The successful appeal of a DUI sentence will affect not just the case before the Grand Court last week, but also others in which the judge’s decision will be cited.
The judge referred to this inevitability when he listened to extensive legal submissions before giving the reasons for his decision, as reported in Tuesday’s Caymanian Compass.
The appeal was for permission to drive Monday through Saturday during the day so that the offender could work.
Until recently, the sentence for DUI — driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs – included mandatory disqualification from driving. The only discretion magistrates had was in deciding how much longer than 12 months the disqualification would be. As the result of a change in the Traffic Law, that penalty is no longer mandatory.
The judge explored the wording of both the old law and the current one before deciding there was nothing to prohibit him from imposing a sentence of intermittent disqualification.
This type of sentence allows the offender to drive during specified hours or on specified days only for the purposes of work. It was noted in court that other countries have such sentences.
The judge expressed the view that intermittent disqualification should be used only with restraint and when some clear purpose is made out. There will be cases in which it is inappropriate.
In the matter before him, he noted, the driver was a first offender and a man of previous good character. There had not been any accident; nobody was injured and no property was damaged. He did refer to the level of alcohol in blood, which at .256 was more than two and a half times the legal limit.
The judge indicated that limiting the hours of driving for such a person would keep the disqualification in place during the times alcohol would most likely be consumed.
It will be interesting to see how many DUI sentences are appealed as a result of this decision and how often it is cited in Traffic Court for pending cases.
Certainly the option of intermittent disqualification will benefit offenders’ families if it means the difference between keeping and losing one’s job. It can minimise inconvenience to employers and imposition on fellow workers.
But woe unto any driver who abuses this second chance. Driving is a privilege to begin with, granted only to those who have proven themselves through written and practical tests. The DUI offender has lost that privilege through his own actions. To get it back, albeit in a limited way, is a gift.
The judge reached the decision because of the way the law is written. If there is any abuse of intermittent disqualification, concerned citizens may well lose no time in urging their legislators to amend the law.