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DUI: The Challenge Of Repeat Offenders

Photo courtesy of David Ossorio

After 20 years in the business, Lenny Padayao has seen it many times: Alcoholics gaming the system to avoid addressing their disease. “The alcoholic, they’ll do everything they’re required to do by cheating,” he says. “You have to keen in on these guys, because if you don’t you’ll never catch them.” 

Padayao is a certified dependency professional. He and his wife run Emmanuel Counseling Services in Seattle. It’s the kind of program that lawmakers in Olympia will consider when they return for a special session May 13. A proposal would allow second or third DUI offenders to attend treatment in lieu of a longer prison sentence. Offenders who trade treatment for jail would not be allowed to drink.

Patricia Fulton is a Seattle criminal defense attorney and a member of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. She says the proposal gets to the heart of the problem but it’s an expensive proposition. 

“We certainly want people to stop drinking,” she says. “But we don’t want to fund substance abuse treatment or access to the support systems people may need for that. It’s very, very difficult to deal with an addiction and there’s not a lot of understanding about that in the system.”

24/7 Monitoring

Many cities and counties use electronic home monitoring for DUI offenders who have been ordered by the court to abstain from alcohol. Offenders wear ankle bracelets that detect alcohol through perspiration. It can also be used for home detention. 

Betty McNeely is director of Seattle Municipal Court Probation Services. She says about two-thirds of their cases are repeat offenders.

"On any given day the court monitors about 100 people this way,” she says. “What it will do is that the court will be alerted, in most cases within 24 hours, that someone has either had a drinking event or they have somehow tampered with the device, or they have left the area where they have been allowed by the court to be.”

A study from the Rand Corporationhas shown that this type of 24/7 monitoring is highly effective. It guarantees consequences for not complying with the court's order. But the violation information first has to go through a third party before it reaches a sentencing judge. During that delay there’s a chance that the violator could be driving.

That’s the micro approach. For some drunk drivers it’s the big picture that makes a difference. 

DUI As A Second Chance

David Ossorio speaks on victim’s impact panels around King County. Offenders are required to attend at least one panel after being convicted. "I tell them they were very lucky to have been stopped," he says. 

Twenty years ago, Ossorio’s brother Todd was killed in Kent by a drunk driver. The driver was a repeat offender who fled the scene. Ossorio says during the panel they try to give a perspective to drunk drivers that the offenders can’t get in the court system. 

“They think that their DUI was the worst possible thing that could have happened to them on the night they got stopped,” he says. “ But you know, we’re here to tell them that that’s not the worst thing that could have happened. It could have been much worse than that. Whoever stopped them saved their life. Maybe saved somebody else’s life. They should look at their DUI as a second chance.”

But Padayao says for the determined alcoholic a second chance is just another opportunity to keep drinking. 

"They’ve learned to find the loopholes,” he says. “They’ve learned how to get the most favorable assessments from treatment providers. If they shop around than what will happen is they know how to answer the questions, because most places will ask about similar questions. So they become manipulative in that part too.”

You just can’t force someone to change, he says.

Mark Mullan was driving on a suspended license in March when prosecutors say he hit four members of a family, killing two of them. Court documents say he had a preliminary blood-alcohol level of .22 percent, nearly triple the legal limit. He’s also a repeat offender.

Padayao says based on his record, there’s little hope for people like Mullan.“I think he should have been placed in prison a long time ago,” he says. “He’s not in denial. He’s just playing his game you know? That type a guy, you know there should have been something about him that’s telling people he’s not gonna stop.”

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