A clearly broken DUI/DWI law

Make no mistake about it: I’m no fan of those who endanger others needlessly by driving while intoxicated (sometimes called driving under the influence or drink-driving). But some of the laws are set up to give people like Daryl Fleck what can be perceived as a raw deal. And I believe he did get a very raw deal.

Originally reported on a site called simply thenewspaper.com and blogged by Young Americans for Liberty and Lew Rockwell, the facts of Daryl’s case are as follows:

  • Daryl was found asleep in his legally parked car close to midnight, one night during the summer of 2007, with the keys in the center console.
  • The engine in Daryl’s car was cold to the touch (it had not been driven recently).
  • He admitted to having consumed a significant amount of alcohol earlier that night.
  • He was tested to have a blood-alcohol of .18, twice the legal limit.

And based on these facts, even though nothing indicated Daryl had actually driven the car while intoxicated, he was convicted of DUI under the law of the state of Minnesota, simply because the keys he had could turn the ignition and in theory he could have driven the car.

Not to mention, when police tried to start the car, it would not start. Granted, this was some weeks after the fact, plenty of time for the battery to drain down to zilch.

Granted, Daryl had three previous DUI convictions and was thus far from an ideal test case for this situation. Still, I think this is an obvious case of way overzealous prosecution and a law that is simply too broad. And for that, Daryl, and no doubt several others, get another DUI conviction for sleeping in a car with that car’s ignition key.

And I know it’s a bit odd for me to quote the FSF’s “Some Confusing or Loaded Words and Phrases That Are Worth Avoiding”, but the words apply the same here as there:

The idea that laws decide what is right or wrong is mistaken in general. Laws are, at their best, an attempt to achieve justice; to say that laws define justice or ethical conduct is turning things upside down.

And in this case, I believe the law has failed to achieve justice. This is a broken law and it is in the best interests of the people of Minnesota to act to fix it.

There is one other thing about this case I’d like to comment upon. From thenewspaper.com’s story:

As Fleck was an unsympathetic figure with multiple DUI convictions in his
past, prosecutors had no problem convincing a jury to convict. The court took up Fleck’s case to expand the precedent to cover the case of mere presence in an undriven — and perhaps undrivable — car into the definition of drunk driving. The court relied on Fleck’s drunken claim that his car was operable to set aside the physical evidence to the contrary.

When I was last on a jury, the defendant did have a prior conviction. However, we did not find out about that until the sentencing phase. Granted, that was in Texas, and this case is in Minnesota. However I still find it difficult to believe that the jury knew about his prior convictions during the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial. If they did, that’s another broken law that needs fixing up there in Minnesota.