our current Washington state DUI laws are killing us, and costing us. And they have to change.

“Impaired drivers affect everybody,” said Amy Freedheim, a senior deputy prosecutor in the King County Prosecutor’s Office who handles felony traffic crimes. “We’re on the road, our kids are on the road, our spouses. All of us are vulnerable to an impaired driver.”

The average person stopped for a DUI has driven in that condition 80 times before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (“That’s the wake-up call,” Freedheim said.) By the time you get a felony DUI, you know you have an impairment problem.

Goodman is “just the tip of the iceberg,” Freedheim said, adding that she has one case where a multiple offender with a pending DUI killed a young cyclist.

Just six years ago, a drunken driver named Mark Mullan mowed down four members of a family crossing a street in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood. A 10-day-old boy was blinded, his mother was permanently injured, and his grandparents, who had just moved here, were killed. Last year, the city settled a $13 million suit with the family. I can’t drive up Northeast 75th Street without thinking of them all.

On Saturday night, Goodman’s Audi SUV left a trail of debris before officers found him hiding near a stairwell in an alley. Police detected a “very strong odor of alcohol” on him. He posted bail and he was out, ordered to be placed on electric home monitoring with a device that detects alcohol in the wearer’s perspiration.

Seattle Municipal Court Judge Willie Gregory was prevented by state law from denying Goodman the chance to post bail; to decide that no amount of money was worth letting him go free. (Washington is a “right-to-bail” state where unless a defendant is charged with a crime that could result in a life sentence, they have a right to bail.)

But Gregory surely had reason to deny bail: Not only had Goodman been convicted seven times, he had violated a court order to have an ignition interlock on his car at the time of his crash. So he was violating a court order while driving drunk.

In December 2013, he led police on a 100 mph chase through downtown Olympia, his passenger screaming and begging to be let out. Moments later, Goodman crashed his Ferrari into a parked car and a home. It’s a miracle no one was seriously hurt.

Goodman was sentenced to 364 days of work release from jail; the judge thought it would harm the employees of his telecommunications business and the community if Goodman was given a more restrictive sentence.

Why is Goodman’s business the law’s problem? Why should the rest of us be put in danger because this man didn’t have the sense to call a Lyft or an Uber, or, simply call it a night hours before?

“He knows he has a problem,” Freedheim said of Goodman. “He doesn’t care. But they keep getting into their car. It is a really selfish, irresponsible thing to get in your car impaired again and again and again.”

The last time the Legislature changed the law to allow for no bail was after the case of Maurice Clemmons. In 2009, the felon was charged with child rape and assaulting a police officer. But because the judge didn’t have the authority to deny bail, Clemmons was allowed to go free on $150,000 bail. A week later, Clemmons killed four Lakewood police officers.

Much of the debate about criminal-justice reform has focused on the impact on people of color. They have higher rates of arrests, detentions, convictions.

The flip side of this coin is that the privileged are able to slip out of the law’s reach, especially when it comes to drinking and driving. These people have cars. They can afford to take Lyfts and Ubers, but choose to drive instead. And when they slam into street signs and survive, they have the cash and collateral to post $250,000 bail.

Joseph Shaun Goodman drove drunk, wrote a check, and walked.

Legislators need to change the laws so that walking is all that Goodman — and others like him — are able to do.